This is a bit of a sneaky cheat of a blog post, because Week 6 was really only three days long and therefore doesn’t actually qualify as a week, and thus this doesn’t really qualify as a weekly update. It’s all going to mulch round here. Literally: the flood waters are creeping up around our little town, I have trudged through many rain-sodden commutes, and I don’t think my feet have been properly warm and dry for several weeks.
Wednesday – our new Monday for one week only – tripped along pleasantly enough. We began our cooking session in the morning by making pasta by hand for the dish above, namely cracked black pepper pasta with truffle oil, parmesan shavings, and basil. I have made pasta before, but only using a machine, so this was my first experience of hand-rolling pasta dough. I was surprised to find it really enjoyable: usually anything painstaking and slow and fiddly grates on my impatient soul, but there was something lovely about making the pasta by hand and my dish received lots of positive feedback (if it had received lots of negative feedback I’d probably be saying making pasta by hand was a pain). The slightly less pleasurable part of the Monday cooking session was another short order challenge. This time, we had 25 minutes to make a cheese soufflé. I’m really starting to dislike short order challenges. I never seem to perform particularly well and I find the adrenaline and stress and uncertainty of the whole thing a bit sickening. On the plus side, I had a pile of pasta to eat for lunch, so it certainly could have been worse.
The afternoon saw another wine tasting session, this time on Sauvignon Blanc and sweet wines. You know, I used to think I didn’t like sweet wines, but since starting the WSET sessions and tasting some good quality ones (you know, instead of the usual rubbish I can afford to drink when other people aren’t paying), I have definitely moved into the ‘pro sweet wines’ camp. In this session we had a Tokaji so delicious I actually noted it down to try and hunt it out myself. Not that I’ll ever get round to it, mind you, but the intention was definitely there.
Now, I admit that the above picture looks dull and unimpressive in a beige sort of way, but what you must appreciate is that this is my successful attempt at a genoise sponge, the Leiths hallowed grail of gateaux glory. It’s a tricky cake, requiring much whisking of eggs to exact stages and meticulously gentle folding while reciting various pagan incantations, and even though I’ve made other more delicious things, there was a certain satisfaction to seeing it emerge from the oven on Thursday looking beautifully bronzed and triumphantly risen. It was the first stage of preparation for our gateaux freestyling (within the expected constraints of course – let’s not go crazy now), of which more in a minute.
The afternoon dem was on meat preparation, and poor Phil got us when we were all a bit exhausted as a group, for no apparent or justifiable reason since we’d just had a four day weekend and spent the morning faffing about with cakes. Still, I know I wasn’t the only one feeling like curling up in a ball and taking a restorative nap. Nonetheless, with his customary good cheer, Phil made us some delicious food and, crucially, showed us how to tunnel bone lamb and remove all the bones from a chicken. I hope I was paying enough attention, because we will have to do both of those things in the coming weeks.
Friday was perhaps one of my favourite mornings in the kitchen we have yet had. It was all about the baking, as we assembled our lemon tarts and our genoise-based gateaux. Let’s start with the failure: the lemon tart. It was a honourable failure, because the tart was still delicious, but it did fall apart a little bit. I didn’t feel too bad though, as it happened to about 80% of the people in our class. The above picture, somewhat dishonestly, is of another student’s tart to give you an idea of what the tart was actually supposed to look like. We didn’t know that we had to bake the pastry for a bit longer than we normally would to make sure if could support a very liquid filling, and I was further hampered by the fact that we had another fire alarm about thirty seconds after my tart went into the oven. When the fire alarm goes, all the gas ovens automatically switch off. This is very sensible for obvious reasons, but not so great for delicate lemon tarts, because it meant my wet filling was sitting coldly on pastry for about twenty minutes before I could get the oven back up to temperature, slowly seeping into it and weakening the structure.
Now on to the triumph: the genoise gateaux. I am very rarely happy with stuff I do in the school kitchens, but I was happy with this. I brushed each of the three layers with an orange, passionfruit, and Grand Marnier syrup, then spread them with a dark chocolate ganache, then covered the cake in a chocolate meringue buttercream and finished it with dried raspberries, raspberry powder, and candied orange peel. It was delicious.
I am now watching the Great Sport Relief Bake Off, and feeling much better about my collapsed lemon tart in the context of some of the stuff they’re getting away with on there. I will finish with the latest in my ongoing attempts to capture the absolutely beautiful sunrises I see on the way in to London every morning: believe me, it’s not an easy task when all you have is a phone camera and you’re on a train that’s moving at 125 miles per hour.