Sunday, 9 November 2014

Le Cordon Bleu week 6 - CAKE!

Finally, after just about making it through custard week 1 and 2, the making and baking of puff pastry, short crust pasty, sweet pastry, fruit salad, tarte au citron, tarte aux pommes, meringues made three ways, lemon meringue pie, coffee eclairs, creme caramel and a burnt creme brulee it was time to move onto CAKES!

Naturally, having come from a very cakey background this filled me with much joy, excitement and anticipation. Surely, this had to be my best week yet! But, not wanting to be over confident I decided to take things in my stride. After all, the past 5 weeks have taught me that everything I thought I knew was wrong and every little trick of the cake baking trade I'd learnt over the years I needed to quickly forget, because at Le Cordon Bleu I'm being classically trained which means whisking...with a whisk. No short cuts. 

Rather than beginning my week as I've done before, by researching the bakes ahead of me immediately due to my excitement, I postponed my research in favour of taking a trip back to the city I like to call home, Bristol. With the key to my old house still in my pocket, I snuck in and whilst my friends were still at work, I cooked up a huge spaghetti bolognese and a chocolate tart for pudding. As you do. After all, home is where the tart is ;o) I like to call this 'baking and entering', however it was a little tricky explaining the concept to the neighbours when I popped over seeking a rolling pin and sieve, without it sounding like I was up to no good. The following day I made a plum and creme patisserie tart with the left over pate sucree. Both were very well received and proved to be great practise for me. Edible homework is the best! 

Upon my return to London it was back to business and excited by the task ahead of me I began flicking through my cookery books to learn more about my bakes. This week, beautiful burnt butter madeleines, gateau au citron and a genioise a le confiture de framboises. Even the names of the dishes sound delicious. 

Having always loved the simple but charming appearance of the palm sizes snack that is the madeleine I was excited to learn more about it. Surrounded by romantic fables, the origins are sadly not set in stone, however it was thought that, given their scallop like shape, that they were first baked in the town of Commercy, in Alsace-Lorraine. Some suggest that a servant of the disposed king of Poland, Stanislaw Leszcynski, began baking these delightful cakes in real scallop shells taken from the coast line, and handing them out to pilgrims travelling through the town on their way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain during the eighteenth century. Over the years the baking tins have changed, resulting in a narrower snack which lends itself very well to dunking. 

In France, dunking is exactly what these cakes are baked for (no rich tea or chocolate digestive will be found in the hands of our frog eating friends) and for many, the dunking of a madeleine is habitual. Enjoyed with tea, coffee, hot chocolate or milk, these cakes are a hit with the old and young alike. Baked with brown butter, or beurre noisette, they are sweet with a hint of nuttiness. Due to the way the tins are lined, they have a slightly crisp, caramelised outer and of course, look like a sea shell on their underside and have a nipple on top. 

Chef couldn't bring himself to say the word 'nipple' in demo - and I don't blame him. Stood in front of a class of 60 odd girls, it's not really something you want to get into! However interestingly, the nipple is formed in the oven due to the pressure of the mix. As the butter within the batter begins to melt and the chemical reaction between the baking powder and other ingredients takes place, the mixture is forced upwards to create these perfect little domes. I was incredibly excited to bake madeleines. As mentioned in my previous post, I've been on the look out for a vintage tin for many years and haven't yet found one so I've never gotten around to making them. Dad has been put on look out duty and is currently scouring every charity shops baking section in the county of Worcestershire. He does love a challenge so I doubt it'll be long before he hunt proves to be fruitful.

Following demo I finally had the chance to bake madelines! 18 to be exact. This was a slightly more complex mix than I'd imagined, and one that needed to be handled with the upmost care. First I prepared my beurre noisette, a simple task which involved essentially burning my butter. It didn't look partially pleasant but it smelt fantastic. Almost like the smell of chestnuts being roasted by the street vendors in London at Christmas time. Once cool, into the flour, baking powder, egg and sugar the burnt better went, along with honey and lemon zest. The mixture was then chilled whilst the tins were buttered, chilled, buttered a second time and then coated with soft flour. 

When sufficiently chilled, preventing the chemical reaction taking place outside of the oven, the mixture was piped into the madeleine tins and immediately baked. The instant they were ready they were turned out of their trays and not one of us in the room could stop ourselves drooling at the sight before us. The smell that filled the room was just to much and when chef wasn't looking, into our mouths they went. Heaven. 

The next task during this practical session was to bake a lemon cake, or a gateau au citron. Often referred to in the UK as a pound cake due to it's equal quantities and overall weight, this cake wasn't a challenge for me. Into a lined tin went the mix, this was then baked for 35 minutes, during which time we prepared candied lemon julienne which was to be used as decoration, as well as a lemon juice glacage which was used to soak the cake making it super moist and truly scrumptious. 

Upon marking, chef gave my lemon cake a good squeeze, "oooh" he said "this is a very well soaked cake! This is going to taste delicious, well done!" He also complimented me on my madeleines and my overall presentation of both dishes before signing my grading sheet and moving onto the next student. I was happy with that, and even more happy at the thought of tucking into a madeleine or three on my walk home. 

As promised, I halved my bakes and the homeless men of Old Street tube station enjoyed hot madeleines and gateau au citron just before bed time. The remaining half I took with me on the train to Lemington Spa to be enjoyed with friends over tea this afternoon! Cakes on a train, not to be mistaken for snakes on a plane. 

The last challenge of the week was the Genoise a la confiture de framboises – a very fancy title, translating to a Genoise sponge layered with raspberry jam. It made me giggle when I told a friend what I was due to make and she responded with “so basically a Vic sponge cake yeah? Easy!” Oh how I wish it were but being our third and final exam dish, I knew that ‘easy’ wasn’t a word to be associated with this cake.

Knowing very little about the Genoise sponge I set about investigating it thoroughly. Sadly I couldn’t find a patisserie in Bristol that sold any Genoise in order for me to sample this light and fluffy sponge prior to my class, but I was able to hunt down some macarons which instantly made everything better. Looking into the origins of the cake, I discovered that its creator was an Italian pastry chef, rumoured to come from the Italian city of the same name. As with many of our patisserie favourites the sponge was created in France, during the French revolution. Other than this vague top line, not much was said about this cake. 

Luckily I did find an article titled ‘how to make whisked sponges’ in a Le Cordon Bleu cookery course magazine dated 1969 which was given to me by a friend. This certainly helped to shed a little more light, although the food photography left much to be desired! The tips and methods covered in the article were of course well over 45 years old, but I came to the conclusion that the classical techniques couldn’t have changed much in this time and might in fact help me if correctly integrated.

“Whisked sponges are the lightest of all cakes”, the article read. “They contain only a small proportion of flour and their texture depends almost entirely on the amount of air beaten in with the egg”.

Great. So the success of my cake essentially depended entirely on my upper arm strength. I felt a sudden wave of nerves wash over me as I dropped to the floor and into the plank position which I held for 3 minutes and followed by several rounds of press ups in the hope that the additional exercise would put me in good stead for my forth coming whiskathon. It didn’t.

Following the demo, the whiskathon began. Into the kitchen we went and into a large bowl we placed the eggs and caster sugar. The bowl was then positioned over a bain marie and the contents, beaten. 2 minutes in and I’d reached the foam stage but my mix hadn’t really grown much in size. My arm began to ache. 4 minutes in, the sugar had successfully dissolved into the egg mix, which had grown significantly, but my wrist was telling me it was time to stop for a break. I ignored the nagging feeling and continued as best I could. 5 minutes in and I agreed with my wrist and stopped, only to be told by Chef not to stop even for a second for fear of loosing time and air.

6 minutes in and my mix had grown further but it was far from the desired ribbon stage. I thought back to the article I’d read only the night before “the cake batter is ready when a little lifted on the whisk falls in a thick ribbon on the mixture in the bowl and holds its shape”. It wasn’t holding so I continued to whisk with as much vigour as I could muster.  

8 minutes in and I’d started to loose all sensation in my hand but sadly I still hadn't achieved the ribbon needed to move onto the inclusion of the flour. 9 minutes… all feeling had now gone from my hand, my wrist was starting to cramp and my shoulder was begging for the torture to end. I powered on. Ten minutes in and I was contemplating crying in the hope that Chef might take pity on me and help, but then I tested my mix and to my delight the magic had happened and my ribbon held its shape!! I almost cried anyway just because I was so happy to see the elusive ribbon and also because I still couldn’t feel my hand.

Trying to ignore the lack of sensation in my fingers, I grabbed my pre sieved flour and begin sieving it for a third time directly into the mix in small inclusion. Chef suggested the flour should be sieved twice during demo to ensure it was sufficiently aerated; the article recommended this be done three times. I saw no harm in giving the flour a third airing so carried on as such. After each flour inclusion I gently and delicately incorporated my flour into the sugared eggs, trying my absolute best not to loose any of the air I’d worked so hard to include but with each turn my mixture became flatter and flatter. “Not to worry”, I thought “the mixture is bound to puff up nicely once in the oven”, so I kept turning my batter, as instructed, making sure that every ounce of flour was mixed in well. I then poured my flat looking cake mix into an 8 inch pan, popped it in the oven, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

Whilst in the oven, I prepped the meringue butter cream which was to be used to mask the cake, made my raspberry jam and prepped the sugar syrup used to soak the delicate sponge. Within a flash the oven timer sounded and it was the moment of truth…bugger, mine hadn’t risen nearly as much as I’d expected or hoped! I looked around the class and luckily I wasn’t alone. I cut my cake in two, soaked the delicate sponges with sugar syrup and tried desperately to think of a plan to salvage my cake. The funny thing is, I knew it wasn't going to rise. I knew I'd over stirred and in my mind there was only one way to rectify my pancake like sponge – a thick buttercream filling. 

On to the base of the cake I piped not one, but two layers of buttercream which the top of my cake floated perfectly above. I then masked the entire sponge with buttercream, as instructed and set about decorating my slightly taller cake as best I could. Around the base I patted on a thin line of toasted almonds, and on top, I piped a design I’d conjured up over my lunch break. This was done using a combination of buttercream and melted piping chocolate.

Luckily for me, on this occasion, the inside of my cake wasn’t being marked. The same cannot be said if this recipe comes up during my practical exam in a few weeks time! Thankfully, Chef complimented my efforts and joked that in future perhaps I needed a stepladder to make the whisking of my eggs a little easier. I suggested an electric whisk would be more useful and perhaps a few of the other tools I have in my baking box at home such as a cake wire and mini pallet knife, all of which we’re forbidden from use.

Thankfully my decorating saved the day. Chef loved my design and recommended that I practise it a few times prior to the exam, just to perfect it, in case this dish should come up. He said it was simple, elegant, made good use of the space available but didn’t overcrowd or dominate. He did however mention that my lines were a little on the thick side. Never again shall I try to shade using chocolate. I breathed a huge sigh of relief – my dish would have passed the exam he said! Hurray!

During our practical de briefing Chef advised us to invest in can or two of Tesco value shaving foam. I strange suggestion I thought to myself, but it had been a long week. Jokes aside, he said that the consistency exactly mimics that of piping meringue and the meringue butter cream we’d just used to cover our cakes! A great insider tip to make practise a little less expensive and wasteful.

Happy with my week’s progress I went home laden with cake. A cake that looked a little like this...

Next week on my path to patisserie we continue with cake, covering a few more of the basic sponges used in classical French baking and we shall also be looking at les cremes bavaroises et mousses...which I'll be honest, I've never heard of but after a quick google, I think it looks very, very pretty so I can't wait to get back in the kitchen! Week 7 - I'm ready for you. 

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

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your journal. I'm just wondering what type of french flour did you use for sponge cake- T55? T45? Thanks