Sunday, 25 January 2015

Le Cordon Bleu intermediate patisserie week 2 - Sacre bleu!

I hope you're ready for what I'm about to tell you. Please make sure that you're sat down when you read this post as this small piece of information could make you question everything. What's up, will become down, black will become white and everything you felt right you'll question if wrong.

Here goes... Croissants aren't French. You heard me, the croissant is not French. Mind blowing. Is your mind blown? You're probably think I've taken leave of my senses but I can assure I've not. This week at Le Cordon Bleu was titled Viennoiserie which translates to 'things of Vienna'. Reading ahead and looking through my course material I saw that we'd be covering the croissant and the beloved pain au chocolat but, blissfully unaware, I assumed that it was just the pastry that originated in Vienna, but to hear that this wasn't the case and it was in fact the form simply blew me away. My holidays as a child in France almost feel tainted with lies, those cheeky Frenchies have had us giving them all the credit for these crumble breakfast beauties for all this time but no longer! The secret is out.

Once I'd come to terms with the shocking news I felt ready to find out the truth about the croissant and delving into the history 'books' has actually taken me on a wonderful journey of discovery. The story behind the bake is one of bravery, heroism and well...rubbing it in a little shall we say, and begins very early in the morning in Vienna, 1683. At the time the city was under threat from the Turkish Empire. The Turks were trying to invade the city by land but had been unsuccessful. They decided to change their approach and begun to dig a tunnel under the cities fortifications in order to catch the residence by surprise. Little did they know that they'd be rumbled by the bakers. Due to the demand for baked goods in the city, the bakers were awake and at work during the wee hours. The bakers kitchens were typically located within the basements of the cities buildings and whilst at work, they began to hear strange noises. Concerned they alerted the city guards and the Army and when the Turks finally emerged from their sneaky tunnel they were met by quite the welcoming committee. The Venetian Army pushed back the Turks and the city went unharmed and it was all thanks to the bakers. 

The city thanked and honoured the bakers for their bravery and to mark the event, the bakers who'd saved the day decided to bake a pastry in the shape of the crescent moon, the symbol shown on the Turkish flag, as a way to both mock and mark the Turks failure and so the croissant was born, or rather the croissants early ancestor, the zaunerkipferl was born. Sadly it wasn't an instant hit, it wasn't quite as buttery as the pastry we love today and it was actually much larger, less flakey and much more dense. If you travel to Vienna you can still find the zaunerkipferl being served to the traditional recipe in cafes across the city. 

100 years after the attempted invasion, Austrian Princess Marie Antoinette married Louis XVI and, as well as many other things (shoes, many, many pairs of shoes and meringues and lots of cake), she took the croissant with her to France and introduced the pastry to the French aristocrats. They loved it and it was at this point that the French began to tinker with the recipe in order to better and perfect it to suit their pallets. 

The croissants popularity began to increase and many experiments were made to better the original Venetian recipe. At the turn of the 20th century, the perfect all butter-croissant recipe was achieved and in 1920 the croissant became a French national product. So, I suppose it's not all lies, the French did play a part in the nurturing of the product but really thanks goes to those brave Venetian bakers and the Turks for having a go at invading the city of Vienna thus inspiring the bakers creative sides. 

Before I was able to have a go at baking my own croissants the dough needed to be prepared. This was done whilst I made a batch of hot crossed buns (a little out of season) and a batch of Devonshire split buns. Both batches of buns were made using an enriched white dough. The enrichment of the dough coming from milk and a larger quantity of butter than you'd expect to find in a typical bread dough, thus making the buns sweeter and more delicious. 

In terms of my results, I'm not sure how Jesus would have felt about my hot crossed buns. They tasted delicious but in terms of appearance, the crossing mixture prepared seemed to slip during the baking process so when they came out of the oven they didn't exactly look like a crosses. Still, he's a very forgiving man from what I've heard so perhaps he wouldn't have minded. My Devonshire splits fit the bill - having been to Devon on more occasions than I can remember and in fact having lived there for four years of my life, I was surprised to have never come across them before. 

Referred to by may as the perfect alternative to the scone, the Devonshire split dates back to the early 19th century and is a yeast activated, sweet bun often served at afternoon tea. Although titled the Devon bun, there is some contention as to its origins and whether we have Devon or Cornwall to thank. Although neighbours, Devon and Cornwall do enjoy a food based squabble, both claim to be the rightful owners of clotted cream and pasties amongst other things, but the buns, whether from Devon and Cornwall are served in the South West sometimes filled with jam and at other times, treacle! 

As mentioned, whilst baking my buns I was preparing my croissant dough, a rich laminated dough prepared in much the same way a pate feuilletee, the difference being the number of turns given to the dough and the addition of yeast, sugar and milk. The name given to the dough in French is pate levee feuilletee - laminated yeast dough. But my tasks didn't end there, I was also required to prepare one batch of pate a brioche, brioche dough to be used the following day. Both doughs were prepared with little drama and as I returned home, my heart filled with excitement for the following day! I was beyond eager to prepare the treat I'd enjoyed so often whilst growing up (often accompanied by Marmite...don't judge me.)

Back into school I went with a spring in my step, excited to hear Chef talk us through the production of these crumbly creations. Thankfully everything seemed rather straight forward, all we needed to do was to use our dough to prepare the following for baking: 

  • One brioche a tete (large)
  • One brioche nantaise (a loaf made up of 8 small balls of brioche)
  • A craquelin (a chocolate brioche bun)
  • A pistachio and chocolate loaf (which was supposed to be walnut but lets face it, chocolate is always better, especially when accompanied by pistachio)
  • 6 croissants 
  • 6 pain au chocolat 
  • 12 Danish pastries 
  • One batch of scrap pastries 
WOW what a list I thought to myself, followed by how on earth am I going to carry this all home and who on is going to eat it all?!! The baking went fairly smoothly, my pain au chocolat were described by Chef as perfect and my croissants, a visual disaster (sadly they all unravelled - even the example Chef prepared for me, so perhaps my dough was a little out), but everything tasted incredible! I think my favourite pastry, taste wise, was actually my scrap swirls. Always encouraged to used every ounce of our doughs, Chef told us to roll the scraps out to a square, fill with anything that ticked our fancy, then to roll the dough up like a sausage and slice into equal portions. These portions were then laid flat, egg washed and baked. I filled mine with chocolate, pistachio, raisins, and almond paste. Heaven. 

I'm yet to try any of my brioche products. My craquelin (which I accidentally made in the shape of a brioche a tete, with a nipple on top) found a new home with a friend of mine in Leamington Spa. She's just given birth to a beautiful baby girl so baking is at the very bottom of her pile of things to do. I thought she could do with a treat. My loaves and brioche a tete are in the freezer - soon I intend to make them into a brioche and butter pudding to share with friends! I can't wait to experiment with them. 

After my pastry binge I had a few days of eating and drinking clean, healthy, sugar free foods. Pretty green smoothies being my favourite go to. I make these using avocado, spinach, apple, ginger, kale and coconut water. Delicious! 

After necking a few of those, I felt ready to be near cake again and met with a friend to try out a patisserie in Islington. Don't get me wrong, I love cake and all things patisserie but I also love my body and want to stay as fit and healthy as possible whilst studying this sugar infused subject. The cafe we wanted to try was Romeo's and much to our delight they were serving sugar free cakes with the intention of fazing out sugar altogether! Always intrigued to see if the flavour can match up to that of their sugary predecessors, we ordered a large wedge of sugar free chocolate cake and delved straight in and we we're incredibly impressed. Granted the crumb texture was noticeably different but the taste didn't appear to be heavily compromised and the sponge still had a hint of moisture about it. Sandwiched together with a delicious sugar free equivalent to Nutella, the cake was incredibly tasty, I mean who doesn't love Nutella! Washed down with a pot of Earl Grey, this slice of sugar free chocolate cake was the perfect guilt free Saturday treat. 

Sugar free is fast becoming the next big food / health crazy to take the UK by storm. Many bloggers post wonderful recipes every day helping us to navigate our way around the slow activating poison that is sugar. Obviously I can't avoid this ingredient - it's in nearly every recipe we've been issued at Le Cordon Bleu but some followers of mine, on Instagram in particular have questioned my food choices and challenged me on my eating habits. 

I'm lucky in that I have a fairly high metabolism and my weight is low but I do also exercise regularly to counter balance the cake. I'm therefore sticking by my mantra: everything in moderation. I'm very happy to see so many sugar free alternatives popping up onto the market but that's not going to stop me from indulging in well made patisserie. Well made being key - in patisserie, you really do get what you pay for. Spend 50p on a doughnut and expect it to be a nasty, starchy lump of dough coated in corse sugar. Pay £4 and you'll instantly see, taste and feel the difference. The dough will be lighter, fluffier, tastier and easier to digest. The sugar topping will be finer and the ingredients more delectable. The average price of an individual cake at a patisserie in London is £3 and at that price, it really does have to be a treat indulged in in moderation, I am a student after all! 

To complete my week of baking I thought I'd challenge myself to create something using only ingredients from my baking cupboard. Nosing around I found a few sachets of dry active yeast, one large bag of Shipton Mill white bread flour, lots of small bags of sugars, seeds of many varieties (poppy, pumpkin and chia) and salt. Everything needed to make a beautiful batch of bagels! 

Into a large bowl I sieved the white bread flour, then to this I added salted, followed by my yeasty, sugary water. I combined this to form a dough which I left to prove and double in size for an hour. The dough was then split into equal portions and using the end of a wooden spoon holes were formed and the bagels twirled. The raw bagels were then boiled in sugar water for 2 minutes to form a skin, dipped in seeds and baked for 25 minutes. Voila! A home baked Sunday brunch. Scrummy. 

Next week on my path to patissiere: Gateau Sabrina. From what I've heard this is a gateau with attitude and the baking and creating of this dish will sort the wheat from the chaff. The Sabrina was designed by Chefs of Le Cordon Bleu in 1954 for the sensational Audrey Hepburn to commemorate her hit film by the same name. In the film, Audrey Hepburn's character attends Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, she becomes a new women and falls in love. I now know what my Sunday night film is going to be! 

Chef has quite literally put the fear of god into us all. The internet is lacking in information about this challenging entremet, other than its origins and ingredients, so I'm off to the British Library to see if I can find out more. We'll also be making a fruit cake to be fed up until and decorated for Easter, and to add to the fun of returning to school we're having a piping skills test. Wish me luck! To make up for the horror of having a test in week three we're also having a cheese lecture. You may recall that I loved my first cheese lecture so much that I dedicated an entire mid week post to it, you can read this here. 

I have no doubt I'll love this lecture just as much 

PS. one last croissant fact, as you know we now have two shapes available to us - the curly croissant made to mock the Turkish and the straight croissant. Traditionally, in France, the straight croissant would be made using butter and the curled made using margarine or oil. I'm not sure if this is the case today but its always worth asking!

Oooh and the grain every skinny girl is spending her hard earned cash on, quinoa, 10 years ago used to be nothing but a cheap horse feed. It's funny how food trends and food bloggers can be so powerful. 

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