Photos by Cathy Arkle The last day, the last test. Everyone in class was nervous. We were told that there would be no recipes this week. It all had to be from memory. My classmates and I emailed each other all week long trying to guess what would be on the test.
“It would have to be a basic technique. I think its roasting meat.”
“No, no meat. I think a fish dish with a reduction sauce. Maybe something with caramel for dessert.”
“Not caramel! Some kind of pudding…”
You get the idea. We couldn’t figure out which kind of technique would be basic enough to do without a true recipe to follow. And how could any dessert be made without measurements? Don’t you have to be exact with that kind of thing?
Once again, by 6:30 everyone was at their posts. I stood there, thinking May would just say, “You’ll be making….” But she didn’t. Surprisingly, she handed out sheets of paper-with not only the names of what we had to make, but there were some actual ingredients and measurements on them! Wait! I thought everything had to be by memory! Yippee!
Not everything had ingredients. The main course just had the name. But it was all very doable. The test was whether we could do it well. And, like last week, in order of service.
This is what was on this week’s sheet:
Second Course: Pan Roasted Salmon with an herb scented beurre blanc
Third Course: Seasonal Fruit Galette
That’s the whole thing. I wasn’t worried about the salmon. I pan sear stuff all the time. It was everything else I was a bit unsteady on. I’ve made soufflés before, but it’s been a while. May had us put our single-serving soufflés on one large cookie sheet so they could all be baked at the same time. I had to do mine twice, as I mistakenly put the yolk into my roux before the milk, so it cooked. Whoops! The second go-round was better. It came out nice and fluffy. May would have liked a bit more salt in it, but since I don’t cook with a lot of salt, my palette is more sensitive to it. It tasted great to me! She took a couple of points off for not enough salt.
As soon as the soufflé was in the oven, we started on the fruit galette. We had an apple to work with for the seasonal fruit. I sautéed it in a touch of butter, then added some sugar and cinnamon to it. I took it off the flame before it was totally done, as it will cook more in the actual dessert. I thought it was pretty tasty! Next was the dough. This was a real challenge for me. I’ve made dessert pastry exactly twice. Both times it was in class. I put the flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Then I added the butter after chopping it into small pieces. We had no choice but to mix it all by hand, so I started mixing it, adding the water gradually so it stuck together well. After wrapping the dough in plastic wrap to chill in the fridge for a bit, it was time to gather the ingredients for the salmon and beurre blanc sauce.
Luckily, the assistant chef, Cindi, happened to be standing by my station. It seems I had “béchamel” in my head and had some flour with my mise en place. “NOT FLOUR!” she whispered. “Just a basic reduction with butter!” Right. Right. Now I remember. I went over the process in my head, “ Sauté a shallot in a little butter, add white wine, reduce until almost dry, add more butter and season. Add a touch of dill at the end. Check seasonings again.” Got it!
Before making the main course, I had to get the galette in the oven. I took the dough out of the refrigerator, sprinkled some flour on the table and proceeded to roll out the dough. Thinner and thinner I rolled it. Then I put the apple filling in the center, folded the sides up and over so it looked nice and rustic and put it in a 3750 oven to cook.
I brought the fish and sauce fixings over to the stove. After preparing the sauce exactly as I had it in my head, I heated a pan over medium-high heat, put a little butter in it and put the salmon, skin side down first. It sizzled beautifully and I remembered the instruction about not moving it until it was done. 4 minutes later, I turned it over and did the same thing for about 3 minutes. To finish it, I popped it in a 4000 oven just for a couple more minutes. I immediately plated it, turning it back over as I took it out of the pan. It looked gorgeous. It had a nice crust on top, but was still pink and moist. I poured the beurre blanc over it, and served it to May.
While she tasted it, I checked on the galette. Almost done! Another 5 minutes and it was out and on the plate. Somehow, it didn’t look right. It felt a little hard. Too late, I had to serve it. Turns out I worked the dough too much in my attempt at getting it to be a thin layer. It wasn’t flaky. I got more points off.
I wasn’t disappointed in my performance overall. Everyone’s taste buds are different, so I think that part is a subjective thing. I totally own the fact that I’m not the greatest baker in the world. I live a low carb lifestyle and rarely will use white flour for anything. Those of you who ARE bakers know that whole wheat flour is much heavier and isn’t a good substitution for all those fancy cakes and pies you make. I bow to you.
Thank you all so much for following my adventures in chef school. I loved and appreciated the feedback, opinions and comments. Keep on the lookout for more healthy recipes from me and in the fall be ready for Level 2 of Chef School-Foods from Around the World! Ciao…
Here’s Cathy’s take on the testing, in case you missed it…..www.andshepausedforthought.com