Investment Banker turned Pastry Arts student on the Unit 3 exam.
“Hands up, utensils down!”
It’s the end of Unit 3: Puff Pastry. And that means one thing: Once again, it’s exam time in culinary school. Tonight I will likely dream about not being able to find my offset spatula or over-whipping my Creme Fouettee. Long gone are the nightmares of showing up to high school without any pants on. Anxiety dreams have taken a decidedly pastry focus.
What does a culinary school exam entail?
The first hour is for the written portion of the exam. Students are tested on recipe ingredients, methodology, technique theory and a multitude of French vocabulary words that make you sound extremely pretentious to the rest of the world (… or everywhere except for France, I suppose).
“Welcome to Starbucks. Would you like whipped cream on your Frappuccino?”
“No, but I will have the Creme Chantilly.”
Then again, “Grande Frappuccino” is pretty obnoxious too. It’s a medium coffee milkshake people!
The second phase of the exam is the fun part — the practical. A lottery system determines which recipes are assigned to which students, and then it’s go time. Everyone has two to three hours to prepare, bake, finish and present several items to the Chef judges.
More than anything, the practical exam is designed to test each students’ organizational skills. So you have to complete three items, and one takes an hour in the ovens? You just might want to get that one done first.
Grading is based on the following criteria:
- Cleanliness: Yep.. it’s the first category. You will be docked points for “working dirty.” Cleaning as you go is critical. And there’s a particular focus on safe food handling. If you’re making an item with fresh cut fruit, but you didn’t wear gloves when you cut it, then you should expect to lose points.
- Organization: You must have a game plan. A good itinerary means you’re busy for every minute of the exam. If you’re waiting to something to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes, that doesn’t mean you’re just chilling too.
- Mise-en-Place: It goes hand-in-hand with organization. You should have all of your tools and ingredients ready to go before you start cooking (all of your “things in place”).
- Tool Skills: This most often refers to knife skills, but you should use the right tools for the job. Trying to poach pears in a sauté pan… not good. Trying to whip cream with a wooden spoon? Why did you even enroll?!
- Timing: When you’re ready to present your finished items, you call time. If you miss the established finish time, points are progressively deducted.
- Technique: There are many ways to get to the same end product, but centuries of established technique can’t be wrong (one hopes… culinary school isn’t cheap, after all). Use the methods demonstrated in class.
- Attitude: There’s no denying it… the practical exam can be a little stressful. But it’s best to keep your cool. Flipping out when things don’t go your way will just cost you points.
- Taste and Texture: The ultimate test. Did you make something that people actually want to eat? Proper seasoning… cooked all the way through? Let’s hope so.
- Presentation: This is classic French pastry. It has to taste good and look good. And by look good, that means you have to adhere to the traditional forms of presentation. I know… you may want to let your creativity shine at this point, but if the classic recipe calls for finishing the dessert with a light dusting of powdered sugar, that’s what you have to use.
– Ingredients Running Tally –
I have to admit, I was a little disappointed that we didn’t reach the 10kg milestone for flour as we ended this unit. Oh well, with bread right around the corner, there will be no wanting for flour in the weeks to come.
Ingredients used to date (10.13.14):
Eggs: 4,800g (95x)
– The Recipes –
Apple Dartois (Dartois aux Pommes)
An apple compote tart in a lattice puff pastry
– Working with larger sheets of latticed dough, keeping the dough well chilled before cutting, unfolding and placing on the tart.
– Creating dry-compotes that will not seep through the puff pastry when baked.
– Decorating the edges of the puff pastry with Demi-Feuilletage.
Photo: Unbaked Apple Dartois
The traditional Napoleon, this tiered pastry is made of compressed sheets of Pate Feuilletee and layers of Creme Legere. The top of the pastry is glazed with fondant and decorated with melted chocolate in a chevron pattern.
– Firming Creme Legere with gelatin to give the pastry extra structure when assembled. The pastry will still be delicate, particularly in the heat, and must be served the day it is made.
– Creating the decorative chevron pattern immediately after applying the fondant glaze given the fast setting time of fondant.
– Finishing the edges of the pastry with Feuilletine at the very end of the assembly process. This prevents any fondant or chocolate from dripping onto the coating.
A larger format, square shaped vole-au-vent, best used for appetizers and entree-sized dishes.
– Using only freshly rolled Pate Feuilletee Classique or Inversee to ensure the highest possible rise for the edges of the pastry.
Learn about Mark’s class: Professional Pastry Arts