It’s Sunday night and just like that, week three is just about to start. It definitely doesn’t seem like I was moving in just two weeks ago today. I’ve done so much since then, and I’ve learned so much about French pastries! The end of the first week was a little bit rough. I was behind the pace and it seemed like everyone was finishing their production faster than I was. I also really questioned my abilities – we’d be making things for the very first time and everyone else’s product would come out beautifully, but I was unhappy with mine. I would look back though on the many things I’ve made in this Classic Pastry course, and I could only really find one item that I really messed up. I was pretty happy with my fresh fruit strips and Jalousie after all, even though it took me a few minutes longer than some other students to finish them.
I spent last weekend really going over my Chef’s critiques in my head. I knew I needed to be more precise, measure dough properly, and cut straight. Small details and precision are not really my specialties – I’m pretty sure it took me somewhere around a couple of years in occupational therapy to learn to correctly fold a piece of paper when I was little – but I knew that going into a new week, those were the things I had to focus on.
We began the week with our last day of puff pastry. I had mixed feelings about moving on since I felt like I was just finally understanding it and now we were about to go onto something else, but I was pretty excited to leave all those folds and exact measurements behind. We started the day finishing our Napoleons. During my Chef’s demo, it was very clear to me that I had to work fast before the fondant icing set to get the correct design. I though for sure I’d be the only person with a bunch of half-iced Napoleons, but lo and behold,
I did manage to spread the icing and pipe the chocolate before the top set. Chef told me that it looked beautiful, and it was the first compliment that wasn’t followed with a “but” that I had gotten so far. I knew the next step would probably be my downfall since we had to cut this big slab of Napoleon into strips. I probably took an extra five or ten minutes since I measured every cut and made sure each was straight, but it paid off. I was really happy with my precision, and so was my chef.
I’d never tried a Napoleon, only seen them, so I was pretty excited to take a bite. These layers of flat puff pastry are filled with Diplomat cream, a 1:1 combination of pastry cream and Chantilly cream (Chantilly cream is basically what we know as whipped cream). You get a light, sweet cream that’s not overly sweet or heavy. Mine was served cold, so it almost reminded me of a French pastry version of an ice cream sandwich.
Next up were cream horns. These were very simple to make with thin strips of puff pastry rolled around a metal form, either straight or cone-shaped and filled also with Diplomat cream. Had there been a way to stuff these in my backpack without messing up the cream filling, I would’ve eaten ten in one sitting and not even felt bad about it.
Monday built my confidence back up quite a bit, and I was looking forward to the rest of the week. I’m starting to realize that precision may always be a problem for me, but if I have to take a little time to practice the little things, then so be it. I’m slowly getting used to working a little faster, which gives me some time to put a little more effort into doing things correctly.
Tuesday began our next few days working with Pate a Choux. This batter that’s cooked twice – once on the stove to form elasticity and then baked in the oven after piping – is what pastries like eclairs and cream puffs are made out of. I found this to be easy, and it was a welcome change from the complicated puff pastry dough.
I piped my cream puffs, eclairs, swans, and Paris-Brest and I was really happy with them. The eclairs are a work in progress, definitely, but I couldn’t wait to see how the finished pastries would look.
Wednesday would be a fun day, we were going to put on a buffet for other classes to come and enjoy while we learned about pastry buffet presentation. On my way back from class on Tuesday, I stopped at the Dean’s office like I do every day to put my cart back in its place. The Dean of Culinary Arts heard me come in, and he came out to officially welcome me to Providence. He had seen me once before, last spring, under more serious circumstances. I’m sure he is largely responsible for me being on this campus right now, and the fact that he came out of his office looking so thrilled for me was so reassuring. When I started this little adventure, I was afraid of a lot of different reactions – unfair treatment, being called out, and other means of retaliation. But getting that personal welcome made me realize that it just wouldn’t be like that here.
Wednesday morning was hectic, but the energy in the room kept me going and I was determined not to fall behind. We finished our Pate a Choux pieces, and I got a handful of compliments on mine. Everyone’s looked great, but these were the first pastries that I was extremely proud of.
After the pastry pieces were finished, we were told to plate them up for critique and for the buffet presentation. Putting things on nice plates and making them look exciting and appetizing is probably my favorite part of pastry arts, so I was all too happy to start shining up a platter and arrange my pastries on it.
Our buffet was a big success and the culinary students gladly snatched up almost all of what we had prepared. I got glowing praise for my Paris-Brest and swans, and I was pretty disappointed that I didn’t have any leftovers to take home. I was so happy with what I accomplished during that class though – I made something that I was finally excited about, and I never lagged behind.
Every week, I seem to be more and more involved with our campus newspaper, The Campus Herald. I remember two years ago when I absolutely knew that I wanted to be a journalist and spend my days writing about anything equestrian. That changed when I lost my horse in October of 2012, and I stopped writing for a long time as my focus turned to baking. But sitting here blogging whenever I can and writing articles for school has definitely rekindled an old interest. I think a lot about my future and about how I may not physically be able to keep up the pace in a busy kitchen for years and years. A career in food writing sounds more exciting by the day, and I love the idea of applying what I learn about pastry here to well-written articles. The Campus Herald comes out every Wednesday, and I was over the moon to open up to the second page and see my own article in print for the very first time.
This pumpkin bread and petit fours recipe took up a whole page, and the first article I had ever written for the paper, a movie review of Chef and The Hundred-Foot Journey, was in there too. The recognition I received at our meeting that night for having two articles in the same paper was exhilarating, and again showed me that I could do more with this degree than work in a kitchen for my whole life.
So many good things happened last week, and I have no doubt that I’m supposed to be right where I am. More excitement will come this week as I finish my Classic Pastry course tomorrow, move on to Cookies and Petit Fours on Tuesday, and begin my year as an official Johnson & Wales blogger (Keep an eye out on Tumblr for Pencils & Pastries – my new JWU blog!). I’m definitely keeping this one as my personal blog and will be continuing to update it, there’s just too much personal information here for me to use this one as the school blog. Registration for the winter term begins on Friday already (didn’t I just start the fall term?), and if my advisor approves my plan then I’ll officially be a Baking and Pastry major with a minor in Professional Communications.
5:15am comes early every morning, so I’m off to bed. Looking forward to another exciting week here in beautiful Providence!