Our sixth week of pastry school began with our first round of practical exams. It was a veryyy long week. Looking back, there were some really good lessons in learning to be okay with making mistakes and making the most of those mistakes. Not always the easiest concept to master, and likely something that will have to be practiced regularly.
Tuesday: Patisserie Test – Fruit Tart & Shortbread Biscuits
Tuesday was our first practical exam where we had to make a fruit tart and twelve shortbread biscuits. The shortbread biscuits were made using the same method as week one. To make the fruit tart, we used the same process from week two, using a pate sucre (sweet paste) for the crust and creme patissiere for the filling.
Before the exam, we were required to put together a course of action for the day which caused me a lot of anxiety. I’ve not been graded for anything in a loooong time, so I felt incredibly nervous. More so than I expected. After we got into the bakery and began, I felt much more comfortable and by the end of the day, most of the nerves were gone. I got Distinction (like an A in the States, I guess) marks for my products which was very exciting!
Wednesday: Bakery Practical Exams – Seeded White Rolls, Pain de Mie, Chelsea Buns & Swiss Buns
I felt a lot more comfortable and relaxed going into the bakery practical exam. I’ve been really enjoying making doughs and with one practical exam under my belt, the day didn’t seem quite a scary. This was the opposite of Tuesday however, because the more the day went on, the more nervous I got that I was screwing it all up.
We had to make three doughs for the exam; a basic white bread dough, a pain de mie dough and a bun dough. Initially, with all the proving and resting, I thought I’d have tons of extra time, but I never realized just how much energy and time management the three different doughs would take. I had a plan mapped out, but throughout the process, I started to get worried about over-proving and balancing my doughs with the available space in the prover and oven. My confidence became shaky as the day wore on.
I ended up getting a Merit, which I was kind of unhappy about. I wanted my test scores to be perfect. Chef said that my Chelsea buns had the best coloring (internally) of the class, but that they didn’t rise evenly and the center was higher than the edges. On my Swiss buns, my fondant was a bit too runny. He said my rolls were a bit soft in the middle (maybe due to proving time?) and I turned in the wrong pain de mie loaf for my presentation going with the one that looked more perfect and even, instead of the one that was higher but not as symmetrical. I felt completely drained after the exam.
Thursday: Chocolate/Confectionary Lab
Thursday might’ve been the toughest day of school for me to date. I woke up still upset at my work in the bakery practical exam, and the more I thought about it, the more worked up I became. We didn’t have science this week, so we spent the whole afternoon in the chocolate lab continuing our pastillage work. I felt irritated all morning but I felt the tears coming and tried to keep them bottled up, so when I accidentally knocked a paper towel roll into one of Chef’s sugar sculptures, I lost it. And when you try to cry quietly, or not cry, it only makes it that much worse. Gasping for air worse, which is the opposite of trying to secret cry. Our afternoon break couldn’t have come at a better time, so I went to the bathroom to pull myself together and my classmate and friend, Jennie helped talk me down and feel better about the situation.
After the tears, and my conversation with Jennie, brought about some much needed clarity that making mistakes isn’t a bad thing, and if anything, will hopefully make me better by learning the reasons behind the mistakes and how to correct them for the future. Hopefully a better bread maker since I’m going to dive into a bit of research on the science behind proving. A term I just learned five weeks ago. Not to mention five weeks ago was the first time I made bread from scratch. So I got a bit worked up over nothing. Just one of those days.
Our pastillage work will conclude in the next class, but we continued to make structures and shapes for our design. We also made some rock sugar out of our pastillage by dabbing a tiny amount of food coloring powder into our dough and working it in and into a ball that we put in the microwave for about one minute, fifteen seconds. Pastillage is a nice break from me constantly eating chocolates all afternoon. Granted, I still nibble on the pastillage sugar from time to time… 😉
Friday: Theory & Brandy Snaps
Friday we did a research project in the restricted section of the library to research and discuss old classics. The restricted section in the Westminster library is unfortunately not as cool as the one in Harry Potter. Ha!
Since the rest of the college was on half-term break, Chef decided to let us take advantage of that and get into the bakery a bit early (so we could leave a bit early). We made brandy snaps with a cream filling and dipped in chopped pistachios. I liked the brandy snaps. You cook them for about eleven minutes and then take them out, cut with a large circular cookie cutter for symmetrical shapes and then mold around the handle of a whisk (or other object with the correct size sphere). They require quick shaping, otherwise, they need to be put back in the oven for a thirty seconds or so to soften. Tasty both filled and unfilled, although the filled ones go soggy very quickly. A sweet way end to the week! 😉