Sunday, 2 November 2014

Le Cordon Bleu week 5 - Choux look beautiful

The Eclair, defined by the Chambers 1988 English Dictionary, is "a cake, long in shape but short in duration". Loved the world over, and dubbed Paris's most popular pastry, I was so excited that choux pastry week was finally upon me! Unlike previous weeks at Le Cordon Bleu, this week I wasn't feeling quite as nervous about the practical challenge ahead because choux pastry is something I'm already quite familiar with. Having made profiteroles and eclairs in the past, not to mention my take on the Courtesan au Chocolat, I've already experimented and made mistakes, including on one occasion creating something that closely resembled floury scrambled eggs. Having made such mistakes, I've learnt a lot and so I felt quietly confident that things would run smoothly. Several months ago I felt so confident in making pate choux that I made a batch of gluten free eclairs for a friend who suffers from celiac disease and even they turned out well! 

Having read and re read 'Secrets of Eclairs' by Marianne Magnier-Moreno I felt ready to step into the kitchen and tweak my knowledge in order to add the Cordon Bleu twist. It felt so refreshing. Rather than beginning from scratch, I could relax a little and focus on perfecting my presentation and decoration. 

Wanting first to make absolutely sure that I fully understood the eclair, I selflessly went on a mission to find and sample the best the city has to offer and was surprised and elated to discover that I was only a matter of minutes away from them. Having done my research, Belle Epoque, a small patisserie on Newington Green, Stoke Newington kept cropping up. "They are the new cupcake" declares patisserie owner Eric Rousseau when speaking to the Independent, "they are really popular and here to stay". Chef Rousseau, owner of Belle Epoque sells his sweet temptations in both his patisserie and Selfridges so he must be doing something right and I couldn't wait to find out what made his eclairs so superior.  

Down the road I pranced in the balmy autumn sunshine (22 degrees in October! Its practically unheard of here in the UK), a spring in my step, full of excitement at the prospect of tasting one of the cities finest eclair. I first fell in love the moment I lied eyes upon the patisserie. With its branded mosaic entrance step and rustic French charm, it felt very Parisian chic. Next I fell deeper in love with the vintage, wooden patisserie counter which featured gleaming brass columns and crystal clear glass. And then there was the message, painted in stunning gold typography on the ceiling beam 'nul n est plus heureux que le gourmand' which translate to 'none is happier than the gourmand', a phrase coined by French writer Jean Jacques Rousseau in the 18th Century. A relation perhaps. 

I casted my eyes from left to right, my breathe taken away by the beautiful array of highly finished, highly polished, refined individual desserts...but eclairs were no where to be seen! Questioning Google maps accuracy, I double checked my iPhone - yes, I was in the right place, so I asked the waitress as to the whereabout of the awol eclairs to which she replied, "Oh, are you new to the area? Our eclairs sell out very quickly you'll have to try again in the morning or why not try something else?" Her comment made perfect sense - the eclair was after all named as such by the French as they have, and always will, sell as quick as lightening (which translates to eclair in French)! 

Feeling a little vexed and annoyed at myself for not discovering Belle Epoque earlier in the day, I strategically reassessed the counter and decided upon a giant mixed berry and white chocolate macaron to lift my spirit. I mean look at it. It's a thing of beauty and I was curious to find out exactly what the pipet was all about and what delightful concoction was inside. 
Off to Clissold Park I went, closely guarding my patisserie takeaway box as though it contained the crown jewels. There, in the park, I sat admiring this little work of art. Momentarily. Then, overcome by my natural instinct, curiosity and temptation to devour it I took a closer look at the plastic object protruding from it's middle before taking a huge bite. I was pleasantly surprised to find that inside the pipet was a delicious fruit puree which when squeezed, was injected right into the heart of the macaron. My taste buds were in heaven and feelings of disappointment at not being sat with an eclair in hand quickly vanished. Needless to say, I shall be returning to Belle Epoque and I shall be doing so early in the day in order to catch one of their coveted eclairs. If the macarons are anything to go by, I'm in for one hell of an oral pleasure! 

Following my day of research, which of course covered the origins of these amazing taste sensations (no solid facts sadly, but rumoured to have been invented in the nineteenth century by Antonie Careme, billed the first 'celebrity' chef and the craftsman behind none other than Napoleon's wedding cake), I set about a very different, cake related mission. To make a Halloween cake good enough to present to the Shoreditch Clandestine Cake Club (! 

When living in Bristol I headed up the Clandestine Cake Club in the city, working with a Friend, Gemma, to find new and exciting venues to host our cakey gatherings. I loved it. The meetings provided an excuse to test new recipes and push my baking boundaries. So, with the theme of Halloween in mind I thought I'd go all out on both flavour and decor in order to push myself and of course, to win over my new baking group. 

Referring immediately to 'World's Best Cakes' by Roger Pizey, one of my treasured favourites, I came across a recipe for Devil's Food Cake - perfect. It had to be really didn't it! Inspired by this recipe, a chalk effect cake I'd seen on the GBBO third series winner John Whaite's Instagram feed, and the classic track by Screamin' Jay Hawkins, 'I put a spell on you', I started playing around with typographic styles and colours. And here is the finished cake! 

It's not quite the chalk effect I was after but I'm happy with the piping work, meringue bones and gruesome blood and cake club loved it! 

As with previous weeks, I also managed to fit in a little baking homework before my demo and practical sessions. With the intention of re creating my tarte au citron with St Honore piping exam piece for my most important critic, my Nan, I fumbled through my nozzle tin and realised that I'd forgotten to bring home the very one I needed. No St Honore piping for Nan. Not to worry, instead I got a little creative and pipped rosettes all over my lemon tarte and Nan provided me with her honest feedback. One word - superb. I'm sure the gleaming review had nothing to do with the fact that I'm her granddaughter or that she loves lemon meringue pie ;o) 

I must say however that carrying a cake, or in this case a tarte, through the streets of London, on the tube then on the train to Maidenhead wasn't actually too bad but I can only compare it to carrying a puppy or a baby. Everyone I passed wanted to take a closer look and I must have heard "did you bake that for me??" at least 15 times! 

Come Thursday I was itching to get back into the kitchen and to have another go at making pate a choux. First came the demo. Again Chef Ian made the process look and sound very simple and stressed to the class not to make the process of baking this product difficult or over complicated, but instead to enjoy it and be a little creative with the decoration. 

Confident that I knew what I was doing I grabbed my knife kit, donned my apron and into the kitchen I went - this time, into the multi use kitchen. Up until this week I'd only ever stepped foot within the patisserie kitchen and the boulangerie, but never the multi use. As the name suggests, the multi use kitchen is used for both cuisine and patisserie so rather than the large shared ovens I'd become use to, we had the luxury of our own oven! Perfect for something as delicate and time critical as eclairs. 

Following our briefing from my now favourite practical chef, Chef Rosette (who hasn't forgotten my sugar / salt mix up and therefore put me in charge of the salt tub which made me chuckle), I prepared my baking tray and made a start on my pate a choux - first heating my butter, sugar, salt and water. Once boiled, the flour was added and following a thorough mix, the batter was left to cool before adding the eggs. This is the stage where mistakes are often made and as mentioned, I've done it in the past, adding the eggs too soon resulting in the eggs cooking and becoming a scrambled mess. Luckily this didn't happen to me or any of my fellow students! As soon as my pastry was ready, I piped my eclairs to size and in the oven they went. 

Next I set about making the creme patissiere and when baked, carving out small holes in the base of the eclairs through which they were to be filled. Once cooled and knocked back it was time to flavour the pastry cream using a coffee syrup. I went light on the flavouring simply because I'm not the biggest of coffee fans - Chef picked up on this during marking and suggested that more would be required if this recipe came up in my exam. After all, I'm not making coffee eclairs for myself, but rather with the examiner or customer in mind. A fair critique. 

The most challenging aspects of the eclair creation was now upon me - covering the buggers with fondant icing and piping a decorative pattern on top using melted chocolate. Having never used professional pastry fondant this felt quite alien to me but Chef Rosette kindly demonstrated this stage again and away I went. All I needed to do was to cover and decorate 12 eclairs - perfectly. Luckily I'd made 16 so I had a few spare and I needed them! The atmosphere in the kitchen was starting to feel a little tense. We'd taken longer in making and baking the eclairs than Chef would have liked so he began to put the pressure on. After all, this is an exam dish and extra time will result in marks being deducted on the day. 

With all eclairs successfully covered, although not looking particularly uniform and feeling a little flustered by the time we had remaining, I went about piping my chocolate using a hand made piping bag. Which split! So I made another which was too wide resulting in a thick stream of I made another, and another. "7 minutes remaining" Chef hollered! "Eeeek" I though, I'm just going to have to commit using one of the three bags and hope for the I picked one and went for it. I practised on baking paper a couple of times first and then piped, as neatly as possible directly onto my coffee flavoured eclairs! 

Chef Ian had successfully demonstrated a number of possible designs earlier in the day, but having researched and practised the night before, I stuck with my original choice - the treble clef. It looked neat, simple, elegant and my mind and on paper using my trusty Bic biro. Piping chocolate however wasn't quite so easy but my efforts weren't terrible. All in all Chef was very complimentary towards my efforts, just a few tweaks here and there, and of course some more practise and they'll be perfect. And practice I shall! I'm off to Lemington Spa to visit a friend in her new house (castle) next weekend so I shall whip up a batch of musical eclairs for her and our friends for tea. Fingers crossed they like coffee!  

Sticking to my promise, I went home with a box full of eclairs for me, my housemates and friends and several bundles for the homeless men I pass en route. Usually the group I leave food out for are asleep by the time I pass but this time they were all awake so I sat with them for a few minutes whilst they devoured the eclairs and declared them the best thing they'd ever tasted. I felt so happy that I'd been able to meet them, talk to them and make them feel noticed and cared about. They thanked me for my previous pastry parcels and I promised to keep leaving them food as long as they were happy to provide feedback. A deal they were incredibly happy to shake on. 

To finish off the week we had our mid term tutorials and an introduction to bread making using both chemical and biological raising agents (baking powder and yeast). I won't go into too much detail regarding the tutorial or my mid term grade but I'm happy to say that I'm scoring above average, doing well and feeling very proud of myself...although my happiness subsided when I entered the kitchen to make my bread and somehow cocked up the dough almost instantly. I can only image that I hadn't weighed up my water correctly so in future, I'm going to make sure not to panic at the start of class and instead, calmly take my time to prepare my ingredients. Another lesson learnt.  

Our last task was to create 12 individual bread rolls, using 4 different shapes and one large, rustic Irish soda bread loaf. Despite my initial dough debacle, I managed to catch up with the rest of the class and had my bread and rolls in the oven in time. Sadly my rolls were ever so slightly over proved resulting in them loosing their shape and definition. Still, they tasted bloomin' lovely and Chef Ian marked them fairly, providing me with constructive criticism for the future - all of which has been taken on board. More seeds and less proving.   

Looking back it's been a very busy baking week and I've loved every minute of it! I've made a Devil's food cake, a lemon meringue pie, 12 eclairs, a loaf of bread and a bundle of bread rolls. I've only been at le Cordon Bleu for a month and already I've learnt so much, and with only 5 weeks left until my end of term exams, I have so much more to cover and a whole heap to revise. Good job I'm travelling lots this month - the train and bus journeys will provide me with just the right amount of reading time. 

Next week on my path to patisserie - CAKES!!! Now we're talking. I shall be making a gateau au citron (lemon cake), madeleines (which I've wanted to make in forever but have never found the right vintage pan to add to my collection so as such I've not gotten around to it) and my third and final exam dish - a genoise a la confiture de famboises (Genoise sponge layered with raspberry jam). How utterly delightful. I think I'm going to need some taste testers! Pronto! Any volunteers?

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

No comments:

Post a Comment