Leiths: Intermediate Term, Week 8

It was when we were tunnel boning the huge joints of lamb, gleaming kitchen ringing with chatter and boning knives flying and scraping through meat, that someone on my table commented ‘I bet not many other people come in to London to do this on a Monday morning’. This prompted us all to briefly reflect on what we would have been doing at 10am on a Monday morning a year ago. For most of us, it would have involved sitting in an office. Perhaps chatting idly to the colleague at the next desk, flicking through emails, or wandering off to making another procrastinatory cup of tea. And I hate tea.

Finally, after a twenty five minute battle, the bone came free from my leg of lamb and I carefully eased it out, leaving the meat intact. It was huge, as long as my arm, knobbly with odd twists and turns and festooned with thick, dangling sinews. I was first to extract my bone and I briefly held it above my head in triumph, my trophy. I grinned at Will across the table.

Then I got on with my pasta dough.


Monday was creative lamb day, which saw us all boning out gigantic pieces of meat which we were then free to do whatever we wanted with. I made parsley pappardelle from scratch and minced down some lamb to make a spicy ragu. I was a little bit put out when I realised that everyone else had done beautiful, elegant, restaurant-style dishes, and that all I had to offer was a big old bowl of pasta, the likes of which grace many home dinner tables every night. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love a big bowl of pasta, but there were people turning out some seriously impressively presented plates of food and I just can’t do that. However, I was slightly heartened when Shauna pronounced my dish delicious and said she wanted to stand there and keep eating it. Then three other students came over to try a spoonful of ragu. At least it tasted good, right?

Our afternoon consisted of another wine lecture, this time on fortified wine – think lots of sherry and port tasting. I try to come in to every wine lecture with an open mind, but I have to admit that I have never liked sherry or port and I still don’t. Sherry reminds me of Christmas and port reminds me of terrible university stereotypes and bad times. However, the presenter, Richard, was clearly passionate about the subject and I am willing to admit that my aversion is simply down to me being fussy.


Tuesday morning was pretty relaxed and the lamb theme continued with us roasting a shoulder stuffed with a gorgeous feta and sundried tomato mixture. We ate our roast for lunch and it also included potatoes lovingly pan-fried in butter for ages, tenderstem broccoli, and a red wine gravy. I know it’s not a looker, but believe me, it tasted great. I ate so much that I actually felt a little sick and spent the rest of the afternoon making ‘oof’ noises whenever I had to bend down.

If possible, Tuesday afternoon was even better. We had an ice cream dem with Ansobe and Annie and, just for once, instead of trying one small bite of everything, we were allowed to come up to the front and eat as much as we liked. Pistachio ice cream, ginger ice cream, palm sugar ice cream, blackcurrant ice cream, apricot sorbet, marscapone sorbet, tuilles, brandy snaps, crumble, chocolate sauce, pistachio praline… it was wonderful. After finishing the morning swearing that I didn’t even want to look at food again lest I simply die from being hideously full, I managed to eat a stunning amount of ice cream. I don’t know if the unfettered access to desserts was Ansobe’s way of bribing us into saying it was the best dem ever, but if it was then well played: it was the best dem ever.


I know it doesn’t look too inspiring, but this is my blackcurrant soufflé and it’s the best one I have ever made. Granted, it had sunk a bit and had a spoon stuck in it by the time I got to taking this photo, but Belinda had no negative comments – it’s always a rare and satisfying treat when your food receives no criticism.


We also made marinated spatchcocked poussin. A poussin is an adorable tiny chicken, for those unaccustomed to dealing with miniature poultry (i.e. me before I started at Leiths – but now it’s all about the poussin, the partridge, the guinea fowl, the pigeon… Name the tiny bird and I’ve cooked it, probably badly). It was a delicious lunch that made me feel like a giant.

In the afternoon we were visited by the charming Peter Gordon, a New Zealander settled in London who has had a really interesting career as a chef and opened many restaurants. He is a champion of fusion food, having travelled seemingly pretty much everywhere, and was one of the first people to bring the concept to London restaurants. He was also a genuinely lovely person (or possibly a very good actor), and he cooked us lots of delicious food, including the wondrous invention of chorizo mashed potato. So simple, and yet so brilliant. I have no idea why I’ve not done it before, but I will certainly be doing it now.


Unfortunately, Thursday was just one of those days. You know? They’re not kitchen-exclusive. A day where you spend all your time rushing around in a panic trying to do seven tasks at once, and yet seem to get nothing done as time slips further and further away from you, and before you know it, it’s the afternoon, and wasn’t it just 9.30am five minutes ago and why is that sugar syrup caramelising and is that raspberry juice on your hat and where has all the time gone? We were making raspberry coulis and blackcurrant ice cream for Friday, as well as a hazelnut meringue cake and a salad with poached eggs. Our teacher for the day told me that if she’d been served my salad in a restaurant she’d have sent it back, which is never what you really want to hear. I am ate so much meringue cake I went a little bit sugar-hysterical.


Luckily, to make up for Thursday, Friday was just a lovely day. We made a sumptuous dish of sea bream (filleted by my own mauling hands, naturally), on a seafood stew with fennel, white wine, cockles, mussels, and shrimp. I was really happy with my dish and would make it again at home if only I had access to a decent fishmonger. At Leiths, we are completely spoiled by being given very high quality seafood to work with, and without it, a simple dish like this wouldn’t be nearly so satisfying.


We finished by compiling our dessert plates, which consisted of brandy snaps, blackcurrant ice cream, raspberry coulis, and fresh berries. Presentation is something I am really trying to work on, and it’s sometimes disheartening to see the absolutely stunning plates other people are serving up that wouldn’t be out of place in a high end restaurant. You can really feel that people are improving quickly and the standards of the group are rising week by week. I’m doing my best not to get left behind, but I have never had an artistic streak and making things beautiful doesn’t come easily to me.

Ursula Ferrigno led our session on Friday afternoon and it was all about Italian food. She was one of my favourite guest lecturers thusfar. Her love of what she was doing shone through and she was such a genuine and warm person that I couldn’t help but smile while watching her cook. I also really enjoyed her food and was inspired to try my own take on her recipes – I am sure they will be appearing on the blog soon. And when I say soon, I mean in a couple of months when I get a free moment. Maybe not even then.

The pace at Leiths is relentless, but I am slowly beginning to feel like I belong in a kitchen. A real kitchen, I mean, rather than my own one with the broken hob and tiny fridge. Week 9 is beckoning, exams are on the horizon, and the Intermediate Term is nearing its conclusion.


Leiths: Intermediate Term, Week 6

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.



Leiths: Intermediate Term, Week 4

To kick off Week 4, we were visited by two very charming men who dismantled a large amount of cow for our learning pleasure. Also a pig. And a lamb.

It was awesome.


Peter Holmes and Graham Portwine are two retired butchers who have a wealth of fascinating knowledge regarding all things meat, which they were kind enough to share with us. It was a lovely way to spend a Monday: being gently eased into a new week spending hours drooling over unusual and premium cuts of meat and watching expert butchers turning an intimidating carcass into a hundred viable dinner options with consummate skill. I still cannot be completely relied upon to accurately butcher a chicken, so I gazed on with envious admiration as they delineated joints I had never even heard of. There was a hacksaw and about six different types of knife involved. They sold off all the meat at cost price at the end of the day and I went home with a rucksack full of bavette steak, shin beef, and Barnsley chops.

It was a good job we had a relaxing Monday, because we needed it to gear up to Tuesday and Wednesday. On Tuesday, it was our group’s turn to do the Cooking for 50 challenge. For context, I am going to pause briefly and explain how the teaching structure at Leiths works, because I don’t think I ever have before – do skip the next paragraph if you’re not interested or you already know.

There are roughly 100 students in a Diploma year group at Leiths, and we are divided in half into the White group and the Blue group. One week the White group will cook in the mornings and have dems in the afternoons while the Blue group does the opposite, and then the next week the schedule switches so that the White group are having dems in the mornings and cooking in the afternoons, and so on. Within each half of the year there are three classes of sixteen students, organised roughly by age, named A, B, and C. So I happen to be in White and in the middle group in terms of age, thus I am in class White B. Each class has a class teacher who looks after the class as a whole in terms of all the administrative issues, marking collation and progress reports and the like, and who also leads their own class for cooking sessions the majority of the time. So this year, both B classes belong to Heli, who is my class teacher. We usually have Heli for two or three cooking sessions a week, and the others are led by other teachers at Leiths who aren’t responsible for a specific class but take classes (seemingly at random) when they’re not being handled by the designated class teacher.

Back with me? Lovely.

So, the Cooking for 50 challenge involves groups of four people cooking for 50 people, i.e. the other half of the year group. I cooked with three fellow students from White B for the whole of the Blue group: we had the morning to make them lunch. It was so hectic that I did not take a single picture, so instead have a screenshot of our Mexican-themed menu.


I did not sit down or eat or drink anything from 9am to 2pm while we cooked and, later, cleaned up. It was manic and exhausting. I think (I hope) that the food went down reasonably well, and I am so pleased to have the challenge behind us. The upside of the whole thing is that we, the White group, are fed by teams of students from the Blue group throughout the term, so we have been the lucky recipients of many different and delicious lunches.


Due to the vagaries of timetabling, Wednesday (when I could really have used a nice sit-down) was an all day cooking session. With no dem in which to relax, absorb information, and be fed, we were in the kitchens all day and made (deep breath): steamed steak and kidney suet puddings; slow-roast pork belly with choy sum, mange toute, and a peanut chilli dressing; wholemeal beer bread, and Arnold Bennett omelettes glazed with hollandaise sauce. We were also supposed to be making stock, but it was decided that there simply was not enough hob space.

To be honest, I was worried about all day cooking right off the back of Cooking for 50, but I needn’t have been. The kitchen gods seemed to be smiling upon me, and somehow the session felt almost relaxed. Admittedly, this might have been because anything would have felt relaxed after Tuesday’s madness, but you take what you can get. I would also like to point out that the pudding pictured above wasn’t actually served like that: I just forgot to get a photo before the teacher cut into it for marking.


By the time Wednesday drew to a close I felt like so much had happened that it may as well have been Friday. The universe doesn’t really work like that though, so back into the kitchens we went. Everyone seemed pretty tired and there’s a nasty bug going around that meant there were a few people absent, so it was a rather languid morning really. We made our first attempts at an Espagnole sauce (think really, really fancy and time-consuming gravy), pastry cases from pâte sucrée, and vanilla soufflés. What’s that you say? We seem to be making an awful lot of soufflés lately? Why yes, I concur. This was our third or fourth attempt in recent weeks, and I am happy to say that mine was deemed to be a good effort this time around. I’m not going to pretend that’s due to any particular skill on my part though: the complete randomness of soufflé achievement does seem to have little to do with technique in my case. It must be almost entirely determined by karma or fate or star-signs or something.


In the afternoon we had our first normal dem for ages, after a few days of unusual timetabling, and it was a good’un. Led by Heli, we explored fresh pasta and shellfish (yes, it does seem like quite a random combination, but I love both of these things so I’m not complaining) and were shown examples of the perfect pasta dough, alongside examples of what happens when the dough becomes too wet, too greasy, too dry and so on. We were also shown how to properly prepare squid, followed by the serving of some deep fried salt and pepper squid that was so delicious people were essentially elbowing others out of the way to get samples. We finished with matelote, a classic fish stew made typically with eel and red wine, that lots of people were unsure about but which actually turned out to be delicious. Well, I thought so anyway.


Above, you have a rare action shot from Friday’s session. We’re not really supposed to take pictures during cooking time, but I had just managed to flip my potato rosti over – after much worrying – and I was so proud of it sitting there all golden and delicious in its butter-bath that I couldn’t resist taking a quick snap. The rosti was served with a veal steak, green beans, the dreaded turned carrots, and a Madeira sauce, and made a very satisfactory lunch. We also used our pastry cases from the day before to make chocolate tarts topped with honeycomb. My pastry lacked some finesse (I am going to have to put ‘lacking in finesse’ on my CV for the sake of honesty), but the tart itself was so tasty that I didn’t particularly mind.


Finally, we ended the week with a wine session. Friday afternoon is the perfect time to do a wine tasting, and this time we were particularly lucky as we were visited by Nancy Gilchrist, who took us through an introduction to the art of food and wine pairing. We sampled six different wines with varying combinations of the food on the very odd little tasting plate you can see below. There’s brie, blue cheese, dill, a strawberry, apple, grissini, basil. dark chocolate, salt, curry sauce, and black pepper. We like to have all the bases covered.


Despite the hectic start to this week, the last few days were lovely, and I really feel like I have settled into term now and am completely used to the rhythm of school. Now I’d best go and practice my vegetable-turning skills like I promised I would so that I don’t end up destroying any more carrots next week.


Leiths: Intermediate Term, Week 3

Isn’t it amazing how a four day week feels like a special and magical treat when you are used to a five day working week routine? Only one day off, and suddenly everything seems much more lovely. Thursday is the new Friday. Wednesday is the new Thursday. By the end of Tuesday, you’re already halfway through. It’s excellent.

Can you tell I had a four day week this week?

Once again, we started our Monday morning with a wine lecture. It’s a bit of an odd curriculum choice, because I never particularly feel like wine quite so early, especially not on a Monday. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still drank it. I’m only registering that it feels strange. We also got served food to taste with the wine to see how they affected each other, which I was very happy about because the food included goats’ cheese and duck. Might be too early for wine; never too early for goats’ cheese. That’s my new motto.


Monday afternoon featured a disarmingly relaxing cooking session. We started off by making a lovage cream. Don’t know what that is? Me neither, really: before I started this course I hadn’t a clue what lovage was, let alone how one might make a cream out of it. I’ll show you a picture in a minute and then you will be enlightened. We also made cheese soufflés, which I don’t have a picture of because mine were rubbish. A savoury soufflé is a dish that requires both a soft, slightly undercooked centre and a risen, proud and golden dome. Suffice to say it’s quite tricky to achieve both these things and mine ended up looking a bit anaemic. Still ate them, obviously.

Tuesday morning started with an offal dem, which I was happy about because I love offal, and which I estimate around 85% of students were not happy about because they decidedly did not love offal.


In the picture above you can see Phil lovingly caressing the ‘pluck’ from a pig. This is the entirety of a pig’s innards which have been plucked from the animal and left intact. This was the morning during which we ate liver, kidneys, sweetbreads, heart, and bone marrow. All frightfully good for you and absolutely delicious.

In afternoon we served our lovage cream, which had set from the day before, and I actually got complimented on my presentation for the first time in approximately, ooh… forever.


We then made a honey bavarois to serve the following day – on which more later – and our first attempt at pâte sucrée, a French sweet pastry. We made it the classic way (of course), which involves no whizzing up of ingredients in a machine but rather smushing (the technical term is ‘pecking’, but it felt like smushing to me) butter, sugar, and egg yolks together with our fingers directly on to the table top. This very much appealed to the five year old in me who misses finger painting, and all in all it was much more fun that shortcrust.

Wednesday’s dem had a far wider appeal than Tuesday’s offal offering, because it was on steaming. Think treacle sponge, steak and kidney pudding, and stacks of steamed vegetables. I have never steamed a pudding in my life (well, had never, I should say, because we did one the next day), and while it did all seem like a bit of a hassle, I have to say the end results were absolutely delicious and have almost inspired me to purchase a pudding basin. I might cheat and buy one with its own lid though, so as to avoid faffing around making a water-tight foil and greaseproof seal and a handle out of string.

The afternoon saw the return of offal, with the preparation of the kidney dish you see below. Kidneys are actually surprisingly tricky little things to prep: you need to remove their outer membrane and internal vein system, both of which are pretty fiddly and hard to do without damaging the delicate meat. I was praised on the taste of my sauce but criticised for my sloppy presentation, which is pretty much the norm for me.


We also served our honey bavarois, made the day before (told you I’d come back to it), with roasted rhubarb and pâte sucrée biscuits. A bavarois, for the uninitiated, is a custard lightened with cream and set with gelatine, and I was very happy with mine because it was completely delicious. I made lemon and ginger biscuits to go with it, along with the rhubarb you see there. I love the sharpness of rhubarb and can eat it raw – yes I know you’re not supposed to do that – so I left it with a bit of bite and sourness to contrast with the sweetness of the bavarois and biscuits. This turned out to be a bad idea which slightly horrified the tastebuds of the teacher marking that day.


We ended the week on Thursday with another dem from Phil, this time on sauces. It’s not as theatrical a subject as offal but Phil managed to keep it interesting and everything we got to taste was amazing. Sauces are one of those things that aren’t too flashy or necessarily particularly theoretically exciting, but worth getting right because a really good one can boost an average dish into another category.

In the afternoon we got to exercise our newly acquired steaming skills to make a treacle sponge. The collective amount of effort it took in the kitchen to get the entire classes’ sponges neatly wrapped up and kept snug in a pot of cheerfully bubbling water that never boiled dry was pretty astounding, and I went back to thinking it was all too much of a pain to manage until I tasted mine and it was airy and sweet and warmingly lovely and I started thinking about buying a pudding basin again. We also made a wood pigeon salad, which you may have noticed at the top of the page. It was my choice cover photo this week because once again I was actually praised on my presentation. Either my class teacher was feeling very forgiving or perhaps I am finally learning something.


My fabled three day weekend has now almost drawn to a close, along with Week 3. I am firmly back in the swing of term now: gone are the holiday days of binge-watching Orange Is The New Black and baking experimental brownies. Come at me, Week 4.


Leiths: Intermediate Term, Week 2

It wasn’t a great week. I think it’s important to be able to say that. Yes, I am doing something amazing (and expensive), and yes, I am very lucky to be able to do the course that I have wanted to do literally for years. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t really hard, and it doesn’t mean that every week is going to go my way. Just because you are lucky, and happy, it doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to also feel fed up, and exhausted. There have been a few things that have made it challenging over the last few days: the sudden cold snap; the fact that this week’s schedule has been brutally overloaded; excessive train delays; having no time to unwind; feeling like nearly everything I cooked went wrong. I embarked upon Week 2 with a new rule: no cycling in sub-zero temperatures. It’s just no fun. A friend at Leiths came off her bike on ice and dislocated her shoulder last week and that decided it for me. If it is literally freezing, I am getting the tube, and then walking twenty minutes from Goldhawk Road to school. This new rule saw me crammed onto the Hammersmith and City line with many rambunctious school children on Tuesday, grateful for the heating but less grateful for one of the more hyperactive children jumping on my foot.

Monday morning was what our teacher for the day called ‘a bit hectic’ and I call ‘fairly close to madness’. I think, as a group, we used every single pan in the kitchen. We made French onion soup with Gruyère croûtons and pot-roast partridge on a bed of puy lentils with pancetta and cavalo nero. Soups seem to be treating me kindly thusfar this term: last week, a well-reviewed artichoke soup; this week, a well-reviewed French onion soup. Apparently the key is to cook the onions absolutely to death, which is what I did, so there you go. Wander away from your pan and forget you left your onions on a high heat and you too can achieve culinary brilliance.


After those dizzying heights of praise, the partridge dish could only pale in comparison, so it was no surprise to me when my bird was pronounced both over-cooked and under-cooked in different areas (this is why it is very tricky to win with partridge). I was still drifting around on a cloud of oniony-happiness though, so I didn’t mind too much. We then had a lovely afternoon of wine tasting after which I managed to race off and catch the early train and get home… well, not before dark, that would be madness, but before 7pm, which is pretty good going. Monday, my friend, you were good to me. Unfortunately, it was sort of downhill after that.


Tuesday morning didn’t get off to a particularly auspicious start, due in no small part to the fact that my car doors were iced shut, making driving to Oxford station a tad problematic. I have a scraper and de-icing spray, but keep both of these things – perhaps unwisely, I now think – in the car, to which I could not gain access. My approach was to swear, panic, run inside and get jugs of hot water to pour over the car doors until I could prise them open. I am sure there are better was to deal with this problem, but it was 6.30am and cold and confusing. I then drove as fast as I (safely and legally, naturally) could to the station and sprinted for my train, which was very full because the one before it had been cancelled.


So I arrived at school on Tuesday in a slightly less than optimum mood, only to be thrust into another mad morning in which we used all the pans again. I think that’s just how it’s going to be from now on. I made aubergine salad with parmesan and chive crisps (above – very nice) and skate wing with caper beurre noisette and turned vegetables (the less said on this, the better. Especially regarding turned vegetables. See those poor, innocent vegetables that have been inexpertly hacked to bits below? They should look like even, smooth barrels. Oh dear).


Luckily, the afternoon dem was on enriched breads, with Hannah. Hannah is excellent and enriched breads are excellent and I spent a very happy afternoon drooling over pecan sticky buns and beer bread and nabbing as many samples as I reasonably could. The picture at the top of this post is of the bread rolls she made, by the way, which is why they are good.

Unfortunately, Wednesday properly kicked my arse. In the morning I left five minutes early and came out with a jug of hot water to pour over the icy car, feeling all smug and prepared. I got to my train in a leisurely fashion and it was all going swimmingly until the train stopped. Outside Maidenhead. For a very long time. ‘Signalling problems’ was the official excuse, but that’s what they always say. How hard can it really be to make functioning train signals? I mean, based on my commuting experience, really hard, but why? I’m genuinely asking: can anyone explain to me why train signals break all the time? Are they not essentially traffic lights? I mean, we can pull an atom apart. Traffic lights work pretty reliably. Why is this difficult?

Anyway, the train arrived into Paddington 50 minutes behind schedule. I wasn’t cycling, because of the ice, so I sprinted to the tube and then later ran the mile or so from Goldhawk Road station to school, leapt into my whites, and arrived in class just as everyone was gathering for the register. This meant I missed the opportunity to do my cooking prep and was on the back foot for the entire morning. That’s my excuse, anyway, for why everything was awful. We made white dinner rolls and a sea bass dish with pickled shallots, Pernod sauce, spinach, and clams, which was delicious, but sickeningly complicated and designed in a way which involved the maximum amount of mess and fuss. We’re supposed to be out of the kitchens by 1pm. That day, I got out at 1.50pm, leaving me ten minutes to fly downstairs and change before the 2pm dem, having not had lunch or a sit down or even three minutes to not be dashing about ever since my train got in late to Paddington.


The afternoon dem was on meringue cuite and gelatine. We had been told in advance that this dem would be technical and it would be important for us to be attentive, so it was unfortunate that I was shattered and too stressed to properly understand what was going on. We got fed, though, which was good because we’d not had time for lunch. Basically I sat there dazed and confused and perked up a bit whenever anyone handed me a mousse to taste.

I know this is becoming a litany of whinging, so I’m sorry to say that Thursday wasn’t great either. Any session in which we have to cook three different things under tight time constraints is always tricky, and we were doing cold lemon soufflé, meringue cuite, and a cellophane noodle stir fry. Suffice to say I haven’t got any pictures of my stir fry because it looked dreadful, lots of people had to remake the soufflé and the meringue, we were given ‘a bit of a talking to’ as a class, and we got out late again. The afternoon dem was also on soufflés, and I am fairly sure that was the night that images of sunken soufflés started to haunt my dreams.

On Friday morning we made twice-baked goat’s cheese and thyme soufflés (see picture below – I was told mine were both too dense and not structurally sound enough, making them wrong in an improbable way), and served our cold lemon soufflés from the day before with blueberry compote and meringues. Unfortunately, my lemon soufflé was sitting out for so long that by the time it was seen it has started to melt and all the blueberry compote had run into it and it just looked terrible. It was also apparently too sweet and (this seems to be my issue with all soufflé-making) too dense.


I was feeling pretty exhausted and dispirited when it came to the Friday afternoon dem, and just wanted to go home and eat brownies for dinner. Luckily, the dem was on French pastries and led by Heli, and it actually managed to perk me up. All of the pastries we tried were delicious and the whole thing was much more up my street than the soufflés of terror. The picture below is of a beautiful little tart filled with crème patisserie and topped with plums that Heli made (I mean, obviously I didn’t make that) amongst other various delights.


So I am limping into the weekend feeling pretty pummelled by Week 2. It’s hard to not be doing very well at something you care a lot about, and it can be a bit spirit-crushing to put loads of hours and effort into something only to be told it isn’t serveable. Nonetheless, even on the hard days, I remind myself that I would much, much rather be at Leiths than back behind a desk at an admin job, and that nothing worth having comes easily. Hopefully, trying very, very hard and getting back up over and over again is what is going to make me a good cook at the end of this year: I’m at Leiths to learn, and if I was perfect already then I wouldn’t need to be there.

Now I am going to go out and order a massive burger for lunch. A proper one, with loads of bacon and cheese and stuff. And maybe a gin and tonic.


Chocolate Soufflés – Bake Off Bake Along Week 9

Ah, chocolate week. They really made us wait for that one, didn’t they? I feel that, after eight weeks of doing this bake along, I really earned the right to enjoy chocolate week. Also, remember back in the first week when I predicted Marie, Tamal, and Flora for the final? In a way, I didn’t do too badly. Yes, Marie had a shock early exit, but Tamal made it through and Flora was almost there. I am so glad Nadiya is in the final though – I adore her.

Week 9 of the Great British Bake Off was also the week I started commuting to culinary school in London, full time. During the week, I have zero spare minutes, and on the weekend it happened to be my lovely Dad’s birthday, so back down to London we went so that I could get a break from school by, er, cooking dinner for twelve. I thought I might have to give up on the bake along this week simply due to lack of time, but luckily soufflés were my saviour.

I know they are notoriously tricky, but for me, soufflés were a godsend. Fifteen minutes to make the batter, ten minutes in the oven, two minutes to photograph them before they fell and boom, job’s done. You literally have no choice but to make these quickly. I fear that next week I might not be so lucky, as I doubt the final will involve any recipes that you can knock up in half an hour.


I mean, I made these in half an hour, but it was a terrifying half hour. I’ve not made soufflés before, I only had the ingredients for one batch, and I knew that I’d have to get the photographs done within two minutes if I wanted to catch the rise. It was frantic. But I was actually really happy with them in the end. Quick, effective, and delicious. It was basically the exact opposite of the mokatine challenge last week.

The first photo sort of shows the rise I got, although not quite as it was taken about three minutes after I got the soufflés out of the oven and they had started to sink. They were great though. See that bottom photo? That was me ‘digging into the soufflé for photographic effect’ but then I just ate it all. And, um, maybe another one after that. To be thorough.


Once again, I am not going to write out the recipe, partly because I have no time and partly because I didn’t change the recipe one jot. I usually try to put a twist on these bakes, but not for the technical, and certainly not for the first time I made souffles. Here is the recipe I used, although I didn’t even bother with the sauce.

We made it, team! Bring on the final.