Well, it took 5 weeks but I think I’ve finally found my stride. This week went remarkably well – I think it has something to do with the fact that we’ve been cooking in the afternoons which I find works much better for me. I think it’s because afternoon sessions seem much more manageable than morning ones; it could also be because I’ve finally started getting the hang of things and am in the kitchens a good half hour before we start, getting my mise en place started; maybe it even has a little something to do with the fact that this week we were mostly baking, something that I find infinitely more enjoyable (though at one point my classmate Lara laughed at me for staring too intently and seriously at my scones, lost deep in thought and pondering how done they were).
Either way, it was a week of successes – much needed after the past few weeks of disasters – and a definite confidence booster.
The Autumn Crumble we made at the beginning of the week was so tasty I actually made it again this weekend for TS and my girl friend Ellyn. This was also when I discovered that I’m slightly allergic to raw hazelnuts, the discovery made when I ate a raw one and immediately felt my mouth and throat start to itch and then, rather alarmingly, my throat start to constrict a little, making swallowing difficult. I hastily popped an antihistamine and chugged down half a bottle of water and within 10 minutes I was back to my normal self, so I won’t be doing that again in a hurry… on the plus side, at least now I know! No more raw hazelnuts for me (cooked is fine as they lose their allergenic properties, said the allergist’s daughter who probably should’ve known better than to eat a raw nut that belonged to the family of pollen that she knew she was allergic to).
However, near anaphylaxis aside, this crumble really is quite delicious and I enjoyed it just as much the second time around.
Even though Victoria Sandwiches are terribly British, old school and, well, pretty boring in my book, the technique behind baking it is one that I was keen to exercise and I didn’t do too bad a job. Other than the fact that my two cake halves wouldn’t come out of the tin properly, leaving me with a Victoria Sandwich which looked like it had been wearing a corset for most of its life, and a few wormholes (indicating some over-folding), it was pretty good, and the lemon curd I’d made the day before for it was delicious.
I gave the cake to my girl friend Richelle who popped over that evening for a late night cup of tea and slice of cake. Interestingly, my classmate Steffi had also given me half of her cake to take home and it was incredibly fascinating to do a little compare and contrast between the two cakes (well, fascinating for me, at least. Richelle probably wanted me to shut up and stop rambling about “crumb texture” so that she could just eat cake…). Steffi’s mixture had curdled when she added her eggs after creaming which resulted in a slightly denser cake with a tighter crumb and, amazingly, you could actually see the difference between the two. Even more interesting, though we had used exactly the same quantities of ingredients (Steffi and I were actually table partners this week), Richelle was convinced upon tasting that Steffi’s cake contained more butter and also found it a little more dry than mine. I’m pretty sure that’s due to the concentration of butter molecules in the cake – when the mixture curdled it caused the butter to clump together with the sugar, separating away from the egg, which meant that during baking the butter would be less able to disperse and more likely to remain concentrated in singular areas all over the cake, resulting in a more buttery tasting final product. At least that’s my theory – the scientists out there would probably be able to explain it a little better than I can. I think that’s probably why the cake would also taste drier.
Steffi’s lemon curd was also a little more tart than mine, which I had balanced out with a little more sugar, but that’s purely down to personal preference. Both cakes were delicious, it was just interesting to actually be able to see how one small thing could make such a difference to texture and flavour.
Speaking of old school, this week I also made my first ever Swiss Roll which, though slightly overbaked and bizarrely took a good 20 minutes longer than the rest of my class to reach ribbon consistency (I have no idea why), turned out beautifully voluminous (I don’t quite fold in the way that Leiths want me to but I do it efficiently and it always seems to work out for me). I was pretty happy with it, not to mention the fact that it was delicious.
That day I also made lemon sole meuniere for the first time, where I filleted my own lemon sole. Though I have filleted fish before, I haven’t filleted a flat fish for a very long time and so I was a little rusty… having said that, I think it’s one of those muscle memory things – once you start you just keep going, and I’ve never been one to be nervous about cutting into dead animals. That only sounds vaguely creepy… either way, my teacher for the day was very complimentary about my filleting, well, about my whole day really, and told me that my beurre noisette was the best one she’d tasted all day. It was high praise indeed from one of the teachers I want to impress the most (she’s tough but fair) and, though it took a bit of time to sink in, I left feeling very proud of my work indeed.
The good vibes continued on into Friday when I made beautiful little eclairs and scones, the first time my scones have ever been truly successful – light, fluffy, golden brown and risen beautifully. It was very satisfying to finally be able to do something right and, amazingly, I even managed to serve first that day! I think it’s probably because my eclairs were a little smaller than the rest of the class so baked a little faster, but also because choux pastry is my favourite pastry and I can knock it out pretty quickly (even as I was skimming and depouiller-ing our fish stock!). That meant I could actually take a little time to fill the rest of my eclairs to give to Ellyn, whom I was meeting after school that day, though it did cause a few funny looks to come my way from fellow classmates and teachers alike (I’m sure they all thought I was just faffing about but in my defence the rest of my table hadn’t served yet and it was only 4pm when the teachers had asked for a 4.15pm service! I also cleaned all of the copper pots on our side of the sink, so I think it gives me license to faff a little).
Either way, I’m just hoping that last week’s successes continue on into this week. I’ve been far too up and down lately and I’d really just like to be up most of the time – not demanding at all, I know!
Also a quiet word really must go in here to say thank you to my friends, family and TS, all of whom have been incredibly supportive and calming throughout the previous 5 weeks. TS in particular has not only listened to me ramble on about cooking and taste tested for me when I was practising a technique or 2 (oh it’s a hard life, isn’t it?), but has also opened up his home to me for all the late evenings when trudging back to SE London seems the equivalent of walking to Timbuktu, or, simply, when I needed a hug and to collapse on a sofa and have dinner made for me, for once. So a massive thank you to him for, well, being him.
And on that rather soppy note, good night and until next time, friends, peace and love.