Exams and endings.

I am exhausted.

Last week was petits-fours week and my flat is still full of meringue l’amandes, sables Hollandaise and macarons of various flavours; I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many biscuits in my life!  Saying that, I am quite proud of my pistachio macarons.  (I apologise now if that sounds smug or conceited, it isn’t meant to!)  I made them using the Italian meringue method, a technique that I’d never tried before; the chef pronounced them “perfect” in his evaluation, which made me very happy indeed!  To be honest, it made up for my less-than-perfect sables from two days before…

In a total contrast, we had our Basic theory and practical exams this week.

The theory paper was pretty much what I expected and what I’m used to, i.e. the academic side of education.  As for the practical, it’s difficult to say how it went; our group got eclairs which, out of the three possible options, was probably our last preference.  As an incurable perfectionist, I tend to pick out even the tiniest flaws and mistakes in whatever I do, so naturally I feel like there were things that could have been better, regardless of how well or badly the exam actually went.  Of course in reality, there are always things that could be improved upon; I suppose I should just be happy that there were no major disasters and that I actually finished in time!  Saying that though, don’t even get me started on the chocolate piping(!)  Never, until exam day, have I had a problem with paper piping bags.  Trust it to happen on the one occasion that I need things to go right…

On a more positive note, we finally had our group night out!  We went for cocktails and dim sum straight after our practical, the perfect way to relax and wind down after the craziness of exams.  (The restaurant was incredible and may very well be my new favourite place in London, especially with desserts as exquisite as theirs were…)  Sadly though, we also have our final demonstration and practical sessions this week. I know I’ve been saying it for the last ten weeks, but I really can’t believe how quickly the Basic module has passed, especially considering how much I’ve learned and done in that time.  Unbelievably, tomorrow is the last day of term; we have our examination debrief first thing in the morning and our final practical in the afternoon.  It’s going to be a strange day, both celebratory and a little bit sad, the end of a short, but wonderful era.

(Time to change the subject before I get too sentimental, I think…!)

In other news, it’s interesting now to look back on things I’ve made in the past and to see how my baking skills have developed and (hopefully) improved since I started at culinary school.

Mini croquembouche - 25/12/2012

Mini croquembouche – 25/12/2012

This is the mini croquembouch that I made for Christmas dinner dessert last year; it consists of choux buns filled with orange-infused creme patissiere, all held together with caramel.  Crunchy sugar, soft choux, delicate pastry cream and just a hint of citrus, it made an interesting and welcome change from the traditional festive pudding.  Looking back now, it’s strange to think how unknown some of the elements were to me just a few months ago.  It was the first time I’d ever made pastry cream, something I could probably now do in my sleep.  (I exaggerate, but you get my meaning…)  My choux pastry is also much improved these days, as is my ability to cook sugar…

Anyway, what I’m really trying to say is that studying at LCB is making me appreciate every day how much I’ve gained already (after all, it’s only been two and a half months) while simultaneously reminding me how much more there is to learn about patisserie.  It makes me appreciate the fact that this is a craft, something to be gained over a lifetime; it’s impossible to know everything and the potential for learning is never-ending.

Truthfully, that’s what excites me most, because I am so eager to be taught, to learn as much as I can and to keep improving and honing my skills in the hope that one day, I might just be able to hold my own in a professional pastry kitchen.  The course is opening my eyes to the culinary world in ways I never imagined and I can already see the difference between the amateur baker who started Basic back in January and the LCB student that I am now.  It’s not just the improvement in my technical abilities, but also my organisation, cleanliness, working methods.  Of course, I still have a long, long way to go before I approach anything like professional level, but I’m embracing every change and challenge and I’m determined to make every second of this experience count.

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