LEITHS FOUNDATION DIPLOMA: CLARE HEAL, WEEK 6

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LEITHS FOUNDATION DIPLOMA: CLARE HEAL, WEEK 6

Clare masters marzipan and choux pastry as week 6 draws to a close

The pace of life at school was as frantic as ever but week six found everyone in a contemplative mood.

The realisation dawned that we were closer to the end of term than the beginning and conversation focussed on how much we’d learned and how far we’d come.

Teachers had suggested that week five (the infamous “Lemon Meringue Pie Week”) was the one that would make us cry. I didn’t, but won’t deny that I found it the hardest yet.

Yet I went into week six feeling calmer and more in control. The further one gets through the syllabus, the more obvious it is how well it has been put together.

I enjoyed this week’s mixture of meat and sweet, revisiting skills we’ve already practised. A meat cooking demonstration included herb-crusted rack of lamb (its French trimmed bones giving it an eerie resemblance to the Facehuggers from Alien) and a slow-cooked shoulder. In class we browned chunks of lamb for a delicious spicy stew with prunes and cooked the perfect medium-rare sirloin steak.

Sweet-wise we had a dem on sugar syrups and cake decorating and another on jellies and ice creams - or “Methods of Setting” to give the class its true title. One that doesn’t bring to mind children’s birthday parties.

When I saw “Marzipan Cake” on our timetable I assumed it was a recipe but soon realised it was an instruction. In my pre-Leiths life I was a journalist so can’t condone the use of “marzipan” as a verb. Yet I found the process of smoothing down almond paste with a special paddle very therapeutic.

I’m yet to come up with any good ideas for decorating the cake once the marzipan has been covered with fondant icing. Definitely not with a gynaecologically accurate nativity scene like one former student we were told about.

I was pleased with my Pavlova on Monday, but my favourite bit of cooking was the profiteroles we made at the end of the week. My attempts at shortcrust have been mixed but I liked choux immediately. It’s hard work on the upper arms but so refreshing to work with pastry that can take a bit of a pummelling.

I’m looking forward to having a second go at choux pastry next week, savoury this time in the form of a smoked haddock gougere, and also to the demonstration on game cookery which I’m sure will only add to the autumnal mood.

Another highlight was an inspiring guest demonstration with former student Angela Malik, who spoke about Indian food and flavours. Her explanation of the “five tastes” - hot, sweet, salty, sour andd umami – and how to balance them is applicable to all types of cooking, not just Indian, and will be something I continue to bear in mind.

The biggest challenge of the week was doing the costing for our group buffet assignment. Mainly just finding the time for all eight of us to meet, but also working as a team with people we’re still getting to know.

I only originally signed up for the Foundation term but have made the decision to stay on for the full Diploma. I’m so glad I did as, even though I’ve leaned so much already, it feels like I’m only just getting started.

Follow Clare on Twitter @clarenceheal

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