Monday, 24 November 2014

Le Cordon Bleu week 8 - a rather vanilla nod to the Patron Saint

Having moved from the wonderful city of Bristol to London only two months ago, leaving a well paid job behind to become a student again, I still feel very much like the newbie in town and my purse feels much lighter than it used to. I was therefore very happy to begin my eighth week by doing some paid work. Invited to work a few shifts down at the South Bank Christmas market, serving Good and Proper tea, I jumped at the chance of earning some pocket money whilst meeting new people and gaining experience in the catering industry. I absolutely loved it and now have several more shifts in the diary. If you're ever in the area, do drop by and say hello! The Good and Proper tea chalet is just under the Hungerford Bridge and the teas served are simply delicious.

Looking ahead at my diary, I was elated to see that I had not one, not two but three scheduled visits from friends and lots of baking practise to do around them! This post is therefore as much dedicated to these wonderful friends as it is my baking, each friend mentioned has inspired me in one way or another over the years due to their incredible talents. Friends visiting is great as it means new people to explore the city with and there’s nothing more comforting than seeing old and familiar faces when you've been away from home for a long time. My first visit was from Lil, a very close friend whom I've shared countless, amazingly happy times with. In London only for the night, we made the most of the time we had catching up over a glass or two of wine. In the morning I sent her off to her meeting with a huge slice of Black Forest Gateau. The review of which was rather positive! 

Next up was Thom. Thom and I met whilst studying at the University of Plymouth, after which we stayed in touch. When I moved to Bristol, Thom moved further down south to Cornwall where he filmed a couple of TV series in association with River Cottage, both series relating to fishing, foraging, hunting and food before setting up his own business, 7th Rise which focuses upon much the same: wild living and learning the skills required. I've spent many happy weekends down at his cottage in the woods. I find it to be a very inspiring place so highly recommend those needing time out and wanting an adventure to take a look at his website:

That's Thom and I skinning a roe deer last summer, the meat of which was used to make a delicious stew, slow cooked in a pot under the ground, amongst other things. It was deerlicious ;o) 

Thom was in London for several very important meetings (mine being one of them of course) so I met him on the go for a good old chin wag and a walk. Little did he know that due to my 'no underground unless its a special occasion' policy, that we had quite a long walk ahead of us to get him to where he needed to be. I made up for the 4 mile hike along London's very busy Oxford Street to Hoxton, by bringing refreshments in the form of Crosstown chocolate truffle doughnuts and none other than some elusive Belle Epoch coffee éclairs. Thom inhaled the chocolate filled and covered doughnut whilst making sounds of contentment and pleasure. Having not come across the brand, I Googled them wanting to find out more and it seems that Crosstown are leading quite the sugar-coated renaissance. 

Tired of the humble doughnut being held responsible for the condition of the US Police Forces' hearts, and being made from cheap, nasty, fatty ingredients, Crosstown have made it their mission to inject a little gourmet and glamor into this simple baked treat. There ethos is simple - they make their doughnuts by hand, daily, they use high quality ingredients which are sourced locally where possible, they finish each one by hand and ensure no trans fats pass our lips. Now selling their products in Selfridges, as well as many of London's hottest markets, Crosstown are expanding quickly and its clear to see why. Yes, their products aren't cheap but quality patisserie isn't and neither should it be. Low costing baked goods, to me, indicate corners cut and these corners usually come in the form of the quality of the ingredients. I say, if you're going to indulge, do it properly and purchase a product made with you, the end consumer, in mind and not the pockets and bank balance of a major corporation. 

Just look at it. How could you possibly resist? If you're in London and you like doughnuts, be sure to treat yourself. But be warned - no other doughnut will ever live up to a Crosstown doughnut which may lead to a depletion in your overall doughnut consumption. Sorry.

Whilst Thom performed some sort of culinary magic trick, making his doughnut disappear in well under 30 seconds, I indulged in a long anticipated Belle Epoch coffee éclair. If you've read my previous posts you may remember me trying to hunt one down a couple of weeks ago from their Stoke Newington patisserie without much luck, but whilst in Selfridges, I managed to track down a flock of them! With only a week and a half left until my basic patisserie exams I thought it best to taste London's best coffee éclair so I knew what I was up against and I was happy to discover that the éclairs we'd slaved over at school didn't taste too dissimilar. I think a little more fondant and piping practice and I'll be there - taste wise, I think I've nailed it! 

After a couple of days spent with friends, indulging in patisserie it was time to return to school and to once again face the piping technique which has been keeping me awake at night. St Honore. Named after the Patron Saint of baking, week 8 would not only see us practice the piping technique named after him, but also make the gateau created in his honour - the Gateau St Honore. Made using short crust pastry (pate brisee) AND choux pastry (pate a choux), the gateau, to me, resembles an up turned Australian cork hat, filled with creme diplomat and whipped cream and topped off with profiteroles! Not only is it a strange looking 'cake', but considering it was named after the Patron Saint, I found it to be a little 'vanilla' in terms of taste and therefore felt rather underwhelmed by it. If I were the Patron Saint of baking, I'd like to think my disciples would have put a little more effort in, perhaps adding a little more colour and some fun ingredients. Gold wouldn't have gone amiss either. But then I reminded myself that this is my basic patisserie term and before I can experiment with flavours and appearance, I must learn the classics. 

Made in honour of St Honore, the patron saint of baking, this gateau has an interesting background. Described as a show stopping bake, the St. Honore cake was developed at the legendary Chiboust pastry shop on Paris' Saint Honore Street, which, alas, no longer exists. It started out as a ring-shapes brioche filled with pastry cream, which Chiboust lightened with an airy Italian meringue to create a new king of filling. That fussy filling became known as Creme Chiboust which is still used by French bakers. 

According to the book, Desserts, by Parisian pastry chef Pierre Herme, it was one of the Chiboust bakers, August Jullien who came up with his own version and homage to St Honore, replacing the ring of dough with a ring of cream puffs. By the late 19th centre, the St. Honore cake had taken its present form, incorporating a pastry disk filled with Chiboust cream, topped with a crown of cream puffs dressed further with a crunchy cap of caramelised sugar and draped with lashings of whipped cream... Which makes it all sound rather fancy and I'm sure in the patisseries it in. However, I still felt less than blown away by it.  

Regardless of both the uninspiring look and taste of the dish, I felt confident following chefs demonstration that I could re create the this famous gateau but at the same time understood the importance of getting this one right. Involving both pate brisee and pate a choux, this was exam practice in disguise. Pate brisee of course used as the base for our tarte au citron, and pate a choux used to create our coffee éclairs. Into the kitchen I went, a little distracted by my post practical plans but I was able to push these distractions to one side and focus. The results both chef and myself were happy with. All that's required is a little more practice of the St Honore piping and perfection won't be far behind.

Following practical I jumped in a taxi to meet my third visitor of the week, a friend who I met whilst at Thom's cottage in Cornwall (7th Rise), Suzie. Suzie was accompanying me to see a band play and of course to have a good catch up. The band, and this is in keeping with my culinary related blog, are called The Milk. Having met The Milk in Bristol after one of their shows, I stayed in touch with lead singer Rick, and have followed the bands progress with interest. 

Now mid way through writing and recording their second album under a new record label and new management the band have really come into their own and judging by the Guardian reviews (below), they are destine for big things in 2015. Their performance was incredible - soulful, heartfelt, funk injected and original. Originality being something that many bands these days omit in favour of appealing to the masses. This band have moved away from their first albums mainstream sound and are now focusing upon making real music, music influenced by artists that they love and enjoy and this really showed in their performance. If you're looking for some new music to indulge in, I highly recommend you find them on Spotify and or Soundcloud. Your ears really will thank you. Take a look at their website as well, they are giving away free downloads of their latest single, Deliver Me: 
"Amy Winehouse, as a dude, fronting a soul band" The Guardian UK

"A frisky cocktail of subversive soul-pop" The Guardian UK

Music is incredibly important to me, which is why I've given it a mention this week. It really has taken me some adjusting to, not being able to bake and listen to music whilst in the kitchens at Le Cordon Bleu, as I'm so very used to doing at home. Of course it would be almost impossible to as we have to vocalise our movements and stay alert so as not to cause any accidents or injury to those around us, but still, theres nothing quite like listening to some good beats to keep you motivated. I can almost guarantee that my hand whipped genoise sponge cakes would rise that little bit higher if I could listen to Beyonce whilst whisking. 

Following the excitement of a wonderful evening spent listening to some incredibly talented artists with friends, it was back to school I went to learn all about the delights of petit fours. Also known as mignardises, petit fours are small indulgent confectionary treats, often no more than two bites in size, that take their name from the French translation "small oven". We started the class learning the difference between the various types of petit fours, from dry petit fours (sec) such as biscuits and macarons, to salted (sale) which includes savour appetisers and glazed (glace) such as mini eclairs and tarts. 

We were to begin our introduction to petit fours with sec, dry biscuits, each of which had a very fancy title. First up was sables hollandais. I immediately thought of hollandaise sauce but thankfully the biscuit were entirely unrelated. The name refers first to the technique used to make the biscuit - sables meaning to rub together to make the mixture sand like. Using very cold butter, so as not to burn it, it is rubbed into the flour until a sand like texture is achieved. Eggs are then added and used as a binding agent along with sugar, salt and vanilla for flavour. Unfortunately, after much digging around, I found very little information regarding their history and appearance on the petit four menu. Known best for their chequer board finish, these biscuits not only required cold hands to make them, but a great deal of concentration to get them right! 

Next was the baton de marechal, which translates to 'field marshall baton'. Now this was a biscuit with some history. The baton de marechal was not only named after, but also made to resemble the famous baton presented to the marshall of the French army during the first French empire. The marshal would be presented with a blue cylinder, covered in stars, formally fleurs-de-lis which was inscribed with the following in Latin: terror belli, decus pacis which means "terror in war, ornament in peace" 

These biscuits, made with a stable French meringue base, gently folded with ground almond, icing sugar and flour, with a painted chocolate bottom are a firm favourite - often served at high tea in both the UK and France. I had a wonderfully relaxing Saturday morning in the kitchen at school making these. Sadly, I should imagine due to the lack of music, my baton de marechal didn't rise quite as much as I had hoped but none the less both my sable hollandais and batons were complimented by chef. When I make them next I need to ensure that my chequer board cookies are a little more square around the edges, and a few seconds more whisking would have resulted in slightly fluffier batons. Still, don't they look enticing on my favourite party mouse saucer?? 

Next week on my path to patissiere we continue learning all there is to know about dry petit fours and I can hardly contain my excitement as WE ARE MAKING MACARONS!!! Macarons are my absolute favourite...really I don't need to taste any in order to know what the best of the best taste like. I have a pile of empty Laduree macaron boxes on my desk, evidence of research past, but still, I think I might require a little indulgent reminder. Just one...or two perhaps :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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