Lesson 19: The Beginning of the End
Classes at 8:30 am on a Saturday should be banned.
For the first time I was there before the doors were opened. So, at 7:40am on a chilly Saturday morning, I was greeted by the sight of a long table with a white table cloth, fresh coffee, tea, orange juice and pastries.
Only, instantaneously, each of us in turn knew without doubt that the croissants and Pain au Chocolat were not for us in any reality.
We are merely foreign devotees paying a huge ransom for our basic learning with little else in return or in living standards…
The class were all restless this morning with everyone looking particularly tired. In class, many were picked up for being sleepy and slouching, whilst many of our eyelids were drooping unconsciously.
Whilst the class was readily fatiguing with the ease of today’s practical, the chef was metaphorically on fire! I clarified that only because it is not uncommon in our place of work for things to literally on fire!
He was in a great mood and very funny with some classic quotes coming out throughout class!
Firstly, he started class by actually attempting to speak English, which he did quite respectably, behind the translators back whilst she had temporarily left the room.
It was only the beginning with humorous cracks coming from left, right and smack bang in the centre!
The class was moving at a reasonable speed with assumed knowledge finally being taken into account and his hands now moving at 1/20th of his actual capacity and experience.
First he blanched the yolks with sugar and added melted butter, beat the whites to stiff peaks with sugar, lightly folded in the roasted ground hazelnut, flour and cocoa powder! He then made the chocolate ganache using small circles with the whisk after pouring the boiled cream over the chocolate.
He then carefully placed the mixture into chemise tins and expressly placed them in the oven! The faces as always spoke louder than words!
The finished hazelnut sacher or sponge was turned out from their tins straight from the oven and sliced whilst steaming into 3 or 4 layers.
By the end of this basic patisserie certificate at my world famous cooking school I will certainly be sick of imbibing syrup and sick of sugar!
But it came out again with a renewed force and fervour!
This time it was infused with bitter coffee extract and rum. The process could almost be described as ritualised baptism or serial murder by submersion!
This could be called the resurrection of the dry sponge as it was quite literally drowned in the infused syrup. As per the chefs explicitly translated instructions, and verified by fluent French speakers, we are to “hold it down until no more bubbles come to the surface”
then drain off the excess! To me that sounds like the voice in someone’s head telling them to drown someone! But he is the boss… Remember exactement like the chef or ZERO! The name for this technique, verbatim, from the chef is the “swimming pool technique”.
The lined moulds are filled with a ladle of chocolate ganache and then the 1st layer of cake is pressed down into the mould. Then the drowned sponge and another layer of ganache and this was repeated until the full cake had been formed and then it was set in the freezer.
The set cakes were then removed from the freezer, taken from the moulds and then he began reeling off brilliant line after brilliant line.
Firstly he wanted to commend us as in the last practical he had “seen some nice glazing going on!”, but then the insults rained down on our unsuspecting egos.
Instead of preparing a special desert for us to learn and enjoy he wanted to prepare a different example of what he felt epitomised our assembly as compared to his own perfection.
He “has been inspired by several years (8 in fact) of people failing!” and he wanted to show us just how “we (the students) make all the catastrophic mistakes!”
And so he showed us step by step, caricature like comical face after face, just how we fail – it was a classic!
He was so happy, joyous in fact, that he was so good that he could even succeed in failing and then professed that “gold leaf will cover any errors!”
May I now present, the final piece which truly conveys our pathetic final products – THE ERRONEOUS ERROR RIDDEN GLAZED CAKE in all its glory!
But besides our ineptitude, he once again had several very vocal complaints over the fridge, the freezer and the ovens which are the “bain of his existence” and as implied the only thing that lets him down more than us … I had to have a little chuckle as I wrote this!
His final insight and teaching point of the day related to the butter cream ganache we were to produce to decorate our cakes. He warned us that it “can split easily as you are adding fat into fat into fat” – I couldn’t help but think that this perfectly surmised the basis of all our French Pastry training – we are learning of all the delectable French ways to combine fat into fat whilst adding sugar and more sugar into a variety of cakes!
Here are his final, professional cakes, all five presented in a true traditional Alhambra style!
- ALHAMBRA – Layered Chocolate Cake – chocolate and hazelnut sacher, imbibed with rum syrup, layered with chocolate ganache and finished with a smooth crisp chocolate glaze and piped with a butter chocolate ganache cream
I’m not actually surprised that fate dealt me these cards for my last practical in basic pastry.
That being said, I still didn’t enjoy them!
It was about seeing whether I had progressed not only technique but also in my ability to handle certain stressful situations.
Namely, my handling of having a certain chef running the class.
He is a great chef… There is no doubt! He is a great personality … That goes without question! Is he often difficult to communicate with … Always! Is he regularly and unpredictably explosive and harsh … We are expecting it now!
I was not prepared for the way I handled his class! I was destabilised… It’s like trying to run whilst there is an earthquake shaking the ground beneath your feet. You cannot anticipate the vibrations therefore you just have to slow down and go with the flow, be light on your feet and correct as bet as possible for any stumbling and try to stay on your feet whilst reaching your goal.
My goal was perfection… as usual… it is innate in my personality!
I have high expectations and I always try my best to reach them!
I also am too sensitive! When someone else is being indiscriminately hounded and berated, when there is anger in the air I do not like it! I am a healer and prefer open discussion, learning and supportive attention and encouragement! I want a mentor and guide, someone to teach me.
Today he found issue with the simplest of questions … Who was the last person to put their cake in the oven! Realistically, it was a very fair question. No one answered! I agree this was ridiculous and showed a form of disrespect. But it is hard when certain students don’t speak English let alone French. And this should be taken into consideration and policies made to best handle this unfortunate situation and provide everyone with opportunity and respect.
He instead burst into a rage and screamed at the entire class insisting that if someone didn’t own up the entire class would get zero.
The issue settled but reoccurred when discussing forming our moulds and placing them in the fridge.
We are all paying a very significant amount of money for teaching; instead we are part of a production line. Make rapido or zero for you.
Leaving my rant behind, lets get onto the baking.
Now I may be a perfectionist, but that doesn’t mean I am perfect – I often make mistakes and I have a lot more to learn that is for sure!
My cake looked like a step pyramid in Egypt, somehow my layers had drifted during the process. I liked my piping though and the chef said it was “jolie!”
I later learnt the purpose of his back corner baking and lack of attention on the class, but whilst we were all working hard, it was difficult to watch him playing with his own devices!
They were praline merignues and quite pretty – “Tres jolie chef!” – but a bit dry in truth…