What a week this was! From cake decorating at the start to our very first exam at the finish, this week was hectic, fun, and a little bit stressful. The first exam is always the hardest in any situation because you don’t know what to expect from the structure and just how deep your knowledge needs to be. Of course I wound up getting a cold for the second half of the week, so I felt a little off my game come Friday, but I’m pretty happy with my performance in class nonetheless.
Monday and Tuesday were dedicated to a cake decorating workshop with Jodi Giusti, a former SFCS student who is now a professional cake decorator. We dedicated one day to buttercream decorating and one day to fondant in order to learn specific techniques for each. I learned a ton and already feel more skilled at decorating, and I’m making it one of my goals to continue to practice it at home (so if you need a cake for something, let me know!). I don’t think I will ever feel the desire to make fondant roses again or learn how to beautifully hand paint onto fondant like my classmate did, but I’m happy to know the basics and create beautiful cakes.
Wednesday and Thursday were days of nonstop baking as we made financiers and “travel cakes”. I love little financiers since they’re the perfect size for a treat, they’re super moist, and are often almond flavored. We made a wide variety including pistachio, chocolate, sesame, and caramelized onion. I also learned that “travel cakes” is the category of cakes that are sturdier and apt for traveling, like olive oil cakes and pound cakes. These are my kind of cakes. I rarely want to eat a sugary, buttercream layered birthday cake, but I’m always delighted by these seemingly simple, flavorful cakes. So these afternoons were definitely my favorite taste testing sessions. We continued making components and assembling our entremets as well, but we’ll do the finishing touches and tastings next week.
Despite all the delicious cakes, I think all of us were really focused on preparing for Friday. We have exams every five weeks, which are made up of a written test and a practical portion. The written exam asked us to define terms, describe the procedure for specific techniques, explain the chemical reactions between ingredients and more. Essentially testing our memory on all the material we’ve discussed in class and read through our homework. I wasn’t too concerned going into it and I felt like I genuinely knew the answers to each question that was asked. The practical portion is a different animal. We had three hours to complete six tasks, which included things like tempering chocolate, making cornets and writing out “Happy Birthday”, making a creme anglaise, baking a cake, and making gougeres. This is the first time where we had to actually create something with no instructions and no notes. As in the instructions provided were “make gougeres” and we are expected to know how to make choux pastry and how to troubleshoot it if something goes wrong. I was terrified that I would mix up techniques and do something wrong, but I was pleasantly surprised during the exam that I really do know how to do all of this. As Chef Nicole told us, it’s just another day in the kitchen, but you’re being timed and graded. Frankly, every day in the kitchen does sort of feel like a test as she observes and judges our every move. Of course there are already little things I have flagged in my head during the exam that I will likely be marked down for, but there were no major mistakes and I finished with time to spare. The most nerve-wracking part of the exam is that we’re not just being graded based off our final product, but we’re being judged on how we work as well. That means we get points for speed, organization, etc. We’ll each meet with Chef Nicole next week to review our scores and I’m actually very excited to get her feedback and improve how I work.
We capped off exam day with pizza and wine, which felt like the perfect send off into the weekend. Next week we’ll dive into pastry doughs (tarts, pies, biscuits) and cookie doughs!