Sunday, 12 October 2014

Le Cordon Bleu Week 2 - Stressed is desserts spelt backwards.

So something good can come from being stressed. Desserts! This week was custard week for us, the basic patisserie students at Le Cordon Bleu London, and as custards or cremes are used as the base for many desserts it's been desserts a plenty and bloomin' heck has it been hot in that kitchen! 

This week begun like last with a three hour technical lecture, which I feel I made taste a little sweeter by bringing in some home made chocolate, almond and raspberry brownies for my form. Although I'm learning lots of new and exciting recipes, theres nothing like falling back on a known and trusted favourite. 

Tech covered ways of working, how we were to be marked throughout the course and how we can better our learning around the subject. The Chef (who just so happened to be Angry Chef from last weeks disastrous practical) asked us what we were doing outside of school in terms of further learning and practise. I didn't speak up as my form already think I'm a nerd...I didn't want to dive straight in by listing off: writing my own blog, baking at least once a week, practising my food styling and photography, assisting and shadowing as many food stylists as possible, visiting heaps of London patisseries oh and I have a work placement booked in over the Christmas holidays with Chef Heston Blumenthal. I don't know if they were being modest or shy, or they genuinely hadn't been doing anything at all but quietly, but no one really came out with anything so to myself, I felt just a little bit smug. Just a bit.

My smug feelings soon vanished when I stepped into my third demo. Custards. Baked and stirred. Chef Ian walked us through the three custards we need to learn, in addition to last weeks 5, to pass basic patisserie, which included: 
  • Creme Brulee 
  • Creme Caramel 
  • Creme Anglaise 
He then talked us through the construction of the two desserts listed about. He made it all look incredibly easy!  

Following a very brief 15 minute break, which I spent frantically trying to re arrange my locker, stick on a very fetching blue hair net (which I still can't manage to pull of. You're probably thinking who can? But trust me, some of the girls in my class can. I feel very envious of them and their long legs and long necks), I had to pop on my 'stiff as a board' apron (so stiff due to my over enthusiastic ironing and starching) and re write my notes, it was time to get back into the patisserie kitchen.  

Although no where near as bad as the end of last week (and minus Mr Angry Chef), I could feel the pace stepping up. Quickly. Not wanting to get stuck in my ways and get too used to a partner, I switched to be with one of the cuisine lads. To explain, my form of 16 is made up of twelve cuisine chefs (covering all foods on the Grande Diplome) and 4 patisserie chefs. Including me :o) 

My reason for switching partners was that the cuisine chefs have sent more time in the kitchen than us patisserie ladies, they attend classes every day as they have so much to cover, so I thought I could learn more from them. Not to mention, when it comes to exams, our ability to work as a unit will be taken into account so I felt it important to get to know them. I'm so glad that I decided to mix things up, I learnt so much. These guys are quick! Within ten minutes we had the custards on the go for our Creme Brulee and Creme Caramel. The purpose of this practical session was to prepare our Mise En Place for the next day and prepare we did. 

For those of you, who like me, haven't a clue what a Mise En Place is - in simple terms, and a direct translation, it means to "put in place". Essentially to prepare everything you need for the following days service. My Mise En Place needed to include the following: 
  • The custard for my Creme Brulee - poured into serving dishes 
  • The custard and direct caramel for my Creme Caramel - to be poured into tin moulds 
  • A batch of Creme Anglaise to be used for decorative purposes 
  • A batch of raspberry coulis, again for decorative purposes
  • A batch of tuile paste 
Within 3 hours we'd nailed it! My partner, Rich, and I were on fire - there was no stopping us and our team work was impeccable. When it came to presenting our Mise En Place to Chef Ian I was surprised and delighted to receive all goods and excellents. I knew we'd worked well but I didn't think that all we'd done had been seen. Turns out Chefs, like teachers, really do have eyes in the back of their heads! 

Following a long, but successful 6 hours at school, it wasn't quite time to head home. A former student of Le Cordon Bleu was holding a demo session and it was strongly advised that we attend and I'm so glad I did! The former student just so happened to be the former head Patisserie Chef at The Fat Duck and also, Dinner! Hideko Kawa told us tales of the Heston Blumenthal experimental kitchen, his charismatic ways of working and the dishes she'd invented with the help of a little of his wizardry! 

Before our very eyes she created what seemed to be a burger with a side of fries and tomato ketchup, but this was no ordinary burger. No ordinary side of fries and most certainly not what you'd expect of a pot of Heinz! What Hideko had actually made was a white chocolate mousse bun with a chocolate brownie patty. Pickled plums replaced the slice of tomato you'd expect served with your burger and slices of apple thinner than a communion wafer replaced the lettuce. 

The fries were ingenious! Simply orange infused Victoria sponge baked, sliced and toasted. The ketchup was a little more complicated and featured rose hip and raspberry. There was even a "cheese slice" within the burger, this was made from saffron infused white chocolate and a pork based gelatine powder. Naturally! Talk about disguise! Even the champagne flute and wooden serving board was edible. 

After a long walk home in the pouring rain (my spirits high) and a good nights sleep, it was back to school I went to put my Mais En Place to good use. And yes, that's right - two weeks in and I'm still walking. The temperate has dropped and the rain is becoming more frequent but my stand against the use of public transport is still in full swing. 

Friday's task: to plate up 1 x Creme Brulee and 1 x Creme Caramel. Easy right?


At demo, Chef Ian talked us through the plating up process and it was far from popping what we'd prepared on a fancy white plate and hoping for the best. This is where things got creative, which as you'll know, made my heart skip a beat with happiness. 

Chef Ian showed us how to make fancy sugar, or isomalt baskets, and tuile curls which could be used to give the dish hight and add interest to the plate. He also showed us how to decorate our plates using melted chocolate to create patterns and couils to add more colour, texture and charisma to the dish. 

During break, my mind was full to the brim with ideas so I started making notes and sketching out possible plate designs. I had very grand thoughts of piping a treble celf using my tuile paste and when baked placing this on top of my Creme Brulee, supported by fruit to give it height to signify sound - as we all know the best way to test a good Creme Brulee is by giving it a little tap on the noggin. 

Working again with Rich, a few minutes into our practical we identified a problem which meant that my creative vision could not be realised. The paste we'd made for our decorative tuile biscuits just wasn't right. It looked right and it spread right but when cooked it was all wrong. Our biscuits looks more like emmental cheese. Full of holes! Thankfully the Chef marking our practical session, Chef Nicholas, reassured me that this wasn't a problem, nor what he'd be looking at come marking. Thank goodness! He also couldn't identify what the issue was so I'm going to try making it again at home next week. I have to be able to make something as basic as a tuile! 

Not wanting to dwell upon the tuile disaster, we moved on to piping chocolate over our plates to jazz things up and cutting our garnishes. In our case fruit and lots of it. We decanted our Creme Caramels and piped our couils over our plates in fancy shapes, then on went the Creme Caramel dessert, the fruit, the isomalt garnishes and viola! 

I wasn't happy with it. I was seconds away from re decorating and re plating when Chef Nicholas's voice piped up in a tuneful French tone and said "Oh! Your piping is just wonderful. You've done this before no?"

That settled that and I left it well alone. I opted for a fairly simple design but one which demonstrated my piping abilities. The Creme Caramel is under there somewhere! What do you think? The red circles at the bottom of the plate are slim cross seconds of raspberry topped with red currents. The fan at the bottom is plum and the rest I'm sure is self explanatory. I added the kiwi because I got restless waiting to be marked. Chef Nicholas commented that it would have been perfect without. I must learn not to fuss with things just because I have the time to do so. 

My next dish to prep was my Creme Brulee. The task was simple. Sprinkle the top of the set custard with caster sugar and lightly caramelise using a blow torch. Did I follow these instructions? Nope. 

I thought I'd go a little off piest with the Brulee and opted for a cinnamon sugar crust. To do this, I simply added a tea spoon of cinnamon to the caster sugar. Delicious I can hear you thinking! But in practise, impossible to achieve. And I found out the hard way. As soon a the blow torch made contact with the cinnamon sugar it created small, round, hard, black lumps. Lumps of burnt grossness. All over my beautiful brulee! Embarrassed, but in need of professional assistance to rectify the disaster I called over Chef Nicholas. The discussion wasn't a very long one - he took one look at my dish and explained in two simple words: "cinnamon burns". I then spent the best part of ten minutes performing a brulee skin graft, taking it back to the custard skin lying beneath the cinnamon char, I then sheepishly returned to the sugar bin, this time selecting good old trusty caster and repeated the blow torch step with excellent results! 

Luckily Chef Nicholas remarked upon how well I'd covered up my error during marking. He said I'd had a great day and marked me very highly for the presentation of both my dishes much to my shock! So, all in all, a great week resulting in top marks! 

In a strange way I'm glad I made the cinnamon mistake. I also said this to Chef Nicholas during marking - he agreed. Far better to try and learn than never to try at all. Cinnamon burns and I'll never forget it! 

(That funny stick thing with poppy seeds on is my one and only, semi-OK tuile. It looks very sad and disappointing)

Although incredibly happy with my weeks grades, I have a sneaky feeling that this smooth sailing is about to get rocky. Very rocky. During our de brief Chef Nicholas gave us a few words of advise for the week ahead. The advise: start taking your vitamins. You are going to need them. 

Driven by the fear of Fornax (Goddess of bread baking and ovens), I rushed home to find out exactly what the week ahead of me entails and... well I've started taking my vit C, B12 and cod liver oil just in case. Coming up next week on my path to patisserie we have pate brisee (short crust pastry) which will be used to create a tarte au citron in practical and pate sucree (sweet pastry) which will be used to create tarte aux pommes. 

Now. I have made both in the past but if I've learnt anything in the last two weeks its to forget all that I think I know. I do not know the Le Cordon Bleu way and that is what I'm there to learn. One thing I do know is that the tarte I make won't be any old tarte au citron and the tarte aux pomme won't taste like the one from Waitrose. These will be Le Cordon Bleu tartes and I cannot wait to make and taste 'em! 

Bring it on tarte week. Bring. It. On! 

One final knife set is sharp. Super sharp. This is my third cut and I've discovered that I'll allergic to these delightful blue plasters. Fabulous. (Don't worry Mum. I'm OK)

*Please note that the views I express are mine alone and do not reflect the views of my place of study* 


  1. Wonderful post. I feel as though I'm part of your journey. Looking forward to the next post, especially about the Tarte au Citron.

  2. Thanks Lynn! I've already started doing my research...with a taste test of course! I'm glad you're enjoying reading about my time at LCB. I'm enjoying every second!