Monday, July 20, 2009

Week Thirteen: Laminate Doughs and Exam

Last week is a bit of a blur.  I woke-up Monday morning to found I had lost the week long battle with my head cold.  I suspect the stress from my trail at Blue Hill the previous evening played a major role in the way I felt, but it was bad enough that I called out of work for the first time ever.  I rested up most of the day and headed to class Monday evening, even though I still wasn't feeling very well.
We finished up puff pastry that evening, working to create palmiers and cheese straws.

The palmiers I created were much smaller than the versions I have seen in bakeries, but I wanted to make a miniature version.  These little treats were just puff pastry dough, rolled out with sugar instead of flour and then, after forming and slicing, dipped in more sugar.  I quickly became addicted to these, taking a couple the next few mornings to enjoy with my coffee.

The cheese straws were also quite tasty: the filling was Parmesan cheese and paprika.  The recipe was definitely a good base to play around with other savory flavors in the future.
Tuesday evening was another night focused completely on making dough that would be held in the refrigerator overnight and be used during the following class.  We individually made and rolled our croissant and danish doughs, anticipating the flaky treats which would emerge from the ovens Wednesday night.
It was worth the wait.  Wednesday night we formed and shaped our croissants, pain au chocolats and several danish forms.  Once they had proofed long enough, they were gently egg-washed and placed in the oven until they reached their desired golden tone.
The longest part of the evening was waiting for the fresh croissants to cool just long enough that I wouldn't burn my mouth on it.  It was flaky, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth perfection.
I was a little disappointed with the interior of the croissant; I was hoping it would be a bit flakier.  Our chef-instructor told us this was a good recipe, but that the layers wouldn't be as flaky and they wouldn't hold their crunch very long.

 But the pain au chocolat (chocolate croissants) stole the show.  I was lucky enough to also have one of these straight from the oven, with the gooey chocolate blending seamlessly with the butter from the surrounding croissant.  For those who were lucky enough to try one, they seemed to be a new favorite.
Thursday night marked the end of the second module.  The format of the exam was the same as before: an hour-long written examination followed by a practical.  Even more than usual, I couldn't wait for the exam to be over - Mummy was coming for the weekend!

But I made myself focus on the task at hand.  I completed the written exam and felt happy with my performance.  Then it was time for the practical portion, which was made-up of two tasks: the first was soft roll dough, the second was classic puff pastry.  The chef-instructor had to evaluate each step of our performance, which left ample opportunity for points to be deducted.
The kitchen was extremely hot and humid, which made working on the puff pastry dough particularly challenging.  I was nervous and ready to have the exam be over, but I just kept thinking how relaxed I would be tomorrow walking around SoHo.
Then, it was over.  Chef Gerri said she would meet with each of us individually to give us our grades and feedback.  We would go alphabetically by last name, so guess where that left me?  Bottom of the list.
My clean-up was finished and I waited nervously for it to be my turn.  Then, tempers which had been brewing since the beginning of program finally boiled over with, presumably, the stress of the last few hours.  Classmates started screaming at each other, accusations flying about slacking on kitchen responsibilities coupled with too personal attacks.
I stood, watching in horror and disbelief as adults acted like hormonal, immature teenagers.  I was literally caught in the middle of a shouting match and all I could do was look nervously at the table and fidget with my tools.  There were things I wanted to jump in say, people I wanted to defend, but when it came down to it, I knew it would only make it worse.
After what seemed like an eternity, it was finally my turn to meet with Chef Gerri.  After calling me her "little perfectionist" and informing me I had received a 99% (maintaining my 4.0 GPA), she complimented my work and assured me I would not only do fine in the industry, but that I had the "skills, talent and speed" to go after anything I wanted and be successful.
It was a perfectly-timed compliment.  I walked back into the kitchen where tempers were still fuming and the tension was enough to take your breath away.  Without a word, I collected my tools and headed upstairs to change.

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