Sunday, 1 February 2015

Le Cordon Bleu intermediate patisserie week 3 - fromage, big decisions and who's got the skills

After a very busy week filled with shock discoveries and more pastries than I could carry, it was refreshing for the pace to slow down a touch the week before what has been described by our Chefs as exam revision hell. With exams a little over a month away this week was very much focused upon practising the skills required to perfect the three selected exam dishes and to try our hand at a former exam dish; the Gateau Sabrina. 

I was really hoping to be able to provide more information about the Sabrina in this post, and its certainly not through lack of trying that I'm unable to. I've emailed Chef's in Paris, trawled through many books from the 1950's and tried many, many search terms on Google but it would appear that the thought process behind this dish and its unusual flavour combination is rather closely guarded. Its no secret however that this dish is challenging. Made from sweet pastry, genoise sponge, raspberry jam, a set strawberry cream, chocolate, marzipan and pistachios, the cake is made in quite in unusual way, using concentric circles rather than rounds of sponge as you might expect. 

Watching the Chef demonstrate the gateaus' construction, it was easy to see why we'd require the full 3 hour practical class in order to complete the task. First the sweet pastry was made and allowed to cool, the genoise was then ferociously whipped to ribbon stage, the flour was added and the mixture spread thinly over a large baking sheet. Into the oven it went for a flash bake, it was then set aside to cool whilst the sweet pastry was cooked, the marzipan rolled, the chocolate tempered and the set strawberry cream prepared. It felt as though I didn't have a moment to breath and take it all in. I suppose it felt that way as it were true! Sadly whilst tempering the chocolate, a temper is exactly what it got itself into. Transferring the bowl from the bain marie to an ice bath and back again many time, eventually the correct, Nutella like consistency was achieved and I was able to prepare the gateaus hard, impenetrable exterior. 

As soon as the necessary elements had cooled and set it was time to begin the construction work. A sweet pastry disc formed the base of the cake, to this a thin layer of raspberry jam was spread. The set strawberry cream was then spread generously over the flat genoise sponge. The sponge was cut into strips and along with the set cream, rolled up to form the concentric circular pattern. 4 strips in total were used, the sponge was then masked using the remaining set cream and left to chill. After a quick combing and covering of pistachio nibs it was time to add the finishing touches. The marzipan chocolate disc first had to be cut into 8 portions, as mentioned, this element is entirely impenetrable and therefore its purpose is to designated portions. Each slice was placed on top of the gateau and to hide the cuts, strawberry cream strips topped with piped chocolate was added. Topped off with a cut strawberry and there you have it. The Gateau Sabrina. An unnecessarily fussy cake and one I won't be repeating in a hurry. 

Despite being a rather frustrating cake to make, it was lovely to create a fairly new patisserie dish (bearing in mind that most date back hundreds of years), and one with a connection to such an iconic movie actress. If only I could find out where the Chefs took their inspiration from! 

Ever curious, I registered with the British Library to see if I could find out any more information there, and I'm now the proud owner of an official readers pass. I've sat through easier job interviews, but once my intentions were made clear, I was granted access to the worlds largest collection of books. Like a gleaming treasure trove, I couldn't wait to get inside and to see what the building had in store for me. Being rather naive, I assumed that I would be able to walk down large, grand aisles of pristine books and select those I required, perhaps with the assistance of someone less vertically challenged. This however was not the case. I was asked to sit at a computer and scan through the catalogue of 56 million books in order to find and request the books I'd like to view. The requested books would then be packed up and shipped down to London from a secret location and I'd be able to sit in one of the designated reading rooms and...well, read them! 

I told this to a friend who informed me that some books held by the library are so precious that when ordered, they are hand delivered and can only be read with the assistance of an official library page turner, who'd be wearing white cotton gloves. Naturally I assumed he was pulling my leg. This wouldn't be the first time I'd fallen for a tale such as this. When I was 18 years old when I finally discovered that my father had been essentially lying to me about select "facts" due to my incredibly trusting nature. I remember specifically walking past a kebab shop as a child and making a simple enquiry to the one man in my life I can trust above all others, that enquiry was "Dad, what's that?" pointing in the direction of the large, revolving, iconic dripping kebab meat skewer. His response was "that's an elephants leg". I looked the meat up and down, looked up at my Dad's face, looked back to the meat and was happy with the answer provided. Why wouldn't I have been? He didn't look like he was lying and the large stack of meat could have easily been the size of an elephants leg (to a child - looking at the meat now, it may have been a rather small elephant, still not inconceivable).   

MANY years later, it was freshers week at the University of Plymouth where I'd enrolled to study marketing. I'd moved into my flat and was starting to make some new friends. We'd decided to attend the freshers pub crawl in order to see more of the city and to meet our fellow students. At the end of the night, whilst walking home past the local kebab shop someone (a foreign student) asked of me the very same question I had done of my father years before. "What on earth is that?!", I swooped in quickly and confidently with the answer "that is the meat of an elephants leg and you couldn't pay me to eat it". The group I was walking home with instantly erupted into laugher and in that moment, my fathers cover was blown and I was labelled gullible. Thanks Dad. 

Thankfully, this time, I was wrong to doubt the facts passed onto me because I saw it with my very own eyes - the page turning person, turning pages whilst the reader sat with their hands in their lap, nodding when the time came for them to read on overleaf. How exciting! Luckily I was trusted with the books I'd ordered to turn the pages myself, I think I may have found the white gloved page turning person a little distracting. I was particularly excited to turn the pages of an 1874 edition of the Royal book of Pastry and Confectionary (le livre de patisserie) by Jules Gouffe, chef de cuisine of the Paris Jockey Club. The book was translated from French into English by Alphonse Gouffe, head pastry cook to Her Majesty the Queen, Queen Victoria. Within the old, dusty pages of this book I found recipes for dishes we'd now deem rather obscure such as veal frangipane pie and just about every type of patisserie treat made with filberts, which I later found out is the old and alternative name for the hazelnut. 

One dish that caught both my eye and attention was the meringue bee hive, shown below. I was amazed that in 1874 the chefs were able to make dishes as elaborate as this. I also thought to myself that I'd seen something like it, somewhere before. Scrolling back though my instagram feed I found a post from a guy called Mark - Mark is the founder of Outside of the Breadbox in NYC ( and, like me, is a pastry student studying at the ICC (French Culinary Institute). Unlike me Mark was tasked with recreating the beehive cake as part of his syllabus. I'm feeling very envious as I'd love to be able to recreate and modernise this dish, which is now referred to as a ruche cake. Perhaps I'll make the ruche beehive my next out of school project. 

Within the other books I'd requested I found some wonderful old cake related photography. Some showing cakes from history. Below, along with others is a picture of a cake made for Hilter's birthday. It's just so hard to think of Hitler as someone who celebrated a birthday, or celebrated anything at all, but of course he did. One things for sure, I don't envy the chef's who had to make the cake for him. Imagine if you messed up your piping that day! 

Sadly within the books I'd ordered there wasn't a word mentioned of the Gateau Sabrina, so my hunt continues. Before returning to school for our skills test it was time for the long awaited, second cheese lecture. There are two reasons that I love the cheese lectures at Le Cordon Bleu, the first is the amount of cheese we're able to sample. It's like being at the Waitrose cheese counter, able to try all the delights it has to offer but not feel as though you have to commit to purchase. The second is the lecturer. He's just fantastic, I'm yet to meet a person who can speak more passionately about the subject, or any subject for that matter. You can't help but feel happy, positive and engaged in his company.  

This lecture was less fact based than the previous and instead focused upon the different varieties of rots. I say rots, as essentially that's what cheese is - a rotting, fermenting lump of gone off curds and whey. The skill in cheesemaking is knowing which bacteria and which process of rotting your essential ingredients is going to result in the best flavour. The cheese man gleefully took us on a culinary adventure starting with young cheeses and working our way through to a group of cheeses referred to as internal fungals. Between this he covered stalled maturation, saponification, pasteurisation, external ferments (wash rinds) and internal ferments. 

The first cheese sampled was a young cheese, only 7 or 8 days old. Made from lactic goats milk, this was the most delicate cheese I'd ever tasted, just a hint of citrus and a tiny twang of goats milk. This was very much a base level cheese. We then went on to discuss and sample feta. A cheese loved by most Europeans, this sheep milk based cheese came about in around the 8th Century. The cheesemakers found that by throwing their barrels of curds and whey into the Mediterranean, they could preserve their products far longer and consequently profit from doing so. Personally I find feta to be a little too salty. No longer thrown into the Med due to pollution, feta is still soaked in brine but it's the heavy salt content that, in particular, the Brits love and which make it such a unique cheese. Interestingly, like me, the Hungarians aren't as fond of the salty flavour as the Greeks and Brits. Instead of serving the cheese straight from the pack, they soak their feta in clean water for 40 minutes. During the lecture we sampled both types of feta and to my surprise, it was like eating an entirely different cheese. Never again will I eat feta from the pack. It was delightfully creamy, soft and mild but still retained it's unique taste, but with much less salt! 

Despite loving this mild alternative to the feta I'd become very familiar with, I'm not usually a mild cheese lover. I love a cheese that packs a punch, the smellier the better and thankfully feta was followed by many stinkers. 

If you love cheese and want to try something new, my favourites were the following: 
  • Clochette de Touraine 
  • Tunworth 
  • Camembert Gillot 
  • Francis - a wash rind cheese 
  • Barber 1833 cheddar 
  • Brockel oud gouda 
  • Dunsyre Blue 
  • Nanny Williams Blue 
Still battling my way out of a cheese induced coma, I turned my thoughts to piping bags and fancy fonts. The skills test was paired with the baking of a traditional fruit cake, which we'll be feeding over the course of the next month and decorating following this terms exams, to our own specifications (I already know what mines going to look like and who it's destine for!) The skills test included piping the word Opera using chocolate, piping the word Fraisier using Royal icing and making a rose from marzipan. Having made roses many times in the past, I was confident enough not to practise this element beforehand. I did however research and practise the piping of the words prior and here are the results...

Chef wasn't as impressed as I was with my handiwork. We were told we'd gain extra points for piping fluidly and in a joined up font, which I did, but he really didn't like my O or my F. Having done my research and taken the O straight from a 1970s edition of a Roux brothers book, I felt a little disappointed but took his feedback on board. 

My rose was met with more pleasant remarks - Chef went as far as saying it was good! I thought so too, despite marzipan behaving a little differently to sugar paste, it turned out rather nicely and I think it would look wonderful sat upon any Fraisier cake. Practise complete I feel ready to take on the two dishes causing panic this week: the gateau Fraisier and the gateau Opera, both dishes are steeped in history (which I'm really looking forward to researching) and both are very tasty (so I'm looking forward to eating them too). In terms of my chosen lettering and design, it's quite literally back to the drawing board for me this evening. These dishes are far too technical and important to loose points to the finishing touches - both entremets are made up of at least four elements which means I have a couple of very busy practicals ahead of me. For the first dish, the Fraisier, we'll be expected to produce a genoise, a creme mousseline, a kirsch syrup, a marzipan topping and a marzipan rose. I'm less concerted by this one, it's the second the Opera which has me all on edge. The Opera requires more skill and will be made from a joconde sponge, ganache, a soaking syrup, a coffee butter cream, a chocolate glaze and of course, the piping! I will of course let you know how I got on next Sunday :o) 

Lastly, this week I made a huge decision. I've decided to specialise in cake design and decoration for my final term at Le Cordon Bleu. This means that I won't be progressing to superior patisserie, preparing petit fours for the end of term tea party or finishing my official diploma but I will be learning much, much more about the business side of cake making and the skills I'll need in order to make the very best wedding and celebration cakes. It was a hard decision to make but, for me, it's the right decision. Celebration cakes have always excited me most, they are the reason for me wanting to learn more about the classics. Last year I made many celebration cakes for friends and doing so filled me with so much joy. 

My final project at Le Cordon Bleu will be to make a wedding cake. Not waiting the cake to go to waste, I've found myself a bride and groom, via the wonders of social media, and will be making the cake to their brief. It's going to be a cake with quite the story as it'll be travelling down to France for the ceremony. I can't wait to start researching and sketching out what the cake will look like and of course, to meeting the bride and groom! 

Next week on my path to patissiere, as mentioned, I'll be whipping up a Fraisier and gateau Opera. I'll also be trying my hand as making custard doughnuts! Until next week x    

January was sweet, February is going to be much sweeter. 

*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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