The week started with a cancelled train. Checking the TrainLine app to see how the 6.55 was doing before I left the house (might burn me once…) I saw that its Monday morning excursion had been curtailed due to an ominous and non-specific ‘train fault’. Happily for me, this was the one morning that I didn’t have to be at school early, as we had individual assessment appointments and I was lucky enough to snag a later one. I had been planning to go into school at my normal time anyway to get some work done, but I saw the cancelled train as a fairly clear sign and jumped back into bed for an extra hour of dozing. This seemed like a fantastic idea at the time, but I’m pretty sure it was this change to my obsessive and rigid routine which put me off my game for the rest of the day. I have to point at something rather than admitting I’m just an idiot. We had a very light cooking prep session in the afternoon, but somehow I managed to mess up my Danish pastry dough, making it too firm despite following the recipe to the letter (still don’t know what happened), and burnt my fingers by using them to test the consistency of sugar syrup (I admit that this sounds very very stupid but this is genuinely how they tell us to test sugar syrup).
On Tuesday, though, the week got going in earnest and I perked up a bit. This week was the week of sugar, baking, patisserie, petit fours, and all things that are good and right in the world. Tuesday morning’s dem, delivered by Ansobe and Jane, was all about petit fours. Think macarons, marshmallows, nougat, caramels… most peple were groaning and sugar-dazed when the morning was done, but I was in my element. Nibble on those scrap ends of marshmallow? Yes please. Spare piece of nougat? Don’t mind if I do.
In the afternoon we continued with our Danish pastry dough (I was pretty sure mine was fundamentally wrong and doomed at this point but marched along regardless), and made a delicious fougasse. Crusty but light, soft and pillowy, spiked with sea salt and Italian herbs, a loaf bigger than your head – it was surprisingly easy and completely wonderful and I will definitely be trying it again at home. We used a biga for the first time (another word for starter), which gives the bread a depth of flavour that you don’t get without some form of slow-fermenting yeast. I’ve made sourdough at home so the process was not completely unfamiliar, but it was far less hassle than your standard starter and worth beginning 24 hours early.
On Wednesday we had our last ever in-house dem, delivered by Phil and Belinda. It was all about fish – which I love almost as much as I love all things sweet – so I was very happy to munch away on sardines, salmon, and cod, as well as more luxurious and exciting treats such as octopus, John Dory, turbot, and even caviar. I longed anew for a decent fishmonger in Oxford. Does anyone know where I can get octopus? Not a rhetorical question, I really want to try braising it at home.
The afternoon was unexpectedly lovely. The morning group had escaped the kitchen about forty minutes late, so we approached the session with trepidation, but it was very relaxed and I even got out a little early. We made the dessert pictured at the top of this post: almond panna cotta; apricot sorbet; almond crumble; hibiscus meringues; caramelised hazelnuts; sugar work; fresh apricots and raspberries; and micro herbs. You know, casual. It was marvellous, and I got told my plate was pretty, which is always a nice surprise. We followed it up with Danish pastries made completely from scratch (see previous moaning in this post). My pastry was pronounced a little tough, but overall everything went unexpectedly well and I think my fellow commuters were probably slightly confused by the overwhelming smell of fresh pastry on the 17.49 to Worcester.
Thursday was unphotogenic but interesting. We were visited by Chris Barber for an all-day session focused on how to set up a food business. As this is what I hope to do when I graduate, the whole day was very helpful and informative, and Chris was a compelling and knowledgeable presenter. We had to split into groups to prepare a business idea to pitch for the end of the afternoon, and then vote on the best plan. Our little group won the vote – thanks mostly to the excellent presentation skills of Laura – so basically I’m pretty sure we’ll all be successful business tycoons before the year is out.
Friday was the day I’d been looking forward to since I started at Leiths: petit fours day. It’s funny how divisive it was, as a day – some people were in their element, and some didn’t even bother coming in to school. As has probably become obvious by now, I am all about the sugar, and so I was definitely in the first camp. We had a lovely, relaxed day and, as a table, made chocolate caramels with vanilla sea salt, passion fruit pate de fruit, toasted pistachio and almond nougat, lemon sherbet marshmallows, macarons with pistachio and raspberry ganaches, and chocolate truffles covered with tempered chocolate. I love making macarons anyway, but the chocolate caramels were a surprise favourite too. I took a huge box of goodies home and it was both impressive and worrying how quickly James and I ploughed through it.
I am now at the end of a cheeky three day weekend, and somehow it’s almost time to go back to school again. Stay tuned for next week, which will include jam-making, an impressive cake, and an abundance of shellfish.