Like lightning, the Skills 2 exam has come and gone. A stressful affair without a doubt, but I leave it behind gaining confidence in my abilities. It’s amazing to think how far we’ve all progressed. Our first class, we labored through the process of making chocolate chip cookies. After 14 weeks, simple techniques like that feel like second nature.
I set out for the kitchens, fueled by a pre-test ritual of punk rock and caffeine. I had constructed my timeline and planned to stick to it hard. I entered the kitchen and my nerves soared, as the class before us ran late in their clean up, setting back our start time. I waited for my station to clear out before assembling my toolkit and making a break for the dish room. I grabbed my supplies and started my production.
I chose to start with my puff dough, as that would require the most hands-on time throughout the day. I missed out my ingredients, made the dough, and rushed it to the refrigerator to firm up. I grabbed the butter and beat it into submission. By the time it had reached the proper temperature and shape, it was time to lock it into the dough and roll it out. I blasted my way through the first steps on my timeline and managed to get out ahead of schedule. Next, I started on the genoise, beating the eggs and setting them aside to stabilize. From here I went back to the puff dough, doing the second of the four folds. By the time I finished that up, I was back to the genoise, finishing the mixing of the batter and getting it in the oven. After the third puff dough fold, I moved onto the production of my crème anglaise, leaving it to cool in an ice bath after cooking to silky smooth perfection. It’s here I ran into a bit of a crisis. All the ice had been claimed by other people, leaving a mostly melted, soupy mess at the bottom of the bucket. I took what I could, but it wasn’t very effective at cooling down my product. Luckily, one of my classmates was kind enough to lend me a handful of cubes.
After cleaning my station, I moved back to my puff dough, rolling it out and performing the final fold before wrapping it up for the second day of the exam. With time running down, I moved to my final item on my timeline, the Italian meringue buttercream. I managed to finish and get it wrapped up with only 10 minutes to spare before the kitchen had to be clean and we had to be out. As I scrambled to do the final clean up of my station and assist in the clean up of the kitchen, my crème anglaise finally came down to the proper temperature. Unfortunately, we could not get the kitchen clean in time, going 5 minutes over and losing the entire class 2 points on the first day.
Despite really only being halfway done with the exam, I felt relieved after leaving the kitchen. Though there were some issues with my product, chiefly the disappointing height of (or lack thereof) my genoise, I had managed to complete the majority of what was required for presentation at the end of the exam. All that stood ahead was the assembly of the cake, which consisted of the genoise and buttercream I had made, and the construction of the apple strip using the puff pastry. I went home and used the day off in between exam dates to construct my timeline for part 2 of the test.
The morning of the second part went much the same as first, coffee and rock n’ roll. Focused and pumped up, I made my way back to the kitchen to complete the exam. As the construction of the apple strip required just as much hands-on time as the production of the puff dough it’s made of, I chose to start there. I rolled it out, trying to fit the supplied template, but somehow managing to over roll its length. It was useless and had to be tossed. Luckily, an apple strip only uses 1/3rd of a puff dough recipe, meaning I had a backup supply from the dough produced on the first day of the exam. I hastily grabbed another 1/3rd, rolled it out, and got it in the freezer to stiffen. I grabbed my buttercream and began the process of refreshing it on the mixer. As it churned, I cut my genoise sponge into 3 layers and grabbed the simple syrup and raspberry jam I would need to brush each layer with.
I sped through the cake assembly, spreading a generous layer of cream on each layer and stacking them into an even tower. I lathered the outside with a thin, translucent layer of buttercream to lock the crumbs in and prevent them from blemishing the finish of the cake, and got it in the refrigerator to set. On the way back to my station, I grabbed my rolled out puff dough to cut to shape and continue assembly. After getting the base together, it was back in the fridge. I grabbed my cake to continue the frosting, completing another round of culinary musical chairs. I finished up the cake and set my sites on finishing the apple strip.
I sliced up my apples and fanned them out on the dough. I brushed them with butter and sprinkled them with a generous dusting of cinnamon. After egg washing the sides, it was straight to the ovens. I was done with my production early, though I must admit to taking some shortcuts. I cleaned my station and hit the dish pit to assist with the load. Unfortunately, clean up ran about a minute overtime, leading to another point reduction, but I had done it. I completed Skills 2!
I left the kitchen feeling invigorated. Though I still have my showcase ahead of me, this really felt like the capstone to my baking fundamentals. I’m on a journey, and the first part of that journey is rapidly coming to a close. I’ll take all the lessons I’ve learned in this class and build upon them for the rest of my career to come.
By Andrew Bergman
Andrew is a student in the Baking and Pastry Arts program. He is currently in his second year, and is working to obtain a position in the food media industry. After graduating with a Bachelor Degree in Music Industry & Technology, he sought to combine his skill set with his passion for food, ultimately leading him to The CIA. Andrew's Blog: Cookies, Cakes, & College - Baking Through the CIA