As we enter week seven of Superior Patisserie, the heat is slowly being turned up, both figuratively and literally.
Figuratively in terms of meeting ever-rising expectations, but also our workload which is only going to increase from now on. With two weeks to go until our portfolio deadline, there are methods to be written, recipes to be finalised, time plans to be plotted, diagrams to be drawn. There’s also the theory paper, with a mountain of revision topics to be covered. And then there’s the small matter of our final practical exams, four in total: sugar, boulangerie, chocolate and – the big one – entremets and plated desserts.
Literally, because my group has just completed our sugarwork module.
Poured, pulled and blown sugar were all on the menu as we were tasked with designing and producing our own showpieces, making blown sugar fruits and pulling ribbons and roses.
Initially, I approached sugarwork with more than a little trepidation. Stories of boiling sugar and burns had been circulating around the Superior groups for weeks as other classes completed their sugar modules, so naturally we were all a little nervous to begin with…
Day one. Stepping into the kitchen at 8am to attempt our first-ever showpieces, we cautiously cooked sugar, water and glucose to 160-162C before shocking it, adding colouring and pouring it, boiling, into various prepared moulds. Once set, we removed the moulds and set about assembling our pieces, gluing them together with clear sugar or blowtorching them.
In our second session of the day, we were shown how to prepare pulled sugar and spent two hours making roses. Make no mistake, pulled sugar is hot work! Sugar was cooked to 162C with glucose and tartaric acid, then immediately shocked and poured onto a silpat mat. Next, we had to work it by hand (albeit hands protected with cotton gloves and two layers of latex gloves) until it was cool enough to satin – i.e. pulled until it takes on a glossy, opaque appearance. After satining, we pearled it by rolling it into a ball and folding it in upon itself until it took on a mother-of-pearl sheen. Only then was it ready to be used to make roses, and all the while it had to be maintained underneath a blisteringly hot sugar lamp.
Thus it was, thanks to a showpiece and a rose, that my love of sugar was born.
Day two saw us attempting ribbons and more roses, with ribbons posing an interesting challenge as we tried in pairs to stretch our sugar evenly to produce nice patterns. (The chef actually complimented our group by telling us that we were the best class he’d seen all year in the ribbon session, so that was a nice little confidence boost!)
Day three was a shift in gear as we learned the art of blown sugar and tried our hand at apples and pears, although we ended up with a range of shapes from cherries to peppers to tomatoes! We also had the chance to practise our sugar showpieces once more, in preparation for our upcoming assessment. (The first photograph above shows mine; I feel it’s not bad, considering that it was only my second go! The colour and pouring could do with some work, but as it goes, I’m rather proud of it.)
Day four, or sugar assessment day. Two exams, each an hour and forty-five minutes long. In one, we had to produce a showpiece as we’d practised the day before. In the other, a rose. I started with the showpiece and everything went well until one of my pieces broke and shattered. Fortunately, I was able to salvage a few shards and managed to present something, though sadly not the design I had intended. (The second photograph above shows the piece I produced, with the obvious changes I had to make.) In three full days of sugarwork, nothing had broken on me before; typical that it would happen on the most important day! However, it was with the rose that I redeemed myself, producing the best one I’d made so far; just the time to pull it out! (The third photograph above is actually the one I made in my exam; I was doubly pleased with it after the minor disaster with my showpiece…!)
Although I was anxious about sugarwork to begin with, it’s turned out to be the most fun I’ve had so far during Superior and I’ve discovered a passion for it that I was not expecting. Sure, it doesn’t really fall under the category of ‘normal’ everyday patisserie, but it’s creative and fun and I love it. It’s also made me feel more settled and comfortable with Superior Patisserie and reminded me that although it’s hard work, it can still be interesting and enjoyable. (That said, sugarwork definitely divided opinions; it seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it subject!)
I’m sad it’s over, but next week sees us tackling the boulangerie unit which is always a good one, so bring on the bread!