That’s it. It’s all over. Thirty-nine weeks, hundreds of kilos of flour and many thousands of pounds have passed since I started at the School of Artisan Food. It has been quite a journey and not at all what I expected before I got here. Some aspects of the course weren’t quite up to the high standards I’d been promised from their glossy website and prospectus. But many other unexpected plusses to being at the school presented themselves along the way. I do feel that I made the most of my time there and thoroughly enjoyed my stay. I’m not sure I could recommend the full time diploma to anyone – not without some very careful consideration about what they want to get from the course and an understanding of what the course will deliver. I do not know what changes will be made to the course next year, but some things definitely need a review. And it was with these kinds of reflective thoughts that I entered my final week at the school. A week in which there was only one thing left to do – the final bakery assessment.
The final assessment was purely practical. Each baker was to produce eight different types of bread in the space of eight hours. Baguettes, Ciabatta, Pain de Campagne, White, Malthouse and a freestyle bread were all on the list. For my freestyle piece I foolishly decided to bake the chocolate marshmallow balls I’d created earlier in the year. As the assessment was based on flour weight, and there isn’t much flour in each ball, I ended up baking over 150 of the little things. We were given an extra hour on the day before our assessment to prepare anything we needed for the bake off. I actually ended up doing this step twice as I fell ill and had to postpone my exam. Thanks to the other students whose exam I ended up crashing – having an extra student in the bakery was a bit of a squeeze.
The day itself went relatively smoothly, all things considered. I had put two of my doughs in the fridge, ready to be shaped and baked on the day, which saved me a lot of time. Everything else slowly drifted from the timetable and by the time I finished hand rolling 150 chocolate buns I was well and truly behind. In the end I finished almost an hour overtime, and was penalised for it, but I didn’t mind. Everything came out of the oven looking just how I wanted. Even my baguettes were straight, of a roughly equal size and slashed nicely. I was really pleased to have been able to bake that range of bread having not touched any dough for the previous three weeks.
The final task was to create a display of our products. I’d bought some baskets and table cloths in to put the bread in. Not terribly creative, but it seems to bring out the best in bread. Seeing the entire spread laid out on the table gave me a huge sense of relief. After travelling so far away from home and spending a year at a funny little school in the middle of nowhere I really can bake bread.