Category Archives: Level Final

3, 2, 1 …

It was 11pm and BK just got back from a company dinner in Spring.  I just realised I woke up to open the door for him, I don’t remember.  I must have slept since 7pm – while thinking of my mousse cake for tomorrow.  Ha.

Now … a couple of minutes more and it will be a new day.  Suddenly it dawned on me I have 3 more days at the culinary institute before I graduate with a Diploma of Sous Chef de Patisserie.  Just 3 more days

In class today, …

… We had an easy day as Chef Philippe let us play with sugar.  We had just completed The Chocolate Box a day earlier, a day ahead of schedule.  The Sugar Art final will be on Thursday – I am amazed at the number of forms sugar take … clear, bubble, rock, coloured, shaped, pulled, blown etc.  It can be fun but it takes mind, heart and a pair of qualified hands.  Final showpiece

… “So are we having a get-together meal together?” I asked Sarah.  We had been talking about this since our level 1 final, to meet as a class.  Then Ike came and the plan never materialized.  This time, it is time for good-byes.  I don’t know if we came to a conclusion before the end of the class today – but we are going to toast our graduation with margaritas for sure.  Somewhere in Shepherd?  Or still not concluded?  We try to fix a time around everyone – Jill will be going back to Colorado on Sat and will try to make it; Sarah did not want anything before 1pm; I prefer anything after 2pm as BK’s flight back to Singapore is at 4; Ashley’s family restaurant last order for the afternoon is at 3pm; Krystine prefers anytime in the afternoon that will allow her to meet up with us, and go back home to dress up for party that evening …  I am not sure if we concluded a place and time, but it will be on this Saturday.  Farewell …

… Chef Philippe gave us a “surprise” item for Final for tomorrow.  He reminded us it will be 150 points our of 700 points for our Finals.  Remembered he mentioned that we will have a mousse cake for final about 2-3 weeks back – it was 31 October after our chocolate final.  So some of us expected a mousse cake, while some were still clueless.  A chocolate caramel mousse cake with chocolate icing …  After 2 trips over chocolate icing, I must have learnt the necessary lessons to do it right this final time, it gotta be so and I must have no doubt about it.  Lesson #1 learnt:  For small amount, empty the chocolate icing directly from the bowl over the mousse cake, don’t even bother with the laddle.  Lesson #2 learnt:  Warm icing to about 50oC for a thinner and more liquid consistency for easy pour and flow over the mousse cake.  Chef gave us the recipes titled Z’ Final Cake … reminding me that it will the last cake we will do in his class.  We were to know how to go about making the recipes and decide the decorations for the cake.  Final cake …

Yesterday, …

… Exit interview was conducted at 2.30pm for graduating students.  There are 28 of us in the graduating group, not sure if it included the group who have their graduation ceremony postponed to now due to Ike 10 weeks ago.  There were 3 forms to fill – feedback and comments, update contact details and our next steps, placement assistance.  Elyse tried the size of the graduating torque on all of us.  Graduation

Today, …

…  Class finished just before lunch.  I had time to go to the resource centre for some reading.  Will miss the good reads and the number of magazines I can devour at the culinary institute.  Final savour

…  Bob came into the resource centre to look for me.  He asked if I would make a 5-10min speech from a  graduating student to the graduating students.  It is my honor, thank you … .  I have to plan as “words… don’t come easy to me, how can I find a way to …” in front of a huge audience.  What shall I say?  I am clueless now, but I know it will come from my heart.  I will think about it tomorrow after my mousse cake final.  Graduating speech …   

At this moment, … it is about 1am now.   

It hit me once again that life in last couple of weeks and months here in Houston has been a great blessing, a luxury, and a good break to reconcile my thoughts and my mid-life, and I certainly treasure my buddy in BK more.  It is so unreal, and I am indeed blessed to have the opportunity to experience and savour each and every moments.  I am thankful for the people I met and get to know in Houston – many wonderful people I would otherwise never get to know.  For some, I believe we will continue our friendship regardless of where we are for a long time.

It is good that Mousse Cake Final and Sugar Art Final take place over the next 2 days.  That will keep my mind occupied till graduation day.  How do you feel?  Are you excited to go home?  etc  I was constantly asked for last weeks … the first few times I was asked, tears well up easily, now I am more controlled though I can’t say I am more prepared…  BK gave me a reality check last week – his response to me was “I am happy you enjoyed yourself and your experience…”  Indirectly I guess he is telling me to savour each moment and move forward.

我真的很舍不得。。。 可是我会珍惜,我会回味 。。。我在Houston所经历的一切, 我所认识的每一个朋友。尤其我的导师们,我衷心向您致谢!


My Wedding Cake Final

I started this entry on the day I finished my wedding cake final on Tuesday, but was too flat tired to write.  Now I am continuing the entry, hopefully I finished this so that it is not further backlogged.

11 November 2008

Feeling really happy … and flatly exhausted.  Mentally it was a blur now, the brain just needed to a re-supply of oxygen.

We presented our wedding cake final today.  From dreaming about it during the hurricane, to first draft, to the week before final to actual – things just evolved from ideal to realisation to realistic expectation and connection, but somehow I was happy things turned out … with its own flavour.  I had first dreamt a wedding cake with Calla Lily and Lilies of the Valley bouquet – a simple white, green, yellow combination, the use of Lilies for a significant meaning due to its Chinese name 百合 (百 literally means hundreds, to mean lots, bountiful … 合 literally means reunion, togetherness…);  Nearer the date I thought of Orchids – even though the national flower for Singapore is Vanda Miss Joaquim, a type of hybrid orchid, my feeling for orchid was not strong enough to create a decent looking piece to my expectation;  Back to my own wedding – I decided to create a Bridal Bouquet with Rose as a focal flower…  The actual creation was different from my bridal bouquet, but exuded an oriental flavour which was not planned or intended.  Things somehow evolved.





The Books

I started researching way back in September, till it was disrupted by Ike as internet was down.  I narrowed down to 2 key authors – Nicholas Lodge for all areas covering sugar craft on cakes , Alan Dunn on sugar flowers and his books on flowers were inspiring and awsome – I got his books on Sugar Roses, Sugar Orchids and Sugar Exotic Flowers, and got another book by Toba Garrett who is a Master Pastry-Chef Instructor in Cake Decorating with ICE.  The ones with the most realistic and inspiring flowers and techniques definitely goes to Alan Dunn’s books.  Nicholas Lodge and Toba Garrett covers a wider aspect in cake decoration.

The Tools and Miscellaneous

Jennie was a great help.  She brought her whole tool box and cake decorating books for me without me asking, because she “already got them, and you can use them” … That was very generous, I really appreciate her thoughtfulness.  Really, she was not expected to lend me her stuff and I didn’t even know she has the tools or the books.  My sincerest heartfelt appreciation to Jennie.  I spent some time dissecting her toolbox and books understanding what were available and their uses.

I decided to try petal dusts.  Yes, I love to have plum colour as a theme but never found that colour.  That was how my colour evolved.  Weeks ago, I saw copper among wilton colours and wonder it could go into piping, it finally did and I like the copper tone on the cake.  When I thought of something, I just had to get it and try it, I rented a car on Friday and enjoyed my wedding cake retail therapy at Make a Cake and Michael’s over the weekend.  I found the former to be more complete in equipment and colours.  It was my first attempt on Houston freeways and realised my sense of direction was not too bad afterall, no choice too, I guess.

Gearing Up

Chef said we could make flowers at home if we want to.  I was to spend a weekend reading Alan Dunn’s books before I even embarked on making the flowers late Sunday night.  I learnt from listening, observing  and reading (I needed the theory to execute, as I did in learning bowling, skiing and media campaign etc.  I am a high C on DISC personality – a need to understand why.)  Some observations became an obsession, I guess ~~~  that leaves of roses are compound leaves which comes in 3s, 5s or 7s with the bigger leaf on the outer edge and get smaller further down the branch ~~~  that a bridal bouquet has 1 focal flower, in my case, a single large rose, accompanied by few medium size roses, and more baby roses, with decreasing sizes as the flowers cascaded down the cake ~~~  that the calyces of the roses were in 5s and the hairs on the edges of the calyces are of a specific number (It even has an old country saying that goes, “two with two and two without, one with one and one without”, gosh).   I would love to include magnolia or rose hips or rosette succulent as a secondary flower accompaniment but again all 3 I chose required plum colour – I just had this knick for the plum colour tone – exotic, cool elegance. 


My rose colour.  I like pale, but not white … like cheerful colours but not red …  how the colour came about, I just added copper in small quantity and it became orange tone!  For the medium and small roses, I cut stencils from the template from Alan Dunn’s book, for the focal rose, I rolled the gum paste using the spoon like how Chef taught us.   On Monday itself in class, I decided on an evergreen succulent plant called strings of pearls from South-East Africa, but alas I left my green tape in my apartment, and decided to go ahead with brown tape for brown stems instead.  Thus the colour yet again evolved, and things happened for a good reason – the brown complemented the copper tone nicely.  End result was that my evergreen string of pearls started to take on the look of pussy willow – a cotton-like flowering plant we commonly have during Chinese New Year in spring.  Slowly, I felt that my wedding cake took on an oriental look.

Piecing Them Together

On Tuesday, I knew I would have time to piece them together and complete by 3pm.  In my heart and my mind, I told myself, there was only one way – it just gotta work!  And things fell in place nicely.  At one point, while trying out the arrangement on my practice cake styrofoam, the balance was disrupted when I removed my focal rose, my key bunch of cascading roses with the styrofoam tipped over and got caught by my apron … Sarah and Jill came over to my side to ensure none of my flowers crashed to the ground, I gave both of them a big hug after.  My heart beat did not go faster, I believed my heart literally dropped … and I felt my heart beating fast only when I left to the break room to take a gulp of water.  Thank God!  

I was about done, and I was exhausted and dehydrated … and hyper.  It was all mind over body.  Chef gave us time to complete and continue the following day.  No, it had to be completed that very day, not the next – it is all in my mind.  And it was surely completed  by 2.

Our Class Final Wedding Cakes:

~ To Each His & Her Own ~

~ To Each His & Her Own ~

Alas, all the cakes were completed and arranged alongside our pastillage show pieces in the lunch room.  It was so amazing – each cake reflected a different ideal, personality and possibly age.  Nice! 


At the Beginning

Last Thursday, a day after Pastillage final (will enter into the journal later), we mixed our fondant and gum paste dough for use on Friday.  Then Friday, we rolled down the fondant to cover 3 cakes and a cake board.  For most of the class, it took a morning, for me it took me from past 8 till noon.

The fondant story.  Lightly greased the styrofoam cake rounds with shortening.  Knead the overnight rested fondant well and drape over.  Chef again made it sound so easy, but it couldn’t be so difficult either, coz nearly everyone was almost done with dressing 3 styrofoam rounds to form a 3 tier cake plus the cake board.  And me?  Still fiddling with first one, the lowest tier.  The fondant was so hard I could hardly pressed it roll it down.  I tried 3 times over with 2/3 of my fondant … ie draped over styrofoam, … no good – mainly due to cracks on dough …the dough was too hard – undo and start over.  The texture no longer felt right … Trash it and get from the container, Chef Philippe said to me …  Gosh, I felt like I was cheating using rolled fondant from the container … anyway I got the bottom tier done with it.  For next 2 tiers and cake board, I used the fondant I made, this time, I knew I could use the microwave to soften the fondant and really get it soft once and for all.  So it was completed, yes, half a day on rolling fondant.  And my shoulders were to ache for the whole weekend.


Things fell into place … nicely.  I was amazed what we can do from these weeks of learning from Chef.  I am not too sure though if I will ever do wedding cakes … seems too distant … except for the 3 I promised my friends when they get hitched.

No Update for Next Few Days ~

I completed my final for pastillage last Monday to Wednesday (3-5 Nov 2008).  Just started on Wedding cake and the submission is on Tuesday. 

My wedding cake ~ what I planned weeks back vs what I finally drew vs what I finally visualised looked and felt different, can only tell if the final work is in synch by Tuesday 11 Nov 2008.

Till Tuesday, I will update my journal on the pastillage final.

Yum, … To relax my mind and seek inspiration, I will be meeting the Houston Dessert Meetup group tomorrow for Raindrop Chocolate.

Have great weekend and week ahead! ~  signed OFF.

Our Package of Wishes for Our Chef, Chef Philippe

Friday, 31 October 2008

When many thought it was just a day for the Halloween, Chef was born

Everyone signed on the class pix, wrapped “our wishes” for Chef Philippe in parchment paper and aluminum foil, and had intended to put it between Chef’s On Baking and file on his table at the pastry lab that morning.  Somehow, Chef always appeared at the right moment … when I had just put his On Baking back on top of the package on his table … err we continued with our assignment for the morning – Chocolate Final.

Chef had informed us the day earlier we will be evaluated on chocolate tempering, chocolate ganache prep, chocolate shell molding & filling, and chocolate dipping.  The same day everyone knew it was Chef’s birthday the following day.  We planned to convey our wishes to him subtly – no prank, no big bang, no embarrassment … just our heartfelt wishes ;p

We started the chocolate assignment … we also noticed Chef unwrapped the aluminium foil and parchment package, we heard “Thank You” … some broke into smiles – we have been trying to keep it under wrap and started class as usual – seriouslyha!  We continued our assignment … still seriously.

By mid morning, I believe our birthday wishes to him came in a bigger way – all of us completed the Chocolate assignment without any hiccups – the chocolate set, the chocolate shells were molded, filled with the desired ganache and sealed, the Amandas were dipped.  Six best pieces from the chocolate shell and dipped Amandas were plated for evaluation.  We were relieved and happy.  And we could sense Chef was relaxed and pleased too.  Chef had given us till 12 noon to complete our assignment and we completed by 10 that morning. 

After a short break, we continued with pastillage dough prep which we will use for our Pastillage Final starting the following Monday.  That was done by half past 12 … we stood round Chef’s table – as usual, for further discussion on our Level 3 Final and clarification to any questions we may have.  Done.  He gave us time off to do our research in the resource centre … we continued to stand around the table and looked at him.  He sensed our mischief … hee … and left the class in double quick time??!!

All we wanted to do for Chef was to sing him a birthday song – real loud – who said we have no guts? … he didn’t grant us that privilege ;[  He had disappeared into the Chefs’ Office and locked the access from within – both ends.  The whole class of 8 students (missing Jill who had left for Colorado the day earlier) were outside the office to wait for him to unlock the door, then we decided to be good and give him a break.  We didn’t want to be kill joy – we were happy that our class went smoothly that morn and Chef looked happy.

Joyeux Anniversaire, Chef!  May our class continue to bring you a sense of fulfilment and pride to your role as our Chef-Instructor.

On A Sweet Note

Tuesday, 21 October 2008 

The pastry buffet was served during lunch today.  Within minutes that lunch was served following the presentation of the cuisine and pastries, the dessert table was almost empty.  A total of 180 dessert petit fours were prepared for the dessert buffet.  Woh ~ 

The dessert buffet was part of resource project for Pastry Arts Level 2.  I still remembered I was amazed at the Pastry Buffet which was prepared by the previous class of Jennie, Rafa, Nicole and Abigail about 10 weeks ago …  I can still vividly picture the desserts which were served – velvet spray on Jennie’s, a chocolate cup in Rafa’s, a layered cake by Abigail, and macaroon & choc mousse in a cup from Nicole.  I was in level 1 then, and with full admiration, I wondered then what would mine be, and I was defnitely cluelesscould I achieve that within weeks?  I wondered indeed.  It is sort of an incredible feeling looking at all the creations we had today … it is a definite beginning for all of us.

We started researching the project about 3 weeks back.  It all started with a visit to the resource centre, explored the links on the ciaml pastry blogspot as well as the pastry magazines Chef Philippe recommended.  The first objective was to find an idea we fancied and discussed with Chef on feasibility … and developed the ideas based on the season, the design, the temperature, texture and taste.  Chef advised that since these are petit fours which should be eaten in a few quick bites, we were to create volume to the pastries.  I enjoyed coming up with ideas within the boundaries of briefing provided by Chef.

Back then, my first thought was to experiment with Matcha (green tea), a popular Japanese flavour, and the green pastries will add a dash of colour to the pastry showcase.  I had seen a picture of a matcha opera cake from a Japanese bakery in Paris on the website.  Matcha is an acquired taste, and not many bakeries in Singapore do good matcha cakes, I have had one which I thought to have a balanced taste and it was from Sun Moulin Bakery.  My first impression of the design I fancied was approved by Chef.  I ditched the matcha idea for a safer taste – mango mousse with dark chocolate.  Last week when we submitted the plan to chef, I couldn’t decide if I should go ahead with mango or bananas with dark chocolate.  Chef’s recommendation was that bananas were more suited for plated desserts – bananas tend to become mushy when cooked, discoloured easily, and the taste on its own may not be distinct when coupled with chocolate.

I comtemplated for half a week before my final submission.  I decided to go ahead with bananas.  Chef let me make my choice.  I heard, understood and respect Chef’s advice, no doubt about it.  I decided to give bananas a go for 2 reasons – back home, bananas are in abundance and are commonly used in local nonya pastries, I like it but I don’t know how to do it … if I were to try anything, I try it now with guided help and under watchful eyes of Chef.   

What I learnt while experimenting the recipe: 

Rum.  Rum is relatively inexpensive, and can only be found in liquor store and not supermarkets which only carry beer and wine.  Liquor stores closed on Sunday, not sure if all of them do, but the 2 I visited were.  I may still need to show an ID even if I look obviously overage(?).  Jennie offered to let me try the 2 bottles she got at home – a Myer’s dark rum and a Puerto Rican Bicardi rum.

Deglazed Bananas.  The recipe book recommended deglaze caramelised bananas with rum.  I have never done it before, I only knew I need to heat up the rum.  I poured a cupful of rum into the pan, and I flambed the banana … but I also set off my apartment fire alarm at 11pm.  Oops

Rum with Tea-infused Syrup.  I like the tea infused syrup which was used in class earlier.  I wanted to find out if rum goes with the tea, and which rum would taste better with the tea.  I made a small quantity of sweet masala tea, I didn’t make a syrup, added too much rum to it, and knocked out almost immediately after I drank both.  I forgot I was supposed to taste only.

Fast forward …  Last 2 days were enjoyable.  I guess it is the only time in our life we get 2 days to fuss over 20 petit fours.  Chef let us organise and manage our own mis en place.  My conclusion is that Chef’s vision and observation power is super – we have 9 students in the class, but he managed to dish out advice or appear at our side at the right moment.  On day 1, I prepped the chocolate biscuit, on my notes taken during class, I wrote it will make me 4-5 6″ biscuit disc, alas it made me 2?  Oops I must have missed out my handwritten notes that Chef had asked for 2 recipes per team then.  I prepped a second recipe and popped into the oven.  Just then, I heard Chef said, “Joy, why are you making 6″ biscuits when you need small ones?”  He pointed me to the silpat molds which I could have used and saved me time cookie-cutting it later.  Too late, he said.  I guess he only told me after I popped my tray into oven as the result still will not mess me up big time, and to make sure I got the point.  I never thought of using silpat mold then, I was sticking to my comfort zone of following the method of instruction.  Hmm.  Day 1, everything went smoothly … prep short dough mix for next day use, chocolate biscuit, and the macaroons baked with no crack despite my initial concern (though the shape and size should be more uniform) and I left chocolate tempering to the last, was I glad I did.  Somehow the time went by me, and I was still fiddling with chocolate at noon.  Conclusion … seeding method got me to where I needed with the chocolate disc and the 2 coloured cigarette.

Today I only had to bake the short dough, soak biscuit disk with syrup, do the mousse and glazed the bananas.  What is this?  Dark chocolate mousse.  Again Chef appeared at my side at the right time, just before I piped onto my short dough.  Actually I doubted my own answer too, it looked like thick chocolate icing to me.  I had earlier asked at my table why this recipe had only 40g whipped cream which I could hardly whisk, everyone advised just follow the recipe … I guess if I follow Chef’s recipe I would not go wrong.  The recipe was done in class last week, by a different team.  Alas.  While taking down the recipes from the white board, I must have mistaken “400” that Chef wrote as “40g”.  Ha.  Next, got some help again from Chef glazing the bananas – I don’t cook with butter except in school and usually the olive oil I used barely coated the pan… after his demo I managed to deglazed a 2nd batch of bananas successfully.  Finally, I sliced the bananas and made some glazed bananas macaroon sandwich… yum

Time to plate.  I liked the final colour combination.  Topped it with the 2-choc cigarettes that Chef had done in his demo, mine was too thick to curl into a fine cigarette, but I got the point – my combing angle should be closer to the marble to achieve a thin layer of white choc.

At the end of class,  Chef’s key observations to the class – wastage – something we need to be mindful, – sanitation – clean up before prepping next recipe.  I appreciate Chef’s 1-1 feedback session with each of us after class.  His comments for me ~ good prep, end result looked good, prep order as advised – eg prep short dough day earlier and baked fresh on the day.  Areas I should improve and I will ~ Chocolate tempering to get the right temperature for chocolate to set;  Think about what size of biscuit I needed and prep accordingly;  Need to pause and clear up when I am overwhelmed;  Even if I got the wrong choc mousse recipe, I should recognize how the mousse should look;  Bananas are more suited for plated desserts.  I appreciate the specific comments from Chef so I can on the specific areas particularly.  Thank you, Chef!

My own verdict of my creation ~ I liked my colour combination, it was pretty close to what I had drawn with some modifications.  I loved the chilled banana macaroon sandwich, the taste was just enough in the mini macaroons.  Banana flavour-wise, that was about it.  For the total flavour of the base product, it tasted like dark rum flavoured dark choc mousse, the banana taste was not distinct to complement the dark choc mousse, as advised.  Mouthfeel?  I think the texture is ok, should taste better when served chilled.  

I am happy things fell in place on a sweet note.