Saturday, 15 November 2014

Le Cordon Bleu week 7 - a culinary journey down memory lane

After such an enjoyable and successful 6th week at Le Cordon Bleu, I was ecstatic to learn that week 7 would see us continue on our quest for cake excellence. My right arm, wrist and shoulder were a little less excited at the thought of whipping up not one, but two more genoise sponge cakes, but my taste buds were salivating at the anticipation of the forthcoming gateau au forest noir. 

Before getting too carried away in a black forest day dream I set about practising my second exam dish, perfect Parisian coffee eclairs! Having not made pate a choux since my practical class a couple of weeks ago, I was a little dubious as to how they'd turn out, especially at home with a standard oven but, give or take a few millimetres, I think this batch looked pretty uniform, and they tasted great. On top, I piped my made up musical note in thick, rich, dark chocolate - I like to call it the Niki clef, which I'll be sticking to should this dish come up in my practical examination - IN THREE WEEKS TIME! Eeeekk! The reason for my choosing this design over the more popular treble clef is firstly that I designed it and secondly, it's narrow which means it'll work on all eclairs, fat or thin. Who am I to judge! 

After baking these beauties, I took a walk down to the Tower of London. Having seen many pictures of the poppy installation titled 'The Tower of London Remembers the First World War', I had to see them for myself. It was overwhelming, chilling and humbling to see the sheer number of poppies on display, each marking a British or Common Wealth solider fallen in the conflict. On my way too and from the installation, I handed out packages of coffee eclairs to the homeless - as it gets colder and colder I'm seeing more people on the streets and it just breaks my heart. It's far too hard to ignore them so I shall continue distributing cake as and when I can. When I returned home, inspired by the installation and wanting to play around with some left of fondant icing I had in my cake crafting tool box, I made a small batch of commemorative poppy cupcakes. Lest we forget. 

Eclairs and cupcakes under my belt, it was time to focus on a cake very close to my heart. The Gateau Au Forest Noir. It must be YEARS since I've tasted a black forest gateau but I still remember the taste in my mouth as though it were yesterday! Very popular in the 70's and 80's, this cake, or gateau rather, had dipped off the radar but according to the chefs at Le Cordon Bleu, it's making a come back, and like  many other 'retro' dishes, the prawn cocktail included, they are smartening up their act. 

Growing up in Germany I've tasted this cake many, many times. My family and I were lucky enough to spend three years living in Elmpt, a small village not far from Dusseldorf whilst my father served at RAF Bruggen. I distinctly remember this cherry fill, rich, dark, moist chocolate cake being served at a Christmas party, made by the chefs at the Officers Mess. I sat quietly and ate a huge slice of this sumptuous cake just before I met Santa - given the choice now of cake or Santa, I know which I'd choose. Sorry Santa. I remember particularly enjoying the sour taste of the kirsch drenched fruit, the rich chocolate and the thick cream exterior. I'm sure, as a child, that I wasn't supposed to have eaten this very boozy dessert, but I don't recall anyone stopping me. Who could possibly deny anyone, even a child, of this indulgent delight? What I really love about this cake is that as well as being steeped in cheery liquor, it's also steeped in history, but the jury is still out as to who make the cake first - the Germans, or the French. 

Known to the Germans as schwarzalder kirschtorte, one thing we know for sure is that the cake takes its name from the Black Forest. Situated in southern Germany, the forest was named as such due to its dense woodland, full to the brim with furs and pines allowing very little light in. This element is not only represented in the name, but also by the dark chocolate genoise sponge used to construct the gateau, but that doesn't explain the addition of the cherries, nor the cream. The name is document to also take its inspiration from the speciality liquor of the Black Forest region known as Schwarzwalder Kirsch(wasser), made by distillation of the regions tart cherries. This is the ingredient, with its distinctive cherry pit flavour, that gives the cake it's unique flavour. In America, as well as other countries the cake is often prepared without alcohol but legally, in Germany the cake cannot be sold as a schwarzalder kitschtorte unless made using the alcoholic kirsch wasser. 

In terms of the inclusion of the fruit and cream, some records claim that the cake was designed to mimic the Bollenhut, a hat worn traditionally by the women of the three neighbouring villages of the Black Forest: Gutach, Kirn Back and Hornberg-Reichenbach. The hat, which looks very Vivienne Westward, was introduced during the 1700's and quickly became iconic. The hat stands out as being different due to it being covered by 14 bright red pom-poms, worn only by the unmarried women of the villages. Once married, the women wear black pom-pom hats - perhaps to symbolise mourning over their lost freedom?

Many believe the Bollenhut to be the reason behind the inclusion of cherries within the gateau au forest noir. Following researching both the hat and the cake a little further, I discovered that the hats were introduced and worn for religious reasons - some history papers elude to the pom-poms resemblance to the rose and suggest that they were sewn onto the straw hat base in a cross formation. The combination of the cross and rose, and the weight of the hat symbolising the crucifixion of Jesus.  

These hats were traditionally worn by the women of the villages every Sunday - now they are worn only on special occasions. Whether or not these hats lead to the inclusion of the cherries within the Black Forest Gateau or not is unclear but I'd like to think so. Fashion has long inspired culinary art and why not take inspiration from these crazy headpieces?! I certainly would. 

Some documents mention that the cream is inspired by the frilly white lace shirts worn along with the hats. I'd like to think the entire cake is inspired by these traditional German get ups. Regardless of its past, it was time for me to jump in the kitchen and bake my very own Gateau au Forest Noir.

Not only was I excited to bake this delicious cake, but this practical was also our first opportunity to play around with chocolate at Le Cordon Bleu and in this case we were going to be tempering and using chocolate cocoa transfer sheets in order to give this vintage cake a modern twist in its appearance. Chef presented us with a selection of transfer sheets, the designs ranging from stars to pink blobs and strips. I carefully selected the stars as I had a vision of creating furs with my tempered chocolate so as to represent every element of the Black Forest and the stars, I felt would give the cake a lovely festive feel. This vision wasn't realised as all my trees broke. Obviously. 

After tempering our chocolate directly onto the decorative cocoa transfer sheets, I was confronted once again by a giant sized silver bowl, a balloon whisk as long as my arm and eggs requiring a beating. I whipped the eggs as hard as I possibly could, haunted by my Genoise a la confiture de framboises pancake. Once light and airy, I added my flour and cocoa powder and...the mix didn't collapse! Result. This could possibly be due to the inclusion of additional egg yolk which created a slightly more stable mix, or because I whisked so hard adding so much air to my mix that it couldn't possible collapse on me. I'd like to think that it was due to the latter...although it was probably the egg yolks. 

Once poured into a cake ring, it was time to bake my chocolate genoise and it rose perfectly. The cake was then cut into 4 very thin slices, something which I still find very unnerving doing without a cake wire. I don't think I took a single breath as I pushed and pulled my exceptionally sharp bread knife through the cake. Each sponge layer was then soaked in a kirsch imbibage (sugar syrup) and then...more flippin' whippin'! This time, creme chantilly. We last made creme chantilly way back in week 1 and this was to be the creme of choice for assembling our scrumptious gateaus. Luckily, whipping up cream doesn't take nearly as long as eggs. Whipped over ice to avoid splitting, a few minutes later I was ready to pipe my cream filling, which was then sprinkled with a kirsch soaked cherry compote.

The cake was finished with a creme chantilly top, etched using the serrated edge of our bread knives, 8 beautifully piped creme rosettes, more liquor soaked cherries and tempered chocolate shards. The side of the cake was first masked using creme chantilly then covered with chocolate triangles. What do you think? Probably a little different in appearance to the gateaus you remember eating during the 80s but take it from me, it tasted just as good, if not better than I remember! 

Chef commented that my masking could have been a little more thorough but other than that he was happy with what I'd achieved. I think this is a very fair comment - my reason for my being a tad cautious and going light on the masking was that I was nervous about the cream splitting on the cake. This can happen if played around with too much and I could see little lumps beginning to form so I quit whilst I was ahead. Despite my chocolate furs breaking and not making an appearance, Chef liked my simplistic design. Simplicity always seems to be a winner - which is good as my second cake of the week had to have a simplistic finish due to what can only be described as a chocolate fan disaster. 

Chocolate fans are used a lot in the industry to create height and add drama to simple cakes. Made from scraped, room temperate, tempered chocolate - chef made creating the fans and ruffles look incredibly easy so I was excited to see what I'd be able to create with mine. Turns out - not much. The fans and ruffles were to be placed upon our second cake of the week, a Charlotte au Chocolat. Never having heard of a Charlotte cake, let alone a chocolate one, I thought it best to find out what was in store for me but my reading around the subject only led to confusion. 

The Charlotte, you see, is a dessert served either hot or cold. Some call it a brain cake, when made with using rolled sponge, but it can also be made using stale bread, lady fingers, biscuits or cookies. Reading on, I came across the Charlotte Russe. An elegant cake make from piped sponge lady fingers filled with a Bavarian cream - invented by the French chef Marie-Antonie Careme (1784-1833), who named his creation in honor of his former employer, George IV's only child, Princess Charlotte, and his current Russian employer at the time, Czar Alexander I (russe being the French word for Russian). This had to be what we'd be making - doesn't it sound fancy? 

Essentially this is a cake made using three main elements - a sponge, a Bavarian cream and some chocolate fans or ruffles. This sounds so simple but there were many opportunities for failure along the way...such as the genoise sponge collapsing, the gelatine used within the Bavarian cream not activating correctly leading to a unset moose and the tempered chocolate not playing nice leading to a lack of fans. I fell victim to one of the three. My sponge cooked well, although it was a little loose in its consistency, resulting in a lack of definition between the fingers. My moose held well, although the cocoa powder did cause it to become a little on the lumpy side. My issues were with the cooling of the moose, which I over did in the blast chiller, making the cake very hard to turn out of the cake ring, which then caused it to dent and mark. 

I'm not entirely sure why I struggled with the fans. Chef said it was something to do with the temperature of the chocolate not settling but I did the best I could with that I had. Below are a couple of pictures of my Charlotte au Chocolate and a picture showing a selection of my class mates. You'll notice their fans and ruffles are big and full and mine isn't but again, Chef made a point of letting me know that he liked the simplicity of my cake. He said I'd considered all angels, height, texture and depth and these are the type of comments that, as an aspiring food stylist, mean a lot to me. Sure, my fans didn't work out as anticipated but what I created didn't look so bad! 

Next week on my path to patissiere, the Gateau St. Honore! Eeeek. That piping nozzle is coming back to haunt me! And petit fours. How quaint :o) 

*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