Sunday, 21 September 2014

Week 1 - Tempering Chocolate!

When I said last week I was looking forward to tempering chocolate I didn't think it would be the first thing we attempted on the course. I felt a little like the underdog on a talent show and came away feeling like I needed to up my game to keep up with my colleagues and stay in the competition. We were a small group of mixed nationalities and abilities - I'm really looking forward to learning alongside them.

I may have looked the part kitted out in my loaned chef's whites but I struggled to master the technique of tempering chocolate on my first attempt - never mind practice makes perfect and I'll try and master it at home. I suspect the equipment list for this course could be endless and turn out to be a bit expensive - thermometers, acetates, good quality ingredients ... this 5kg bar of 54% cocoa solid dark chocolate, for example, costs about £40!

After tempering the chocolate (heating and cooling to specific temperatures - more science in the kitchen) we spread it onto acetate sheets to create a freestanding shape, which needed to set hard in the fridge. This was later filled with a chocolate mouse and decorated with chantilly cream and piped decorations. I think I will blog more about the technique when I feel a little more confident at it.

My first attempt - bit of a mess in all honesty!
What's the old saying - less is more?
My tempered milk chocolate teardrop shape was nowhere near as shiny and impressive as Steve's dark chocolate marbled cylinder, In my defense he runs his own bakery business, trained in professional kitchens and has worked for Gordon Ramsey in the past. He's going to be the one to watch and was definitely our 'star baker' this week!

Steve's masterpiece

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Back to School

Our boys are all grown up it's not them but me going 'Back to School'

My current efforts.....but so much more to learn

Last week our eldest, Gareth, submitted his Masters dissertation and our youngest, Owen, attended his graduation ceremony at Falmouth University. As they leave their studies behind and set off into the challenging world of work we're very proud of the young men they have grown up into. 

Dave, Gareth & Owen plus Thomas the Tank (19 years ago)

So on Tuesday I nervously walked through the gates at Richmond upon Thames College to meet the lecturers and have a look around the facilities of their catering department. It took me back over 30 years to the time I studied at Ealing College (now re-branded as the University of West London!) for my HND in Hotel and Catering. This time I want to enrol on the NVQ3 Diploma in Professional Cookery (Patisserie and Confectionery). Sat around the table were people of all ages and nationalities with a wide range of reasons for wanting to sign up for the course - improving employment prospects, career advancement, setting up their own businesses or just as a hobby. It's a part-time course and over the year we will cover a diverse range of topics from complex pastries to dough products, health and hygiene to food product development. I'm especially looking forward to learning about tempering chocolate and creating a competition piece - so watch this space as I blog and maybe even Tweet about what I have mastered each week. Hopefully in a years time I can post a photo of me (in my chefs whites not a graduation gown!) proudly holding my certificate.  
Owen & Gareth (now)

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Make every word count

We played our annual family game of Scrabble last night. We always forget how long it takes, and how rubbish we are at it but it's good for a laugh and brings out the mildly competitive sides of our nature.

Some play it more regularly, like my friend Gill's mum Marjorie who I made this cake for when she turned 80 back in 2002. I created the playing board from very thinly rolled out green fondant, marking off the 15 x 15 grid and stuck on the coloured premium squares. The words, made up from fondant letter tiles, reflected her interests at the time - I realise that there are some 'illegal' proper nouns on the board but what the heck!

The 'illegal' words would no doubt have been challenged by experts as the game is taken very seriously by some with official associations and hotly contested competitions across the world. The current World Youth Scrabble Champion is a 14 year old London lad who scored more in one turn, a whopping 122 points, than one of our players (who shall remain nameless) managed to score in the whole game last night! The earliest version of Scrabble is thought to date back to 1938, the board layout has changed a little, the rules have evolved and technology has had an impact on how we play but it still remains a favourite in many households. Having said that we have packed it away for another year.....