It’s done! I had my practical exam for intermediate patisserie yesterday and it wasn’t a complete train wreck! My group got very lucky as we had the Fraisier, which is the one almost everyone in the group wanted. When we flipped the paper over to do the bon d’economat section I could almost hear a sigh of relief spreading throughout the class. I know I certainly did a little happy dance internally, no wait, I might have actually done it externally too when the chefs weren’t looking. I had been telling myself that we were almost certain to the the gateau Sabrina but the pastry gods were smiling down on us yesterday. Unfortunately for the other 2 groups who had their exams earlier in the day things didn’t go as well. Both groups got the Alhambra and from what I’ve heard quite a few people did not finish on time. There was also a bit of drama in one of those groups when someone used another person’s sponge and had already started to assemble the cake when the mistake was spotted. The exam is already a pretty stressful situation so I can’t imagine what it must be like when things go wrong, especially when it’s not because of something you’ve done. Timing is pretty tight even on a good day so to waste time searching for your cake is certainly not ideal. A case of mistaken-identity-cake almost happened with my group as well but the people involved managed to sort things out before it was too late.
As for my own cake, the genoise probably could have been a bit fluffier. I got a bit impatient with whisking the eggs and sugar and could have got it a bit more aerated before folding in the flour, but the rise was decent enough and in the end my cake was about the right height. The strawberry halves weren’t all cut to the same height and there were a few holes in my creme mousseline. But the colouring of my marzipan was pretty good as the pink and green weren’t too dark and I was reasonably happy with my rose. The writing and border piping with the royal icing didn’t go too badly either. So overall I would say that I did about as well as I could have done under pressure and really I’m just glad that it’s over now. I spent the whole morning yesterday pacing around the house then did some stretching and breathing to calm my nerves. I’m lucky that if I repeat something enough I can usually remember it so memorising all three recipes and methods comes a bit more easily to me than to some others, so I wasn’t frantically looking at my papers and notes just before the exam. I’m going to have to do a lot more revision over the next 5 days as we have our theory exam on Tuesday next week and a lot of topics to get through. And as it’s not all multiple choice questions, I can’t just rely on educated guessing either. I’m sure it will be fine, at least that’s what I have to keep telling myself to stay sane.
Earlier in the week we had our last ‘cooking’ practical – the last of the plated desserts for this term. We made a delices aux fruits exotiques (exotic fruit mousse), which was a mini entremet, a taster of what we would be making next term in Superior. The mousse that we made this time used Italian meringue as a base, giving it a different texture compared to the mousses that we had made previously – it was a bit firmer. This sort of mousse would be ideal for acidic fruits, for example passion fruit as the sweetness of the meringue balances out the acidity. Our exotic fruit mousse did not use an acidic fruit but instead we used mango and coconut purees. A red currant jelly insert was used instead to add a bit of tanginess. It was our first time using a pate decor (decorating paste) in class. There was a demonstration on it during basic patisserie but this time around we actually got to play around with the stencils ourselves. As you can imagine it’s quite easy to use and the only trick is to make sure that you really press down firmly on the stencil or template when you’re applying the pate decor to get a neat finish. We made a biscuit joconde (almond sponge) again, the first time was when we made the Opera cake. My partner and I had an issue with our oven so it took ages for our sponge to cook, and I think it made it a bit drier than it should have been so the lining of the moulds was a bit more tricky as the sponge wasn’t as flexible. We also made some tuiles for decoration using the same pate decor and the mousse was accompanied by a tropical fruit salsa. I kept the plating fairly simple this time as the plate was very colourful and I didn’t want to overdo it.
Our other classes for the week were a chocolate tasting session (Yes!) and an introduction to sugar work. During the chocolate tasting session we were given 12 different chocolates to try, noting down mainly the taste/flavour, aroma and texture for each. The main take home message from the class was to never believe what is written on the packet and to trust your own palate, and also that everyone has different tastes so what might be nice to you might taste horrible to someone else. I already know that I prefer darker, more bitter chocolates and had no problems eating the cocoa nibs that were handed out but some of my classmates could not stand them.
The sugar work demonstration showed us a few different techniques using sucre coule (poured sugar), sucre souffle (blown sugar) and sucre tire (pulled sugar). We will be trying these techniques ourselves in Superior when we have to make roses and produce a sugar sculpture/ centre piece. Exciting and terrifying in equal measure.
Next week is the last week of term and it’s going to be a lot more laid back, after the theory exam of course. We have four sessions on cake decorating so it should be good fun! And there’s also the small matter of the debrief session when we find out how we did in our practical exam.