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Sweet wines, genoise sponges and lemon tarts, students had a sugar packed week in store.

So here we are, week 6, I honestly can tell you I don't know where this term has gone. A whirlwind of soufflés, flambes and pastries brought us to a much needed long weekend. A chance for a rest? No this is Leiths, no rest for the hardcore chef!

Portfolios and time plans seemed to be the topic of conversation at the beginning of our (short) week. So hump day began with wine, sweet wine. I'm still not sure how that sits with me at 10.30am but here, anything goes. Crisp Sauvignon gently preceded the Pandora's Box of sweet wines, and there was me thinking they were just sickly, syrupy finales to a good meal! Oh no, between rotten grapes, sub zero temperatures and crazy fermentation methods, sweet wines are a science in themselves. I must say, being of the yuppy set who 'only likes a dry white dharrrling!' I am now a convert. I had no idea that the concept of a sweet wine was to balance the sweetness with acidity, and boy did we taste some beauties.

This led us (rather hazily) into the cooking. An easy day of pasta and pastry I thought, forgetting that we had a short order of soufflé to squeeze in. I've learnt that, no, pasta is not like kneading bread, and yes, it's much easier if you are a 17 stone body builder with arms like trucks, but persevere I did and I now have biceps worthy of an Olympic weight lifter. Having 'mastered’, ahem, pate sucree by hand, we are now able to use the Magimix. Whoever invented those little gems was a genius!

So with pasta and pastry chilling out nicely, my short order Cheddar and Gruyere soufflé was called. 25 minutes to serve, great if the oven door hasn't been opened a zillion times before you! Oh well, it seemed to work (if a teeny weeny bit over baveuse) but what's a bit of 'baby’s dribble' between friends?

The day finished with cutting, drying, cooking and dressing the pasta simply with truffle oil, basil and Parmesan shavings, simplicity at its best, delicious! To top off my day, I got a seat on the train which is unheard of; no fighting, squeezing or pushing, there just seemed to be a parting of the waves for me, bliss. Why? Could it be the beautiful sweaty aroma of Parmesan and truffle oil wafting from my bag? Never, the London public are just too kind…

Day 2. I should have guessed that starting the week with sweet wines was an omen, this was going to be a very sweet week! However, to bring in the balance, Phil started the day with a ' Meat Preparation' demonstration. From my time at Leiths, I've learned that you never know what you are going to get in Phil's Dems (let alone when you combine Phil and Sue). Talk of severed digits and new animals named 'The Phil' were the norm amongst learning how to tunnel bone and butterfly both a leg and shoulder of lamb.

Moving on to poultry, Phil deftly boned a whole chicken and magically converted something that resembled more of a road kill than a table centrepiece, into a ricotta and herb stuffed delight... delicious. In addition he managed to squeeze in lamb noisettes, guard of honour and crown roast. Being a vegetarian I was slightly 'meated out' by the end.

So, into the kitchens. Today was blind baking pate sucree tart cases for containing a zesty lemon filling. Onto genoise cake. I never quite appreciated when I bought trifle fingers, the work that goes into making them so light! Think whisking, heating, whisking and oh more whisking! Then a 'light as a feather' hand was required to fold in flour and melted butter. I must admit, I was quite pleased with the beautifully risen sponge that emerged from the oven, only to feel slightly deflated as it started to slump, I'm just hoping that's normal!

Onwards to blind baking our pastry cases, always a tense time for me, I have an in bred fear of making and cooking pastry, but today the result didn't look too shabby (although I am wondering whether I am suffering with a case of 'soggy bottom'). As they say 'the proof will be in the pudding’ tomorrow!

We were left to be creative with our flavourings and designs for our genoise, so the rest of the session was taken up with sugar syrups, chocolate caraques and zesty needle shreds. Isn't it strange how even though you've really, honestly tasted enough lemon tart mix for one day, another quick taste of the caraque and stock syrup seems essential? I always end up feeling that little bit queasy, but it's all self inflicted! In fairness, it could be due to the fact that I was intentionally heavy handed with the coconut rum in my syrup, I'm figuring the tutors mark better when slightly merry, we'll see tomorrow!

Day 3. I entered the door to Leiths and was greeted by a waft of fresh seaside air, that briney, damp yet fresh smell you only find at the beach, a welcome change from commuter smog. The morning dem was a treat, a talk from the fishmongers at Billingsgate. I was welcomed by a plethora of fresh fish and crustaceans, from parrot fish, to grouper, snapper, hake and turbot, through to lobsters (very much alive and kicking!), cuttlefish and crab. It was such an informative 2 1/2 hours.

The room was filled with gasps as Ron used his knife as an extension of his hand to literally sweep the fish from its frame, poetry in motion, but then having been a fishmonger since the age of 14, I expect he's had his fair share of practice! I know many of us (myself included) left with a newly fuelled passion for fish and may even book on a Billingsgate course.

Onto cooking, and yes, the sweet theme continued! Today was the day to fill and bake our lemon tarts, make a buttercream of our choice, be it mousse, meringue or custard based (gone are the days where you just mix a bit of butter and sugar together and lick the spoon), and finally assemble our genoise cakes with creativity.

It was one of those days where if it could go wrong, it did. Think under-baked pastry, over-baked filling, sugar syrup and coconut explosion over knife case and sticky goo all around my face (no I didn't taste my coconut rum syrup again!) and you’re just about there. Despite all this I ended up with a genoise I was quite pleased with. Soaked in my lime and coconut rum, the genoise was sandwiched with a raspberry purée and lime mousse buttercream. The top and sides were covered with buttercream and decorated with coconut shards, raspberry crispies, raspberries glazed in rum syrup and lime needle shreds. I guess I'm just wishing I was in the Caribbean!

A short but tiring week, but my only challenge left is to see how much cake I can eat on the train before I get home. With 2 hours to kill, I'm going to give it a good stab! Roll on week 7!

Author: Susie Morrison


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