Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Final Exam Day

Today we did our final practical exam of our Pastry School careers. I've been so nervous for this day, ever since I knew the date of the exam, which was a week and a half ago. I've been stressed beyond belief with this knowledge, as well as with the upcoming stage, and events/deadlines in my life outside of school. I've been fighting off a nasty cold for about two weeks, the stress making the symptoms worse, and I've been exhausted ever since the end of Daylight Savings Time. In short, I've been an irritable mess, and I apologize profusely to my classmates.

For the exam, we had to present two plated desserts: one hot (souffle) and one cold (our choice). We had three hours in which to complete the exam, including making all sauces and any other decorative elements we wished to include (the cold dessert was prepared ahead). Both plates had to have at least one decorative element and a sauce of some sort somewhere on the plate. Once our sauces and decorations were prepared, and the ingredients for the souffle ready, we were put in a queue and given a time to start. We then had 25 minutes to make the souffle, and to decorate and present both plates.

This morning when I got up I still didn't have a clear design in mind. I had made myself a list last night of the order in which I should prepare things, because I am really terrible at time management and I just knew that if I didn't plan it out ahead I would be all over the place... Well, I basically ignored my list and was all over the place most of the time anyway... But I did manage to get everything ready in time, and not be the last person in the queue. Once my 25 minutes started, I felt I was doing well. I got my souffle prepared and in the oven exactly when I should have, and I had plenty of time to decorate my plates (somewhat of a last-minute decision) even tho I was rushing with nervous energy and had to use both hands to draw my design, and even then I was still shaking... My souffles rose beautifully in the oven, I managed to present both plates at the same time at the precise time I was supposed to, and they looked good to me. Then I had to wait for my results.

I passed, but the teachers made it sound like it was a close call. I have to say that while I'm glad the exam is over and that I passed, I'm really disappointed with my results and the teachers' comments. I know that I tend to take criticism poorly, and that they were only trying to be constructive, but I felt really hurt and had to fight off the tears. They told me that I lost points because I didn't have enough sauce on my macaron plate, and because my souffle dish was lacking something, it wasn't like my usual work, and they were disappointed. I guess it upset me so much because I think they're right. As I was preparing it it felt right, but looking back the cookies on the plate are lacking some finesse, so I'm disappointed in myself and I'm hurt that for my final exam, the teachers couldn't just keep those comments to themselves and tell me it was fine. What do you think of my exam dishes?

So, that's it. Tomorrow we'll go in to clean up the kitchen a bit, and we're making pizza and pasta for lunch, then we're done! Monday morning we start stages, which I'll try to document when I can, and then back to school on the 18th for final marks and goodbyes.

Practice before the exam - trying to figure out a design

Raspberry souffle and practice plate design (I know it's ugly, don't laugh!)

Another practice...

Decided to use my rectangle plate for the souffle dish and a round one for the macaron. The teacher told me it was pretty but there was no sauce (I thought the chocolate around the outside counted...)

Another practice with the raspberry souffle

Exam - macaron with raspberry-white chocolate ganache on a chocolate doily

Exam - souffle plate, before the souffle, with 2 homemade Milano cookies a caramel coil and a chocolate cup filled with caramel sauce


Sunday, November 23, 2014

"If The Problem Can Be Solved, Why Worry?..."

"If the problem can be solved, why worry? If the problem cannot be solved, worrying will do you no good." - Shantideva

I don't have much to say, really. At this point in time, there are lots of thoughts and emotions flooding me. I feel overwhelmed, but not just with school. This time of year is always full of activities and events, from now until about the 6th of January. It's a lovely time of year - I enjoy the lights, the decorations, the treats, the gifts, the snow (when I don't have to clear it or drive in it), etc. But it definitely gets overwhelming. I know that Christmas isn't really about those things, but we still participate and get stressed all the same.

Right now, however, I am thinking about and worrying over school. I know that worrying does no good, and I haven't failed an exam yet, but still. I'm not the luckiest person in the world, it would be just my luck that my last exam in the course would be the first one I'd fail! (haha) Anyway, we have 3.5 days of class left, and the exam. This exam requires us to come up with two plate designs that include an individual dessert, a sauce design and another decorative element, put together in a relatively short amount of time. It has become exhaustingly clear to me that plating desserts is not my strong suite. I have known from a very young age that I never wanted to work as kitchen or serving staff in a restaurant, so I don't anticipate ever needing to use this aspect of pastry in real life, but alas, I must pass the exam to get my diploma. I still haven't come up with my designs or made a concrete decision on which dessert I'll make. *sigh* The exam will be Wednesday afternoon, but I'd like to practice at least once before the exam, so I need to come up with something soon!

Here are a couple other individual plated desserts we made last week. I didn't take pictures of all of them because some of the recipes didn't work out right and didn't make very pretty desserts.

Citrus-mascarpone filled cannelloni, sitting on a cherry compote, with citrus sauce and lemon-thyme ice cream

Chocolate moelleux cake with creme anglaise and raspberry coulis decor

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

30 days...

Thirty days from today I will be closing the Pastry School chapter of my life. I'm feeling pretty bittersweet about this. On the one hand, I'm excited to see what the next chapter will bring, but on the other hand... I have no plans, so January is a blank, open page. Blank pages scare me a little.

At the end of September I finished a journal that I'd been writing in for about 4 years. Since then, I haven't been able to start writing in my new one, because of that first blank page... You don't want to write about just anything on the first page. Months, or years, from now when I look back, I'm always going to come back to that first entry. Maybe years down the road one of my relations will get their hands on my journals (tho I sincerely hope not) and they'll look at those first pages first. So the first pages of a blank book... they're pretty scary. Once started the rest flows fairly easily, it's just the initial leap to mar those pristine pages that requires a certain confidence and bravery.

The same can be said about chapters in our lives. The future is a pristine, blank new page. Anything could happen, it could change at any moment. Starting new chapters in life can be really scary. Sometimes changes are forced upon you, and sometimes you have to have a bit of confidence to take the leap. I know what I'd like to see happen in the far future - I've got some big dreams that have been brewing for a few years. But the near future... I don't know! But enough talk of the future, let's take a moment to reflect on the past week.

Monday was our ice cream and cookies exam. Technically they are each their own module, so it was actually two exams in one day. For the ice cream section, we had to prepare an ice cream and fill a dome mold, prepare a parfait center for the dome, and then unmold and decorate a finished dome. Obviously a few hours isn't enough to mix up an ice cream and be able to unmold it, so we had prepared domes ahead the week before. For the cookie section we had to present twelve each of three different types of cookies: Spritz, almond laceys, and maréchaux. Sorry, I forgot to take a picture of my cookies...

Vanilla-raspberry ice cream dome - exam

Wednesday was our decorating exam - nougatine basket with five marzipan fuites (20g each). I decided to make a banana, pear, orange, apple, and bunch of grapes. The grapes are my least favourite, my favourite is a toss-up between the banana and pear. :) In case I hadn't explained before, nougatine is a candy made with caramel and almonds. It is the same kind of mix as those little sesame seed candy squares. It's made by boiling sugar and glucose to a caramel, then stirring in the desired nuts, in our case, sliced almonds. We then rolled out, molded, and cut the nougatine to the desired shapes.

Nougatine basket and marzipan fruits - exam

This week, we started our final module, Plated Desserts. The first we made yesterday was a chocolate mousse pyramid with a rum mousse insert and a coconut biscuit base. Next we made a strawberry mousse dome with white chocolate mousse insert and a lady finger base. Today we made and plated lemon-lime tartlets and chocolate soufflés!

Chocolate-rum mousse pyramid on a nest of toasted coconut with tuile decoration

Strawberry-white chocolate mousse dome sitting on crème anglaise/coulis design with strawberry slices and tuile decoration

Lemon-lime tartlet sitting in the middle of a meringue wreath, decorated with meringue, lemon twist and tuile decoration

Chocolate soufflé! Simple is best with a soufflé ;)

Lemon tart made last week

Crème brûlées also made last week!

It's hard to believe, but there are only seven days of classes and/or exams left! In a week and a half we'll be heading out to our respective stages, and three weeks later we'll be done and it will be Christmas vacation!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

First Sugar Sculpture

Sugar sculpting:  one of the major reasons I decided to take this Pastry school journey. Through my work with polymer clay, I got a lot of requests and suggestions to do similar sculptures in edible materials such as fondant. I found the idea intriguing, and the videos online made it look easy enough...

Until now, nearing the end of the course, I hadn't really attempted to work with fondant or other edible sculpting materials. It's not the same thing at all. I can see why people would say that it's similar and designs for clay could be done in fondant/marzipan/gum paste, but it's really not the same as working with clay. I like working with clay because the brands I use are pliable enough to form the shapes I want without much effort, but are sturdy enough to stand on their own. Because as long as I don't bake it, I can sculpt something today and go back in a week to change something. Most edible materials dry/harden quickly so you have to work fast, which I need to get used to. Fondant, marzipan and gum paste are also somewhat soft so they need support while drying. So there are a few differences that I wasn't used to, but for the most part the project went really well.

Our guidelines for the sculpted piece were that it could be no larger than 12 inches square, and needed to be at least 80% edible materials. We could use any medium(s) we wanted: fondant, marzipan, gum paste, chocolate, poured sugar, blown sugar, nougatine, etc.

The inspiration for my piece came from an image I found on Pinterest: a polymer clay sculpture of a grandmother baking a cake. When I first found the image, I wished I could recreate it in clay, but make the grandmother into more of a Mrs. Claus, and have her baking Christmas cookies. When I had the opportunity to make a sugar sculpture, I thought I would tweak my idea, and have the same grandmother baking cookies.

I didn't take pictures of every step, but I did take a few before putting everything together. I started by sculpting the table and baking tools using gum paste, because I wasn't sure what material to use for the body. I ended up using a big mass of marzipan for the body, and gum paste for the head & hair. I then used modeling chocolate to make her apron, and decorated the dress/apron with royal icing.

Gum paste arms and baking tools (cookies and dough are marzipan)

Gum paste table pieces which I airbrushed and then dusted with powdered colours
No arms!
Rear view

I used boiled glucose to attach the table parts, and royal icing to attach the baking tools to the table and the arms to the body. I also made a cat out of gum paste, just for visual interest. :) To finish off my granny I made some little spectacles with wire which I attach with melted sugar. Because we have to use nougatine in the exam, I decided I wanted to include nougatine somewhere in my piece in order to practice. So, I used nougatine to make the floor to mount my piece on. Voila! :)

Strange-looking cat
From the other side
From one side
Rear view

Aerial view
Aerial view


Friday, November 7, 2014

This and That

Ok, I know, I know... I have been seriously neglecting the blogging. But, it's not like anyone was really missing me, or I might have heard about it.

October has been a blur. We've worked on a lot of things in class - so many things, I can barely remember and I didn't take pictures of half - plus I've had special orders outside of school, which is wonderful, but added stress... I've been diligently seeking a stage placement, and then when I found one, I had to do a police background check, which is absolutely not a problem, but they said it should only take a couple days to get back, and it took a week and a half. Stress! And we've been working on 3D sugar sculptures (fondant, gumpaste, sugar in any form, chocolate, etc.) but only have 10 days in the module, so it seems stressful to get everything done in time and practice for the exam.

After consulting my camera's memory card, I realized that I really haven't been taking pictures, because I have a ton of things to share with you. Now let's see if I can remember what they're called...

This past Thursday we had our viennoiserie exam, where we had to present 12 croissants and 12 danishes. I wasn't really stressed or nervous, but I didn't feel confident about my work during the exam. I got a good analysis, but I have definitely made better croissants, and danishes, before!

Next Monday we'll be doing our ice cream/cookies exam, and Thursday is our exam for the 3D sugar art module (we'll have to make a nougatine basket filled with 5 different marzipan fruits).

Vacherin - layers of strawberry ice cream and meringue discs, all covered with whipped cream, and topped with more meringues. :)

Chocolate hazelnut ice cream bars

Chocolate macarons

Lalaloopsy birthday cake (exam)

Omelette novégienne (aka Baked Alaska)

Danishes with pastry cream and raisins

An ice cream dessert, but I can't remember what it's called or what's in it!

Chocolate hazelnut ice cream log cake

Vanilla-strawberry ice cream log cake

Chocolate vanilla ice cream log cake

Viennoiserie exam - success!

Raspberry-pistachio macarons

My jack-o-lantern!