- Food & Drink
The last day of cooking had finally rolled round and, in spite of my disastrous kitchen meltdown the week before, I skipped into the school and fussed around my work section, humming a happy tune. I’d arrived at the end of the tunnel and was bathed in warm oven lights and the cheering knowledge that I’d never have my bizarrely plated food marked out of 6 ever again. Paper doilies, tiny bunches of mint, piped cream – farewell!
I’d come in early to practice a lemon tart for my exam. When the teachers arrived at 9am they told us that we were strictly forbidden from practicing exam dishes, but by then my tart case was blind baking and to not fill it would’ve been a shocking waste. We all know how Darina feels about waste. So, for once, my insane early rising had paid off and I was allowed to carry on my naughty exam practice.
It was lucky I was. I can make pâté brisée with my eyes closed and whisk a lemon tart filling together in a breeze, but making a perfect, exam triumphing lemon tart? That takes focus and precision, which my idle, wandering mind often lacks.
So my teacher and I took apart the process and conducted a post-mortem on the final product, establishing the importance of baking the pastry case on a low oven shelf, sieving the filling mixture before adding the lemon zest and not decorating the tart with badly piped rosettes of cream and tiny mint leaves (which I’d gigglingly done in honour of a certain teacher who will not put his piping bag down).
But my morning wasn’t all clandestine exam practice and piping bag lunacy, there was also the food I was officially down to cook: pork en croûte and bramley apple sauce. I was wrapping my pork loin fillet in puff pastry I’d made the week before and frozen. This was my 2nd attempt at puff pastry. I’d 1st had a go when I really did only have one useable hand and the resulting grey, running mess looked like gangrene rendered in patisserie. I threw it out.
My 2nd slab of puff pastry, however, was a joy and if I hadn’t been afraid all the butter would melt and pour out of it, I’d have spent a good amount of time lovingly stroking it. I massaged fennel and seasoning into the pork and blanketed it in pastry, which I decorated with a ludicrous number of pastry leaves and apples, laughing to myself as I egg washed on more and more ornamentation.
With my over elaborate pork en croûte baking and my lemon tart and apple sauce made, all that was left for me to do was shape the stringy ciabatta dough I’d had rising all morning. I did this with the aid of my teacher, 2 dough scrapers and a lot of flour. Properly made ciabatta sure is messy bread.
As per usual, I finished later than everyone else, but this time I didn’t care. I plated my pork and laid a wave of fennel across the plate, chortling as I did it. Then I danced on the spot while my teacher tasted my final meal and marked me.
I was done. My knowledge bucket was full. I just had the exams to go.