I tried my best to concentrate on “studying” for the final practical exam. How do you actually study for a practical? We wouldn’t know the recipe until the day itself. But as I mentioned before, there are only a handful of recipes that could actually come out for the exam. We guessed a gâteau, because that would require the most technique and finesse. I narrowed it down to the following recipes: Moka, Fraisier, Paris-Brest, Dacquoise, Charlotte and Alhambra. I had a sneaky suspicion that the Moka would be the recipe, because firstly, we had to make a genoise, which is the most basic of sponges. If under-beaten, the genoise would not rise enough to make three layers for the cake. The texture and crumb is also very important and telling of the technique used. Secondly, the buttercream. This was the component that most of the students had a problem with. Once again, if under-beaten, you simply would not get enough volume to allow you to fill and frost your cake. Lastly, the presentation. The Moka requires a steady hand for piping the borders and patterns.
Part two of the exam is the technical one which requires us to line a tart ring with pâte sucrée. I wasn’t so confident with this because I’d only managed to crimp decently just once in over ten attempts.
Needless to say, the Moka was the exam recipe! We all joked that the Fraisier wasn’t the recipe because it was too expensive of a recipe for the school to afford again.
I was pretty confident with the Moka. I set about with my genoise, which turned out beautifully tall and aerated. Next, the coffee syrup for soaking, the caramelised almonds, and finally, the buttercream. I made sure to whip the hell out of it so that I would have sufficient for my cake. I think some people did run out of buttercream and had to use chef’s prepared one.
While waiting for my cake to cool, I started on my pâte sucrée. I chilled it and started assembling my cake.
This was when I made my first big mistake. I did not line my cake ring with the acetate, so I couldn’t remove the ring after blast freezing it! I had to ask for the chef’s permission to use the blowtorch to warm the sides. Even then, it stubbornly refused to budge and chef had to help me with it. The heat melted some of my patterned markings on the cake which I had made with the serrated knife, but thankfully only on the sides, which meant I was able to hide them with my shell border.
By this time, some of my classmates had already finished both their cake and their tart shell, which made me panic. But I reminded myself again that it wasn’t a race, and I had 3 hours allocated. I had about an hour left to decorate and line my tart shell.
After I had completed my cake, I got my pastry dough out of the fridge to start lining the tart ring. It was probably my fault (and also the air conditioner’s) so mistake number two – I over-handled my dough. It became way too soft. There was a big complaint about the kitchen being the hottest it had ever been on the day it mattered the most. I had to return my dough into the fridge for about another 5 minutes to chill again. I made a second decent attempt at it, and though not completely satisfied, I gave up. The thickness of the dough was not completely even, so some of the crimps looked nice whereas others looked pretty crappy. However, I knew that trying to redo it wouldn’t work because the dough was already starting to crack. I finished crimping the edges and then raised my hand to inform the chef that I was done with the exam.
And that was it. I walked out of the kitchen
like a boss knowing I had done my best, and with no regrets. I had worked hard over the past month. I lived, breathed (and ate) pastry EVERYDAY. I was glad it was over. That feeling of accomplishment – priceless.
photo credits to Nadia Shurygina