It's the final countdown....

Since my April blog post, I have been working hard getting caught up with coursework and practical assessments, after a Covid-related blip in services.

Thanks to the support and understanding of my college lecturers and the culinary department as a whole at Suffolk New College, I have been able to get back on track with my studies, continuing to develop the essential skills to ground my patisserie knowledge, which I intend to build upon once completing the course. Any course you do introduces you to the skills you need to work in that given profession, but the real work starts after you have finished studying and begin to apply those skills in the real world. And practice makes perfect, so I had better get practicing.....

We are into the final month now, which I can hardly believe as it feels like five minutes ago that I first met my patisserie student peers and chef lecturers, a bunch of people who I have become more than a little fond of!

So a roundup of the last couple of months:

I received a Distinction for my Health & Safety assignment, which I was thrilled with as I found it quite challenging. It’s a hugely important subject that all chefs must take seriously, with much crucial legislation in place to protect workers and the public, so I was grateful to gain that knowledge. Having run a festival food stall business before the Covid outbreak, I was aware of much of this legislation, but laws are constantly updated and new ones created, such as Natasha’s Law which came into effect last October, dictating major changes to the way pre-packaged foods for direct sale are labelled for allergens.

I have also achieved two more Distinctions since April – one for a mousse-filled jaconde sponge dessert I had to create and plate in a timed assessment, the other for a chocolate centre-piece I had to design and build entirely out of chocolate, to be used in the presentation of petit-fours. What I love most about the course is how we are encouraged to be creative, as long as we hit the requirements of the assessment brief. We can go anywhere we want with flavours and presentation as long as the resulting dish works cohesively. If you can then find a way to carry this creative freedom forward into your work-life, I would say you’ve hit the jackpot. Pics of my jaconde sponge and chocolate centre-piece are on my Instagram, but here’s one so you get the general idea.

With just weeks to go until the end of the course, the pressure is on with a big final assignment and final practical assessment. There are also other module specific knowledge assessments we have to do, such as cakes and sponges, enriched doughs, sugarwork and chocolate. For every practical module focus, there is supporting theory we have had to study and be tested on, to ensure we have learned and understood the food-science behind the fun things we do in lessons.

The final assignment is a gastronomy focus on one particular region. I had originally chosen Suffolk, as I wanted to learn more about the gastronomy of my home county, but since beginning the research I decided to widen my focus out to the entire region of East Anglia, as there are just so many incredible recipes from the area and I wanted to talk about them all!

East Anglia is a wonderfully diverse region with stunning produce from both land and sea, which I have been having great fun researching, both historically and present day. I will admit I have barely begun to scratch the surface, but I intend to keep digging to uncover all that the region has to offer, then migrate what I have learned while researching my assignment across to my blog to share with you all.

For the assignment, we had to select one dish from the region of focus to talk about in more depth, then present it with a matching beverage. I chose Thape Pie, a humble gooseberry pie traditionally eaten with baked custards on Whit Sunday. Thape is a traditional Suffolk word for gooseberry, while they are also known more widely as goosegogs.

Whit Sunday, a religious festival celebrated by Catholics, Anglicans and Methodists, fell on Sunday 5th June this year, which happened to be the same day as the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee parade, so as well as having a go at cooking the traditional Thape Pie, I then decided to get creative and experiment with other gooseberry recipes that could perhaps be served as part of an afternoon tea or special celebration. I had two big bags of the beautiful berries from @highhousefruit farm, so carried on experimenting until I ran out.

I created a series of five recipes, which I posted one per day on my Instagram over the extended Jubilee Bank Holiday. I am absolutely besotted with gooseberries as a result and want to devour more as soon as I can get to the nearest farm shop!

I am also concurrently working through a self-imposed Regional Recipe Challenge, with my current focus being Suffolk. I try out traditional local recipes, sometimes deferring to what I like to call “convenient” versions (for example for a mackerel pate I bought smoked mackerel instead of “bloating” my own, which is the traditional method). In some cases I use the original recipes as inspiration for others I then experiment with, to update them to fit in with modern tastes and trends. This assignment was perfect for me to learn more about the region, try my next traditional Suffolk recipe, then experiment.

The Thape Pie recipe is now up alongside the Suffolk Rusks and Bloater Savoury which I have attempted so far. Once I finish college I plan to get properly stuck into this challenge and step up my productivity! Here's a picture of the Thape Pie and was so yum.

A final practical assessment is also looming this week, where we have to pull all the skills we have acquired on the course together to create four dishes simultaneously, under timed exam conditions. We have to make two types of Danish pastries using enriched dough, an iced-parfait dessert with a pate bombe base, along with a sauce and appropriate accompanying decoration, then twelve identical macarons and twelve identical flavoured chocolate ganache truffles which have been dipped in chocolate.

Apart from the pastries which will contain seasonal fruit and crème patisserie, I have planned a coffee and chocolate flavour theme throughout, Tia Maria providing a boozy kick here and there. This all sounds simple enough, but it is about planning and time-management, as there are a lot of processes to consider and the results we present have to be identical. I have practiced once and will do my best to get the dishes made and presented within the given time. Here’s a practice chocolate and coffee macaron with a dark chocolate Tia Maria ganache filling.

We have also managed to fit in some other inspirational experiences during the past couple of months. Adam Spicer, head chef at Bury St Edmunds’ All Saint Hotel restaurant, winner of Cambridgeshire Chef of the Year 2017 and Masterchef: The professionals 2019 quarter finalist, came in and took over our kitchen and restaurant for the evening and we all worked as a team creating some mind-blowing desserts. They sounded deceptively simple on the menu description, but were complex and genius in equal measures.

We each helped with different elements with Adam’s head pastry chef “Turbo” (no one knows his real name, he’s an enigma….) guiding us through. I had the honour of making the filling for the caramel tart, modest and understated but it was honestly off the charts!! All the elements of the multiple dishes came together perfectly, we had a really fun time and all left feeling like we’d learned so much. The culinary department has gone to great lengths over the year to keep us inspired through a variety of enrichment experiences, for which I am most grateful.

Another trail-blazing East Anglia chef we had the honour of meeting was Richard Bainbridge. With a background in classical cooking in Michelin-starred kitchens, Richard Bainbridge returned to his home of Norwich to open Benedicts after winning Great British Menu in 2015. He featured as a judge on the show in 2017. We went along with other student groups from the culinary department on a special visit arranged to give us an experience of fine-dining, with a seven course tasting menu. My mind was well and truly blown by the dishes, which were created with nostalgia in mind, from childhood food memories to the ultimate comfort food dishes.

Richard talked about how foods can instantly transport you back to a time and place, acting as a memory trigger, which I totally agree with - we all have those foods! He had created tiny prawn cocktail tarts which reminded him of his own childhood. My favourite course was the cheese soup. He uses local seasonal ingredients and gets them to truly sing. The lemon tart was a true work of genius, with the thinnest crispiest case in existence. An incredible experience all round which was thoroughly enjoyed. There are pictures of all the dishes on my Instagram, but in the meantime here’s one of his revered lemon tart.

With the next few weeks expected to be a bit of a blur while we hurry to get final works submitted for marking, my fellow patisserie crew and I are still going to try and crowbar in a special meal out together, perhaps at The Botanist, a recently opened cocktail bar and restaurant on the Cornhill in Ipswich. It’s nice to see some life returning to the town centre, the outdoor seating looking like a nice spot to sit and people watch with a coffee or something stronger depending on the time of day.

I have begun to project my thoughts towards future plans once I have finished the course. I do have some exciting projects in mind, but I will share more about those later.

Once again, thanks for paying my blog site a visit and keeping up with my journey into patisserie. I’ve loved every minute so far. Sorry if this was a rather long read – I have been so busy that a couple of months passed before I was able to sit down and write this, then so many wonderful things had happened during that time that I wanted to share. I hope you are all well and are equally enjoying what you are currently up to.

Emma xxx