Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Man v Pastry III - a good result

October was, the radio announced this morning, the sunniest October for 40 years. November was seeking revenge, an occluded front in the  Atlantic sent heavily gusting winds to rattle the windows and blow leaves around like a snow storm, but the rain held off.

The walk to School gave chance to reflect upon the last six weeks and the need to "up the game" for the next six, truly this was a game of two halves and we did not yet know the half time score. Today I would cook three dishes, a French Peasant Soup, A Beetroot and Baby Spinach Salad and a Besancon Apple Tart. My chopping and dicing skills would be tested to the extreme whilst the battle of Man v Pastry would go into another round with Pastry definitely ahead on points.

First the pastry was tackled, flour, icing sugar, butter and an egg yolk were combined smothered in cling film and put into the fridge to chill for at least an hour. On then to the chopping fest- bacon, onions, tomatoes, potato all peeled and diced before being sweated off and then combined with stock. Just before serving chopped Savoy Cabbage would be added and the whole dish garnished with loads of chopped parsley.

By the time that the chopping was over it was Pastry Time. I don't know why I have an absolute mental block about this humble ingredient but it causes anguish whenever I try to make it. Today was no different. I rolled it- it tore. The teacher rolled it and left it for me to roll it over the pin and line the flan tin - before her very eyes it tore. Right she said time to end this problem once and for all. Hooray! no more pastry dishes I inwardly cheered. "You can do it like Rachel does, between two sheets of clingfilm - it's foolproof" was the unexpected response. I have to say that it worked and with one sheet still underneath it turned into the tin very nicely and for the second time in a week I was able to apply the Ballymaloe lip, this time in a recipe that called for it , before chilling the pastry again.

Whilst it blind baked and received an egg glaze intended to apply a waterproof covering to the base I had time for some more chopping.

Beetroot and Baby Spinach Salad involves peeling raw beetroot and the reducing them to a julienne by dint of nifty knife work. These are then scattered over the washed and dried baby spinach leaves before receiving a dressing and a scattering of toasted sesame seeds.

By now the tart was ready for its filling and , guess what more chopping. The apple had to be reduced to slices 1/8 inch thick and lined around the edges of the tart to produce an even and symmetrical patter. A rich egg and cream custard is then poured in and the whole thing baked for around 40 minutes. Schadenfreude is a very satisfying if somewhat mean emotion but after the pastry problem, (" Bill, you don't have a problem with pastry- you rolled it three times this morning and it turned out beautiful" "Everyone else rolled it once and got better results") I was somewhat apprehensive about sharing an oven with the best pastry maker in the kitchen. Amazingly her pastry leaked even more than mine - egg wash notwithstanding- but the highlight was when she said "I wouldn't like to clean that oven today, which section is it?" "Yellow" " That's mine!!".

mine is on the Left
Whilst we waited for the tarts to cook it was time to plate up and present the Salad and Soup. Everything about tasting sessions has to be restaurant correct. Cold dishes have to be served on cold plates, hot ones on hot plates - tip a commercial dishwasher can raise a plate or dish to 60 degrees in two minutes - and properly garnished and presented. There is not a lot you can do with Soup and Salad but here are today's efforts.

 By now the tart had cooked and the interesting task of removing it from the ring was awaiting.Some nifty skewer work ensured that there were no sticking parts and the tart was eased out of the ring and on to a plate.

Cooled slightly and Apricot Glazed a slice was gently removed and plated for tasting, wittily garnished with the same pot of whipped cream that had already accompanied at least 3 other pies to my knowledge.

Tasting over I shot into lunch - only pasta left and then to Demo.

Rachel demonstrated several Thai dishes and also cold mousses. Salads and green vegetables also featured though the star was definitely the Brioche. This also provided the comedy moment of the day, one oven was overheating and the smaller buns cooked much quicker than anticipated and emerged somewhat browner and more solid than intended. "I see that they are quite brown" stated a previously dozing student, "Can you get them more golden?" "Not only are they overcooked in terms of colour, but if I threw this one at you it would bounce off and come back to me!"
Rachel demonstrates the structural integrity of a brioche grenade

Demonstration over I had to serve the food to the ravening hordes, apparently Thai is the new Chips, before Darina came in to make an announcement. "Your exam results are available from me in the office".

Worried students formed lines each trying to remember their exam number or they would not get the scores. One of the more worried was a housemate who has recently ceased to be the Principal of a major school in Tipperary, "I know how students feel now" she said but had no need to worry as she did just fine.

And how did I do? 91% for the herbs and salad and 87% for the techniques.

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