Sunday, 26 October 2014

Le Cordon Bleu Week 4 - a pufffffect week

Inspired by the sudden change in the weather, and feeling a little bored due to being stuck in the house because of the gale force winds and exceptionally heavy rain outside, I started my week with some piping practise and a little experimental home baking. Having only one stick of butter in the fridge and just enough of the baking bare essentials (sugar and flour) in my cupboard, I thought I'd make some tasty vanilla and orange blossom cookies, and they turned out pretty well! 

Not wanting to say goodbye to the summer sun just yet, but giving a respectful nod to the season we've fought so hard to avoid the arrival of, I drew myself a Wellington boot onto cardboard and made myself a template. In my mind I had a vision of pink and gold and once baked and iced, I brought my vision to life with a few edible water colour paints and some edible gold glitter! What do you think? Not bad for a home made, hand drawn cutter. 

After practising my St Honore piping about ten times, I almost feel as though I've gotten to grips with it, and after writing out the recipe for my first exam dish, tarte au citron, a good 112 times, I'm confident that it's been saved to memory. Wow, I'd completely forgotten what revising was like. It really does make your brain ache...a lot...and I'm only on recipe one of three! I shall be making my tarte au citron, as much as possible from memory, again next week for my biggest and best critic - my Nan! Let's hope she's a little more forgiving than Chef Rosette. 

Before my first technical class of the week, I popped into Maison Bertaux, a patisserie famous in London for two things. Firstly it is the oldest established patisserie in London, dating back to 1871, and claims also to be the best and secondly, the patisserie chef in residence and team made Lilly Allen's wedding cake, I'm sure, amongst many other celebrity cakes and sweet treats! It's a hidden gem, tucked neatly behind London's theatre district and stepping into the tea room felt like stepping back in time. The music playing was beautifully old and romantic, it reminded me of the old classics my granddad used to play. 

Upon entering, I was greeted by Michelle, a waitress who's been working at Masion Bertaux since she was 14 years old. Without knowing her exact age, I can safely say that she's been working at the patisserie for well over 30 years, if not 40 (maybe 50) and she is most certainly part of the furniture. She lives and breathes the brand and I was lucky that she's wasn't too busy as she took time to tell me all about Masion Bertaux. The patisserie was set up by a baker who fled France along with his family in 1870, run out of his country by the Prussians. He eventually arrived in London where he set up Masion Bertaux on Greek Street. This wasn't only to be his place of work but also his home. She told me that he and his family shared the small upstairs of the cafe with a tailor and a lady of the night - as you'd expect. The kitchens were down stairs in the basement with the shop and cafe sandwiched in between.  Quickly the patisserie began churning out pastries quite unfamiliar to the Brits at the time. London loved the arrival of these delightfully refined baked goods and just as quickly Maison Bertaux became a favourite with those wealthy enough to purchase the exciting French pastries. The tea room survived both World Wars and has an incredibly beautiful, derelict yet homely feel to it. It oozes British and French charm, it's eclectic and entirely unpretentious, yet serving a very high standard of patisserie. It's as though time has forgotten Masion Bertaux, especially when it comes to the decor, tables and chairs...or perhaps they've chosen to forget time. 

When Michelle asked me what I'd like to order, I asked her to choose her favourite for me. I explained that I'm studying patisserie, which she thought was absolutely wonderful and happily she brought me over a chantilly cream filled eclair topped with summer fruits and drizzled with chocolate, along with a large pot of tea. It was utterly delicious and just what I needed after my 4 mile walk in to the city. There I sat for an hour listening to the beautiful music and reading ahead of my lecture titled Sugar and Flour. 

And I'm so glad that I did! If last weeks cheese lecture was my favourite and most interesting of all time, my sugar and flour lecture was the least interesting. The reason being, that the chef taking the lecture spent two hours talking in low monotone, and sadly he couldn't have made the topic, which is actually quite interesting, sound any less if he'd tried! On a positive note, we were given bread to sample...yes, a slice of bread was the highlight of the lecture.  

Before my first demo and practical of week 4, as I've done in previous weeks, I decided to dedicated some time to researching the patisserie treats ahead of me. And this week it was all about puff pastry or pate feuilletee. I almost wish I hadn't bothered. Starting with a couple of books lent to me by a friend, I flicked though to the pate feuilletee recipes and was greeted by comments such as "pate feuilletee is quite hard to make but you should try it at least once!" and "it's very hard to achieve perfection with this recipe, but keep practising". 

In my mind, these comments were all book code for "save yourself the time and effort. Pop down to your local supermarket and buy a pack of the frozen stuff!" But home made puff pastry MUST be far superior to shop brought once the technique has been cracked?! I was soon to find out.

Digging deeper into the origins of pate feuilletee I discovered that it came about, almost by accident, whilst a pastry chef was trying to find and almost design a dish that his sick father could eat. The chef in question was Claudius Gele who first discovered the recipe for pate feuilletee in 1645. His father had been prescribed a diet of butter, water and flour by his doctor - so wanting to get as much fat as possible into his fathers diet, Chef Claudius found himself packing more and more butter into his dough. Another chef overseeing this process, advised him against baking the dough as he anticipated the butter seeping out and spoiling the oven but Chef Claudius went with his gut instinct and in the oven it went. When the dough was cooked, both he and his colleague were shocked and amazed with the successful results and in particular at the size it had attained!

He finalised work on his invention in Paris where he worked at the Rosabau Patisserie, before moving to Florance. The patisserie world was taken by storm when they heard of his unusual pastry but Chef Claudius kept his recipe a closely guarded secret - so much so that he'd only ever prepare his special pastry behind closed doors. Alone. When Chef Claudius died in 1682, thankfully he left his recipe behind and since his death has always been thought of a highly regarded culinary artist. An artist who I tried so desperately to channel during my practical sessions...

And it seems that my channelling paid off! Even though the chef overseeing both practicals was Mr Monotone himself from the bread lecture, I learnt a lot from him and made puff pastry like a pro. We did this over the course of two days, our first demo and practical covering how to make this very special, laminated dough, which was then left to rest over night and in the second session we put our dough to good use. The overnight suspense was nail biting!

Using the dough we'd created, and an industry brought dough so as we could compare the two, we created a pear and almond creme jalouise with a lattice top, or a jalouise aux poires et creme d'amandes and a mixed seasonal fruit puff pastry slice filled with pastry creme, or a bande feuilletee aux fruits de saison ! 

But before I tell you more about how these dishes were created, I've got to tell you more about pate feuilletee because it really is fascinating stuff and the process of making it isn't by any means simple but it is achievable and so satisfying. Its a wonder that Chef Claudius ever discovered it due to the number of steps required for success but aren't we all glad that he did! As explained, pate feuilletee is a laminated dough, full of butter which is sandwiched in between floury layers of dough. In order to create the layers, the dough goes through a process of resting, turning and rolling. This process is repeated 6 times with the butter being included during the first turn. In total, once the dough has been through this process it will create 973 crisp layers of pastry. 

If you are familiar with the popular patisserie classic, the mille-feuille, you may know that its name translates to 1,000 leaves. Realistically, as this dessert is made using pate feuilletee the French have bent the truth a little in naming it as such, as it still only contains 973 layers (which doesn't roll off the tongue quite as well so we'll let them off the hook for being creative) and this is mathematically how...

Turn 1 - the inclusion 
Turn 2 - 5 x 3 = 15 - 2
Turn 3 - 13 x 3 = 39 - 2
Turn 4 - 37 x 3 = 111 - 2
Turn 5 - 109 x 3 = 327 - 2
Turn 6 - 325 x 3 = 975 - 2

TOTAL - 973!

Once in the oven, the butter trapped between the layers of dough melts and as it starts to cook it creates steam creating air pockets and an upwards movement which as such causes the pastry to puff up as it does and create the neat layers formed by the process of resting, turning and rolling. 

I drew a lot of pictures during the first demo as Chef Ian explained this process to us and to add complication, each stages and collection of ingredients have different French names! For instance, the ingredients used to create the dough are referred to as the detrempe, the butter used to form the layers is called the tourage, the inclusion of the butter is called the enveloppe and the rolling out is referred to as the abaisser! 

For those of you who don't know much about me or my French past, I didn't take French GCSE. Having lived in Germany for several years I opted for German instead as my brain just didn't seem to be able to retain French. Being Dyslexic, it's hard enough to grasp English and spell everything correctly - but now the French language has returned to my life, its bringing back my learning and retention fear...I think the title of my lowest scoring test still goes to French. I believe I came away with 9% (it could have been lower), and if I recall correctly, I scored the most points for correctly naming the paper. Yes, I scored points for writing my name and not much else so needless to say, I'm going to have to put a lot of effort into storing these French terms to memory for my written exam in December!  

So with all of this information in mind, I went into my first practical feeling pretty fearful and sure I was going to mess something up. The first task was to prepare my mise en place for the next day, in other words, make my pate feuilletee as well as make my jalouise aux poires et creme d'amandes. So I started with my tourage, the butter to be included within the dough - this was done by making a paper envelop, just a touch smaller than A4 using baking paper, sandwiching the 85% dry butter within the sheets and then battering it with a rolling pin to within an inch its life to soften it. Once softened, the butter was rolled out, corner to corner so that it was as flat and thin as a pancake! With my tourage prepared and chilling in the fridge, next came the preperate of the detrempe which was very straight forward. Into a large bowl went the flour, the salt, the water and some melted butter. The ingredients were loosely combined to form a dough and without kneeding or any fuss at all, this was wrapped and left to chill in the fridge alongside the tourage. Simple. 

It's worth noting that if you want to make your own puff pastry at home, trying to do so with shop brought flour won't get you very far as it's simply not the right strength and won't have the correct ash content. I've learnt, since my arrival at school that there are many different flour grades and only a few available on the high street. The best, none industry flour suppliers creating the closest flour grades to those used in the catering world are Shipton Mill ( and Wessex Mill ( For those of you close to Bristol, I'd recommend taking a trip to Shipton Mill. It's dead cute and the miller will show you around if you ask nicely. It's wonderful to see the flours being made using traditional methods and traditional equipment. Shipton Mill still use French Burr millstone which was first used during medieval times. Not only that, it's recorded in the Domesday book that a mill stood on the Shipton site, so it's safe to say that they know what they are doing when it comes to flour!      

Back to the practical, it was then time to prepare my jalouise which required some pretty careful rolling of our shop brought dough and cutting it carefully to create two sheets, one larger than the other. The large section was used as the base of the jalouise onto which I piped my creme d'amandes. A delicious combination of ground almonds, egg, creamed butter, sugar, soft flour, vanilla, lemon zest and rum! 

Next came the poaching of the pears, these were poached in a festive combination of water, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and lemon making the kitchen smell all Christmassy again! We steam poached the pears using a deep pan and a baking paper cartouche, French for a paper circle. Once soft enough, these were fan cut and placed over the creme d'amendes. Then for the fun bit - the lattice top. Taking our smaller piece of dough and a piece of equipment that looked as though it was on loan from the London Dungeons, the lattice pattern was cut into the dough and then stretched over the base, covering the pear and almond creme. 

In between the making of the jalouise, of course came the inclusion of the tourage to the detrempe and the turing and rolling of the dough! 6 turns, including the inclusion of the butter. This basically meant rolling out the dough to form a rectangle, and working in thirds, placing half of the flattened butter in the centre, folding down the top third to cover this, then placing second half of the butter on top, then covering this with the bottom third of the dough to create a doughy, buttery stack! thinking of the stack as a book, with the spine to my left and opening to my right, the dough was then rolled out again into a rectangle, and again working in thirds, the dough was folded up, then rested in the fridge to ensure the butter stayed nice and cool. We did this 6 times. 

It was such a drama free session! I was incredibly and pleasantly surprised. 

After baking my jalouise, the ends were trimmed and off to the front of the class room I went to be marked by Mr Monotone. He was lovely, very complimentary and my only feedback was to go easy on my use of the egg wash and to ensure better angles next time. Off I went home, with a huge parcel of baked goods, happy that my mise en place was ready for the next day. 

Being fairly new to London I've been incredibly taken aback by the number of homeless people sleeping rough on the streets, far more than I ever came across in Bristol. Trotting home every night, passing people sleeping outside in the cold, laden with treats just hasn't sat very well with me. So, I've made the decision to go halves. At the end of every practical session I've been wrapped half in tin foil and the other half goes in my tupperware box, home to be shared with friends and my housemates. I've been giving my tin foil parcel to a group of three men who have made Old Street tube station their home. I don't know if they are grateful or not as every time I pass them they are fast asleep but I keep leaving them treats at the end of their bed - a bit like a patisserie version of Santa. I hope they like it as I'm not planning on stopping any time soon! 

Friday was a very busy and long day. A demo in the morning, taking us through the creation of our bande feuilletee aux fruits de saison, using our home made puff pastry, followed by a wine lecture which was interesting but still nothing on my cheese lecture and then an evening practical session spent making our puff pastry delights! 

As mentioned, the suspense was very intense! Would our doughs rise? Would the butter stay in place and do as intended? would we have 973 layers? Would chef make us count them?...It was time to find out. 

First we created our bands by trimming the puff pastry to create two walls and a centre panel. The centre panel was docked to prevent it from rising too high and using the handle end of a spoon a pretty pattern was cut into the base. This was then egg washed, lightly (following the previous evenings feedback) and popped into the oven. As you'd expect, and as we'd hoped the puff pastry began to puff. We stood watching the ovens as though watching a TV, glued and fixated! After 15 minutes we took our creations out and using a rolling pin, flattened the centre as this was to be filled with creme patissiere and fruit! Back in the oven it went whilst I made my creme pat for the second time this term. A process I think I've got down to a fine art now and then I chopped my fruit, ready to decoratively place it within my puff pastry walls. 

Once complete, I was ready for my grading and thankfully Chef was really happy with the results, as was I! My puff pastry puffed, my layers were correctly formed, I wasn't made to count them, my butter did as it needed to, my creme pat was lovely and my fruit was well chopped and positioned. His only comment was that I should have added mango to create more drama and my strawberries should have been positioned a little different so as not to take up as much space. All well justified and fair comments which I'm happy to take on board! Here is it, my bande feuilletee aux fruits de saison! And that's Izzy who had the pleasure of working next to me :o) 

I finished my week with a trip to the BBC Good Food bakes and cake show in Islington where I found Queen Mary Berry, Frances Quinn and the Meringue Girls! All my favourite baking ladies under one roof. I watched Mary make muffins and a delicious looking chocolate and Baileys roulade and Frances who made some very simple looking orange blossom cupcakes look incredible as only she can with her delightful finishing touches. Having met Frances a few months ago, we had a good natter about school and her forth coming book which I cannot wait to get my hands on! 
With Halloween just around the corner, tonight my baking fun continues as I'm making a Devils Food Cake from one of my favourite books: World's Best Cakes by Rodger Pizey, a pastry chef working for Macro Pierre White who I had the pleasure of meeting earlier this year. Rodger's book is crammed full of wonderful cake recipes from all four corners of the world but the Devils Food Cake seemed the most appropriate for my first Shoreditch Clandestine Cake Club meeting! The theme is of course Halloween and I cannot wait to meet some new like minded baking friends. I shall of course be sharing pictures. 

Next week on my path to's all about the Choux and time to learn the second of our three exam dishes, coffee eclairs! Let's hope next week is as good if not better than this week! 

Ooooh la la ;o) 

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

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