The next instalment in my life as an apprentice baker at the French INBP professional school. I’m now halfway through training and it’s still as exciting as ever, and exhausting – but maybe I’m just getting old, or both… Anyway, a few days ago we had to go through the mock CAP exam. A sort of trial run for the assault-course of the real thing that’ll we’ll be facing at the end of May.
For weeks we had been revising the basics, but we already knew we’d be given a list of required items to make (bread, speciality breads and viennoiseries) and this lived up to expectations. We’d have to be in place by 6 am, raring to go, for half a day that would seem much longer.
It began with 30 minutes gathered round for the briefing, where we were given our “order” of what to produce: what types and how many of each. We then had to make all our calculations and, most importantly, organise a work schedule with timings and use of equipment. We all reached for our calculators and recipe files then set to work…
Traditional French bread:
- 9 x 550g slashed loaves
- 8 x 350g baguettes, including 4 zig-zag split loaves
- 12 x 80g rolls in 3 different shapes of own choice (I chose "tobacco pouch", "pistol" and "volcano")
- 4 x 400g large loaves, 2 round with own choice of slashed top, 2 long with 2 slashes
- 4 x 350g wholemeal loaves in 2 different shapes, round and long
Viennoiseries 1: Raised dough (milk dough this time)
- 6 x 80g "shuttles"
- 6 x 80g plaits (single line)
- 3 plaits (double line) "with remaining dough"
Viennoiseries 2: Raised flaky dough
- 12 pains au chocolat
- 12 croissants
- 12 pains au raisins
We needed to calculate weights, how long everything would take, dough proving time, kneading, weighing out and shaping. As well as all that, and most importantly, we had to organise ourselves to avoid having too much to do at some moments (the biggest challenge) or twiddling our thumbs at others.
Then it was time to take possession of our “tour” (the workstation with its wooden worktop that resembles a kind of baker’s workbench, as shown in the photo lower down). We installed ourselves in the “fournil” (oven area), got out all our tools and everything else we needed: scales, baking sheets, trays, cooling racks, etc. Each of us had our own kneading bowl, dough mixer and an allocated shelf in the oven – so no bottlenecks, which was very useful. One touching detail: the taller people had been allocated the higher shelves in the oven. No need to tell you which my shelf was out of the 4 levels…
At 7 am sharp, there was an announcement: “At one o’clock all your items must be cooked, turned out and presented artistically on your workstation”, and we were off.
It was all systems go and a total hush descended on the “fournil”. We were all hard at it, with no time for joking, in an atmosphere of intense concentration. There were no great anxieties either; these were baked goods we knew and we had our recipes. It was more a matter of avoiding cock-ups (like forgetting the salt or yeast, weighing something out wrong, etc.). The two examiners walked around, not offering any advice nor replying to questions, but giving our batter a poke here, weighing a lump of dough there, measuring the temperature of another. They did all this, as you’d expect, with poker faces – they gave nothing away, not letting slip the merest look, smile, encouraging nod, pursed lips or furrowed brow, in spite of all our frequent searching looks. We were marked on everything: dress, hygiene, behaviour, how we turned out the dough, how we put everything in the oven, how we managed (or didn’t) the chaos on our workstations… and much else besides.
It all went fairly smoothly for me; no mistakes with weighing, my items were more or less uniform (I’ve not yet totally mastered this, my big flaw) and I only made one cock-up: just as I was putting my baguettes in the oven, I realised I’d forgotten to slash 4 for the zig-zag version. Remembering this when putting the loaves onto the baking tray left me completely distracted (but that’s me for you). Well, not too disastrous; time for Plan B: I slashed open 4 of the baguettes on the tray with the cutter. Not very elegant, but at least the “split” effect would be there.
Everything was looking good, when the equipment let me down: when I went to put my viennoiseries in the oven, I found the proving cabinet (visualise this as like a large fridge kept at 30° C and 98% humidity), was only at 20° C and down to 44% humidity so, of course, everything was dried out and crusted over. My first though was that I was sunk… Both examiners came over and took stock of the damage and my crestfallen air. The cabinet must have broken down mid-morning. Not to worry, they told me, you just won’t be marked on the volume of your viennoiseries. I took this on board, but my morale went into a nosedive. We transferred my items to another cabinet and, at the same time, I glazed them with a mixture of egg glaze and water to rehydrate them. As a result, I now had another hour and a half ahead of me, and when I thought I’d nearly finished. And how were they going to rise with this delay? I hung around in sullen mood, waiting for them to swell up again, if they would be so kind… And they obliged, so I cooked one tray after another, and they turned out pretty well in the end. Phew!
As required, everyone displayed the finished items on their “tour”. The examiner came over to see us and began a long and rigorous debriefing: he counted all the items, checked how well they were cooked, the flavour and colour. He cut one of each through the middle to check the crumb quality for texture, flavour and holes. All the good and bad points were indicated and noted. The result: a fairly good score for my wholemeal, rolls and viennoiseries (just shows how important it is never to despair), average score for my loaves (just a touch overcooked), and a poor score for my plaits (I’m useless at this, sad to say).
This is what it all looked like:
In the photo you can see my colleague from the second wave still hard at it, top left the cursed proving cabinet (!) and lower right the knife with which I was tempted to slit my wrists. :-)
As the photo doesn’t show the full end result very well, here’s a very short (9sec) panoramic video
Next step, the real test on May 29th…
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