Sunday, 18 January 2015

Le Cordon Bleu intermediate patisserie week 1 - Hungary?

Following what felt like a lifetimes wait, on Monday I returned to Le Cordon Bleu, iPhoneless thanks to my New Years Day mugging, to begin my intermediate patisserie training. Hurray! I was both excited and a little nervous as I'd be joining a new form, working with new people and of course would be set a number of new challenges along the way.  

Unlike basic patisserie, our return lacked ceremony or formality. Straight down to the locker room I went, laden with my knife kit and uniform bag to discover if I'd been assigned an up or a down locker. A down. Not the best start in such a small and crowded room. After a quick change into my freshly laundered and pressed chef whites it was time, at last, to get back into the demo room. 

Chef Julie headed up the welcome committee and into my hands she placed my new, pristine blue, intermediate patisserie course documents folder. Quickly I flicked through the pages with eager anticipation to find out which dish would be up first. The Hungarian Dobos torte. To be made in the shape of a pyramid. Welcome back indeed!

The Dobos Torte, as mentioned, originates from Hungary and was first introduced to the world at the National General Exhibition of Budapest in 1885. At the time, cooling techniques were limited and the cakes inventor, confectioner Jozsef C. Dobos wanted to create something that would last longer than all other cakes on the market without compromising on quality or flavour. Typically the Dobos Torte is circular in shape and features 5 layers of biscuit like sponge, topped with a caramel layer which help, along with the filling, to prevent the cake from drying out. 

The sponge layers of the cake are cemented together using a chocolate ganache which, in 1885 was quite revolutionary and has been referred to as the first example of a buttercream. Typically during this time, cakes were iced with cooked pastry creams or whipped cream but the ganache Dobos had created meant that the cake was air tight, flavoursome and much longer lasting. The Dobos torte was an instant hit and for most of his life Jozsef kept the recipe confidential but when he retired, thankfully he left all necessary details of the cake to the Budapest Confectioners' and Gingerbread Makers' Chamber of Industry. A chamber which sounds utterly delicious. And thank goodness he did - now, there are over 100 variations of his original recipe and included within the variations is the recipe we followed to make our very first cake of the term. 

To make the Dobos torte I was faced with a number of new challenges, challenges I'd not experienced in basic patisserie. Firstly, the cake required multiple edible components in order to assembled: a chocolate ganache, a sponge, a socking syrup and a chocolate pate a glacer (essentially a chocolate based glaze made only from cocoa mass and vegetable oil. The glaze was to be poured over the cake before presenting to give a wonderful shine and finish) which wasn't so much of an issue, however all elements needed to be made and the cake assembled WHILST making our mise en place for the following day. One batch of pate feuilletee, which you'll recall is one batch of puff pastry. Thankfully Chef helped us to plan our time, task by task and all was running smoothly...until...

I took my cooked and cooled biscuit like sponge and following instructions cut four identical strips. These strips were then to be sandwiched together using the chocolate ganache, one strip on top of the other. The only problem was that I'd cut my strips in the wrong direction, much to the horror of my new class mates. Thankfully, although a fraction slimmer than intended, it wasn't hugely noticeable, only 1cm or so as the sponge was essentially a square to begin with. I wasn't too fazed by this, despite the reactions of those around me. After all, making errors is where I tend to learn the most and it's all in the recovery as far as I'm concerned.  

The biggest challenge, and the task that saw me hold my breathe during its entirely, was the cutting of the cake. In order to make the pyramid shape, the oblong cake needed to be chilled until solid, then using a serrated bread knife, cut on the diagonal along its length, at all times making sure the knife was resting against the tables edge and the cake wasn't moving so much as a millimetre. My approach to this was slow and steady and thankfully this approach paid off. Once cut and the two sections glued together using ganache, the entire cake was masked with the remaining chocolate, cream and butter mix and glazed using the pate a glacer, giving the cake its smooth and shiny finish. 

When the time came to present my cake to Chef, baring in mind that mine was slightly on the slimmer side, I simply informed him that is was a New Years dieters Dobos torte, slimmer slices, less calories etc etc. It made perfect sense to me and I'm sure he brought my elaborate excuses ;o) What do you think? 

As mentioned, whilst making this chocolatey delight we were required to prepare one batch of pate feuilletee. A laminated puff pastry dough. The pastry made was to be used the following day after a jolly good rest overnight in the fridge, when we'd be expected to create not one, but two puff pastry dishes. 

This must have been what Chef was referring to when he said the pace was about to change. Never before had we been asked to deliver two bakes in one practical! I couldn't wait. The challenge was on and the dishes in question were both new to me making the challenge that much more....challenging! Firstly a Pithivier and secondly a mille-feuille aux fraises! A mille-feuille I'd heard of, but what on earth is a Pithivier I thought?!!

As soon as I got home I turned to Google. Described as a pie made using two discs of puff pastsy, the Pithivier has the appearance of a hump and is traditionally decorated with spiral lines drawn from the top outwards with the point of a knife, and scalloping the edges. I learnt that the filling of a Pithivier could vary from sweet to savoury. Referring to my recipe, the Pithivier I was due to make would be filled with creme d'amandes, a filling I was familiar with and one I'd made several times during my basic patisserie studies. 

After some digging around I discovered that the Pithivier, as with the Dobos torte, is a pastry with an interesting past. Originating in a small town in France by the same name, the Pithivier is sometimes referred to as the King Cake but it only goes by this name on 6th January when its made to celebrate Epiphany at the end of the Christmas season. On 6th January, this special sweet puff pastry pie is baked with a small china figure or bean hidden inside. Whoever finds the hidden treasure it is declared King of the day. It all sounded rather grand but in reality, I didn't think its appearance really matched up. If I were King, even just for one day, I'd hope for far more grandeur!

I was much more excited to make the mille-feuille aux fraises. Having seen but never tasted this pretty pastry, I was most looking forward to applying the finishing touches. Essentially a fancy custard slice, the mille-feuille, which directly translates to a thousands leaves (based upon the laminated puff pastry doughs number of folds and turns...which as we know eventually creates exactly 973 leaves...not a thousand but we'll allow the French a little creative licence, I'm sure 973 leaves doesn't roll off the tongue with quite so much ease), is also known as the Napoleon slice. 

Sadly this is a French pastry of which the exact origins are unknown. The modern form, we do know however, was strongly influenced by the improvements of Marie-Antoine Careme, an early practitioner and exponent of the elaborate style of cooking known as grande cuisine. Careme, writing in the early 19th Century, considered the pastry to be of "acident origins", although we do know that it can't have come about any earlier than 1645, as this is when Chef Claudius Gele created the one essential ingredient required in order to make this dish: pate feuilletee. According to Alan Davidson, a British diplomat and historian best know for his writing and editing on food and gastronomy, the invention of the form (but of course not the pastry itself) can be attributed to Szeged, Hungary where a caramel-coated mille-feuille originates. There it is referred to as a Szegedinertorte. 

The mille-feuille I was to make would would comprise of three large puff pastry discs, cooked between heavy, black baking trays to ensure the pastry remained flat and firm but was still allowed to form its trademark layers. The discs, once cooled would then be filled with creme mousseline, fresh strawberries and raspberry jam and topped with white fondant icing and piped chocolate which was to be feathered to create a spider web pattern. 

So two bakes in two and a half hours...

I felt like Anneka Rice as I entered the kitchen. I was full of adrenaline but at the same time expecting the worse. Thankfully I managed to hold my nerve and followed the directions provided step by step without fault. How refreshing! Chef was impressed with the results, as was I. Just a little more practise required in the making of my paper piping bags to ensure the flow of chocolate is a little neater and I'm there. Boom. 

Thanks to my lovely new form I even have pictures to share with you! These two wouldn't have survived the walk home in one piece. 

Sadly this weeks cakes didn't really excite me in terms of appearance but flicking through whats to come, I'm feeling incredibly enthused. Things are about to move into my comfort zone with finishes including piped icing and hand made marzipan and fondant roses. I cannot wait to get creative! 

Before the week was through, our exam dishes were revealed to us. This was another moment filled with trepidation...what would they throw at us this time? Gateau Opera, Gateau Alhambra and a Frasier cake - thats what. Two of the three will be topped with a hand made rose and ALL will be finished with the name of the cake piped on top. Time to get practising my calligraphy and piping work! I wonder if they'll make allowances for the dyslexics in the class...I just know that I'll end up making a Gateau Oprah! 

Now with only 6 months left until the end of my patisserie course, I've begun thinking about the future and for inspiration I've been looking to the students of Le Cordon Bleu past. After tracking her down via social media, I was very lucky to be able to meet the chef referred to by many as super model of the moment Cara Delevingne's favourite baker, Georgia. Georgia graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in 2012 and now works as head chef at a delightful deli in north London and part time creative cake baker. 

Talking to Georgia filled me with a great deal of hope and inspiration. She reinforced the importance of making connections and of following your gut instincts. Following her own advice has gotten her a lot of media attention over the past few months and has led to her making a cake for Cara, being commissioned to make plans for the worlds most expensive ginger bread house and making edible props for the cast of Made in Chelsea. Georgia, like myself, hopes to make baking commissioned cakes her full time job but stressed the challenges of going solo into the world of business. Talking to her has certainly left me with much to think about...not knowing all the answers makes the future that much more exciting!

And so my journey continues. Next week on my path to patissiere: Viennoiserie, which literally translates to "things of Vienna". A cryptic clue indeed. Flicking ahead to my practical recipes I'm left only with a great deal of intrigue. To my delight it seems that during the course of my week of Viennoiserie I'll be learning more about laminated doughs and making brioche and croissants and pain au chocolat...oh my! 

Made in France? Lies...all to be revealed next week.

*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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