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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Culinary School - Session 116: Final Exam Practical - Day 1

Culinary School: Session 116 (05.29.15)

Final Exam Practical - Day 1

Day 1 of 5....

What could be more fun than a five day Practical Exam?

How about a root canal... child birth... or any Adam Sandler movie from the last ten years (that one is probably a stretch)?

But as they say in the bake shop, "Shut your pie hole!", because complaining will get you nowhere. As with all of the exams that came before this one, the dreaded sense of anticipation will quickly disappear once we're cooking.

Even though its the final, this particular exam follows a well-worn format. We begin with a Written Exam focused on the technical aspects of the program (e.g. specific recipes, methods, conversions, etc.). By now, everyone knows the relevant facts and figures by rote, making the Written Exam a test in speed writing... because every minute saved on the Written Exam is a minute gained in the kitchen for the Practical Exam.

For the Practical Exam, each students' fate was in the hands of Lady Luck. The production lists were assigned by lottery. Each list enumerates multiple products from the major units of the Professional Pastry Arts Program: Tarts, Chocolate, Petits Fours, Viennoiserie / Pate a Choux... and a Showpiece (always with the Showpieces!) There are no surprises here. Someone has to make Eclairs. Someone has to bake Brioche (me). In a French pastry kitchen, we hold these truths to be self-evident.

Class Awaiting the Final Written Exam

And pulled from the hat....

Chocolate: Spiced Bonbons with a Dark Chocolate Shell (decorated)

Petits Fours: Petits Fours Glaces

Viennoiserie: Brioche a Tete

Seasonal Tart Options: Mango / Pineapple / Orange / Strawberry / Rhubarb / Almond / Hazelnut

Showpiece Theme: Famous Works of Art

I was neither thrilled nor disappointed with my assignment. After all, none of these items is particularly difficult. And the Showpiece notwithstanding, everything can be prepared in a matter of hours. But seeing as the Practical Exam spans five whole sessions, what is really being tested is proper planning and time management. Writing an itinerary which guarantees that all of the pastries are in perfect, fresh condition at the time of judging... that is a challenge.

Designing the Final Showpiece at Starbucks

- Day One Itinerary -

Stick to the plan....

Every well-executed Practical Exam begins with a good itinerary. And with a five session Practical Exam, it's absolutely critical.  

What products can be made days in advance without sacrificing quality? How long can pieces of Poured Sugar for a Showpiece rest in a humid kitchen before they start to melt? If I don't mix my Pastillage by the second day, will there be enough time for it to dry and be painted?

And what about that last day? How am I going to proof and bake Brioche, assemble a multi-component Tart and finish a Showpiece in just two hours before judging?

.... again... planning! 

Production Schedules and Itineraries

Chocolate Pate Sucree... Check!

While most students decided to use the first day to tackle elements of their Showpieces, I wanted to cook. The Biscuit for the Petits Fours will freeze well. The Strawberry Jam, Polenta Streusel and Candied Hazelnut Butter for the Seasonal Tart all have a long shelf-life. If I make them now, there's less to cook next week... and then the entire project becomes a matter of final assembly.

I attached the Written Exam as a speed test. Two hours were allotted. I was out in 30 minutes. The additional 90 minutes in the kitchen put me in a great position for next week. It eases the stress. But more importantly, should something go horribly wrong over the next four sessions, there will be more time to deal with it.

Sponge Cake (Biscuit) for the Petits Fours Glace

Sheeted Chocolate Sucree Dough for the Seasonal Tart

Fresh Strawberries for the Seasonal Tart Balsamic Strawberry Jam

Strawberry Balsamic Jam

Augh... and that showpiece!

I would love to ignore it, but there is no escaping the final Showpiece.

With the assigned theme of "Famous Works of Art", each student must produce a Showpiece that highlights the techniques learned in the Chocolate and Sugar sections of the Syllabus. The Showpiece must also serve as the display for the final products: a dozen Chocolates, a dozen Petits Fours and an 8" Tart. 

With an appreciation for that fact that it is far easier to go abstract rather than representational when it comes to Showpieces, I chose "Circles in a Circle" by Wassily Kandinsky as my inspirational art pieces. It's vibrant and colorful, very geometric, and it can (I hope) be easily translated into a three dimensional Showpiece.

As for the medium of choice, I decided to avoid Chocolate. The forecast in NYC is pushing 85 degrees Fahrenheit... well above the ideal range for Chocolate. I will stick with Pastillage and Poured Sugar. They are less sensitive to heat, but the humidity will still be a challenge. And wouldn't you know it... it's supposed to rain all next week too!

I guess we'll just see how things go! 

Showpiece Inspiration: "Circles in Circle" by Wassily Kandinsky

Final Showpiece Design and Diagram

Next - Session 117: Final Exam Practical - Day 2

Previous - Session 115: Restaurant Day

Take a look at the full syllabus

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