My big messy pastry exam
Last Thursday I went to the Lycée Escoffier in Cagnes-sur-Mer to take my pastry exam: it was the day of the practical test.
It was the most important module of all, since it has a high coefficient (weight) and thus its result could determine whether I make it or break it! Basically, my diploma depends on this pastry-making part of the exam.
What is the French CAP (Certificat d’aptitude professionnel) pastry practical exam about?
It is a 7-hour, intense test in a professional kitchen. Students are required to prepare items that cover all the basics in pastry. The subject of the exam is different for every test day, but the structure is always the same, so I knew I would have had to prepare:
– A tart
– An entremet (aka modern cake)
– A preparation made with either pâte à choux (aka éclair paste) or puff pastry
– Viennoiseries, aka either croissants/pains au chocolat, brioches or milk bread.
Easy, uh? Well, it is not! It is a very complex exam because you need to be able to manage different tasks and baking times appropriately, all while keeping your work surface decently clean and respecting other hygiene rules.
It’s the kind of stress you would experience by being a participant in Masterchef! 😛 Imagine that, for 7 hours!
For my exam that day I had to make:
– A banana-chocolate tart
– A chocolate Bavarian cream cake with apricots
– 12 Caramel-glazed salambos (fat oval éclairs filled with alcohol-flavoured pastry cream)
– 16 Pains aux raisins (Croissant dough rolls with pastry cream and dried raisins).
My last training before the exam
Every year there are 8 subjects for this exam, which is taken in different days throughout France. By the time it was my turn, all 8 subjects had already been published on the Internet by other students 🙂 (no recipes, just the names of the required elements in each subject) and by chance, 4 days before the exam, during the weekend, I had decided to train myself on one of the 8 subjects, and it turned out to be the same subject I faced last Thursday. This was the result:
Nowhere near the perfection (Especially for the writing on top of the cake)! Not really encouraging 4 days before the final exam: the pains aux raisins were flat and more brioche-like rather than puff-pastry like, the salambos too big and unbaked, and the cake badly glazed and decorated.
Nevertheless, this training helped me a lot because on the exam day, I knew already, more or less, how to plan my work.
How my exam actually went
So how did it go? Well, not as good I had imagined, even though I knew all about the techniques. Unfortunately, a professional environment is tougher and messier than at home. I really have no idea whether I passed the exam or not.
Worst thing: I failed completely the Bavarian cream (first I forgot to add the chocolate, then I forgot to put the gelatine in, so it did not melt). After half an hour wasted trying to fix the problem, I decided to remake it. Looooots of useful time wasted! 🙁
Stress factor: I was like 6 miles away from the ingredients and again, I kept on wasting time going back and forth
– Banana-chocolate tart: finished but I didn’t have the time to glaze the fruits on top
– Chocolate Bavarian cream cake with apricots: came out ok, but had no time at all for the decoration 🙁
– 12 Caramel-glazed salambos: they looked fine and regular to me; didn’t toast the almonds on top; pastry cream was a bit too alcoholic for the judges 😛 (they pretended they were drunk after one bite!)
– 16 Pains aux raisins: all regular, but not puff-pastry like, especially because we had to use margarine. I had never used it before, but now I know that after 20 minutes in the fridge, margarin becomes armed concrete, so the dough became unmanageable for me!
But alas, what’s done is done… results come out on July 8th! Still about one month of stress ahead! 🙂