I can’t believe I’m halfway through the patisserie course. The time has just flown by. Over the past three months, my fellow students and I have been busy making cakes, pastry creams, croissants, tarts, bonbons, and even bonsai chocolate trees. This week it was entremets (multi-layered mousse cakes) and our first attempt at an artistic sugar showpiece.
Our guest instructor for the week was Chef Norbert Vannier MOF. Without a doubt, Chef Vannier kept us on our toes all week. He moved at the speed of light! Even Ms. N who we use to refer to as Speedy Gonzales had to admit she needed to relinquish her crown to Chef Vannier.
The week began with us learning the technique of glacage (glazes). This is the beautiful shiny finish that you often see on cakes in patisserie magazines. We made several different types of glazes such as, ‘glacage mirroir caramel’ and ‘glacage blanc café’ that would be poured over our finished layered mousse cakes.
Now, I say poured, but the art of glacage is not as simple as it looks on Instagram. You need to have your spatula in hand and somehow pour the glaze fast and slow at the same time. If that last sentence sounds confusing to you – Well, you should have seen us attempting this manoeuvre in our culinary lab! At the beginning it was a disaster and not just for Ms. J. We were all a little stressed, even Ms. M who is normally a bastion of calm. Yet by the end of day we managed to glaze all our cakes.
However, the real test of the week was: How much pain could one withstand when pulling sugar while not wearing gloves? For me it turned out to be very little.
Watching Chef Christophe (Chef de Production), sous- chef Julien and Chef Vannier MOF, happily explained the technique while turning the pulled sugar into beautiful flowers and ribbons lulled us into a false sense of security. They made it look so easy and never once did we see them grimace in pain from the heat of the sugar. How do they do that?
I know that sugar is hot (especially when I have just boiled the sugar to 175c before forming it into a mass) but until you actually start to pull it yourself (not wearing gloves – emphasis added for effect) you have no idea just how bloody hot it is. As we pulled and pulled, all I could hear from my fellow classmates as the lump of sugar was dropped with a thud on the silicone mat was “My fingers are burning – god this is hot!!”
I really thought I was made of tougher stuff that I could take the heat. I mean I’ve given birth to a child, but the pain I felt when a miniscule droplet of hot melted sugar landed on the tip of my finger almost brought me to tears. Chef J came to my rescue and placed the tip of a latex glove over my finger so I could continue to pull sugar. Then Ms. J realising that I was struggling because of the blisters that had formed on my finger came over and helped me finish the flower. You know this is what I love about my class – they really are the best!
Hours later, exhausted, and with blistered fingertips, we finish our first sugar showpieces.
Another week completed and another lesson learned – the simplest looking techniques in patisserie, like pouring a glaze over a cake are often the hardest things to actually do well.
It’s been a slice . . .