Sunday, 15 February 2015

Le Cordon Bleu intermediate patisserie week 5 - Alhambra's got me all gaga

Monday morning, 5:30am and my alarm is ringing softly in my ear. Gradually the bells of Big Ben grow louder and louder until they reach their crescendo. As I tap the snooze button and my brain begins to process 'waking up', I realise that I'm getting up early for a nine hour day of baking. My body goes from being lethargic to feeling sheer excitement, my brain springs into action as though someone has flicked a switch and I leap out of bed with so much energy that I trip over a badly placed shoe and promptly fall over. Picking myself up I hurry to get dressed, out the door and onto the bus within the 45 minutes I'd allotted. 

Tea in hand (in my beautifully designed Keep Cup) I wait for the number 38 and whilst doing so read through my notes for the day ahead. Monday was the day I was to face my third and final exam dish, the Gateau Alhambra. After last weeks challenging gateaus, which were currently running in order of technical difficulty, I feared the task ahead wouldn't be a quick nor easy one. 

Following a spectacular technical demonstration, after which we were severed an array of tantalising petit-four sales, the time came to take on the Alhambra, face to face. 

Looking at the chocolate covered, chocolate filled, chocolate piped gateau I wondered to myself how hard it could actually be. Chef began demonstrating the difficulties almost immediately as he created a stable French meringue and egg yolk / butter mix almost simultaneously. After sieving all of the dry ingredients which included the finest cocoa powder I've ever come across, ground hazel nuts and soft French flour, he then went about combining the three in several inclusion, and in a very strict order. First to be added to the egg yolk / butter mix was a quarter of the French meringue. The first inclusion of meringue was used to temper the mix and therefore was beaten in with a firm hand, knocking any air whipped in, quickly out. Next in was a third of the dry mix, this was folded in gently to the tempered batter. Next was a second quarter of the French meringue, this time added and folded in with a great deal more care and attention, again followed by a third of the dry mix. This was repeated until the final quarter of the meringue had gone in and a smooth mixture had been achieved. But, warned the chef, deviate from the formula and the mix won't work. Game over. 

The cake was then baked whilst a marzipan rose was made, the chocolate ganache filling prepared, the soaking syrup made and a further batch of chocolate was tempered in order to create decorative leaves to add life to our finished rose. As soon as the cake came out of the oven it was de molded and taken immediately to the blast chiller to cool down. Once cool, the dense chocolatey lump of a cake was cut in half (using nothing but a bread knife and a steady hand), soaked with the coffee / rum syrup and the ganache piped in concentric circles within. The top became the bottom and the bottom the top - a cunning trick often used in the cake world to ensure perfect edges when masking. Back into the chiller the cake went and when ready, it was masked with the remaining ganache. It was at this point that chef began to make the task look perhaps a little harder than it ought to have been. As the ganache began to set it became increasingly hard to mask the sides of the cake and at this stage, even sides were key to an even finish. The aim here is to have a perfectly smooth undercoat, this is then covered with a smooth liquid ganache which sadly wouldn't be 100% forgiving if mistakes are made. 

Thankfully small masking errors made would be covered by the final layer of chocolate, this time a more fluid, butter filled ganache which was to be poured over our chilled cakes leaving behind a silky, glossy coating of loveliness. Chef not only warned us of the potential issues here but also demonstrated them. Unintentionally. The pour had to be quick, hesitation free and thorough. Any messing about with the chocolate would result in drip marks down the sides of the cake or a damaged surface. Wow, this really was going to be a challenge! 

After a quick tasting of the cake, (a tasting which didn't last nearly long enough - this cake is to die for, I would run away and marry this cake if it were to ask me) well prepared but feeling incredibly apprehensive about the results, I headed immediately for the kitchens. Reading my notes step by step I followed chefs instructions until...vola! I had this beauty sat before me. Flawless. No drip marks, a perfectly risen and soaked cake inside, practically perfect ganache masking and a delightfully realistic marzipan rose and chocolate foliage on top. Boom! 

The day felt like a whirlwind adventure, destination chocolate heaven and not only had I arrived but I'd traveled first class. Chef spoke very highly of my cake which filled me with delight. Knowing nothing of the origins of the cake, upon returning home I began to embark on my second journey of the day, this time, a journey of cakey discovery.  

Consisting of two layers of a hybrid Sachertorte sponge, made using ground hazelnuts rather than almond, as mentioned the Alhambra is filled with chocolate ganache and coated in a second layer of more fluid, butter filled ganache. The cake is finished with nibbed pistachios and topped with its iconic (if you can call it that - this isn't a particularly iconic cake) marzipan rose. After a little digging I discovered that this cake was created in celebration of the Spanish city of Alhambra and its lush green gardens. Of course, the lime green pistachio nibs represent the greenery of the city, the marzipan rose...the roses grown in the city and the hazelnut meal in the cake mix celebrates one of the key nuts produced in and around the city. The hazelnut. 

With Morocco being in such close proximity to Spain and Alhambra, and subsequently Morocco having influence over this region of Spain, some will bake this cake using pomegranate seeds to add a little more flavour and a burst of fruit from across the way. Bakers across the world often refer to the Alhambra as the sister cake to the significantly more famous, Sacher Torte, a beautifully rich, dense and delicious chocolate torte invented by Austrian born Franz Sacher in 1832 for Prince Wenzel Von Metternich in Vienna, Austria. As well as being famous for their enriched doughs, Vienna is best known for the Sacher Torte and locals refer to the cake as their culinary spciality. Each year, on 5th December the cake is celebrated on National Sachertorte Day, a day I intend to celebrate moving forwards.   

Of course the original recipe for the Sachertorte remains, to this day, locked away and the title of 'the original Sacher torte', after much dispute remains with the Hotel Sacher. The dispute came about when Franz Sacher's eldest son, Eduard, perfected the recipe whilst studying at the Demel bakery and chocolatier in Vienna. The perfected recipe was first served at the Demel and then later at the Hotel Sacher which was opened and established by Eduard himself in 1876. Of course with a cake so popular that tourists make trips to Vienna especially to eat a slice, the Demel wanted to retain the title of 'the original Sacher torte', and of course, understandably, the hotel and Sacher family felt the title was rightfully theirs.

After a lengthly legal battle the matter was settled out of court the agreement between both parties being as such; the Hotel Sacher serves 'the original sacher torte' and the Delem decorate their torte with a simple triangle of chocolate which reads 'Eduard-Sacher-Torte'. As mentioned, the Alhambra is referred to as the Sachertorte's sister, the difference being the Sachertorte is filled with a delicious apricot jam rather than a chocolate ganache and is served with whipped cream. Having eaten a slice of Sachertorte at the Hotel Sacher in Vienna I highly recommend a visit - the city of course has much more than just cake to offer but it's cake is a wonderful place to start. 

With all three exam dishes now out of the way, more normal, slower paced classes resumed. Our last class before the end of the week took us back to the enriched doughs of Vienna and once again into the boulangerie where we were to make rye bread, focaccia and an enriched breakfast bread, not too dissimilar to a brioche. In comparison to the classes before it, this was a doddle. Onto the Kitchen Aid's went bowls of flour, mixed with various quantities of sugar, salt, milk, butter and eggs, then after time spent proving the dough was rolled, shaped, bench proved, re rolled and shaped, proved again and then finally baked! My results both looked and tasted delicious.

Happy with my condensed weeks work at school, I turned my thoughts to my first shift at Crosstown Doughnuts. Needing a little additional funding (lets face it, London living ain't cheap) and having time on my hands in between classes I got in touch with the Aussie / Kiwi owned company having blogged about them late last year. I thought I'd get in touch to see if they could do with any additional assistance and luckily for me, they said they could. Located in the underbelly of Piccadilly tube station, I was incredibly excited to be surrounded by premium, modern patisserie and to give my sales skills a jolly good polishing. 

After being shown the ropes and run through the deliciously mouth watering doughnut portfolio, I was set. I now completely understand the saying 'it's like Piccadilly Circus' - wow! Doughnuts were flying off the shelf at a rate of knots and selling like hot cakes! At the end of the shift I gather the last remaining few, boxed them up and took them swiftly down to Bristol the very next day. Handing them over to a good friend, they were very gratefully received and Crosstown made their very first journey down to the Southwest. 

As well as bestowing doughnuts upon my Bristolian friends, I went laden with the cake and bread prepared earlier in the week at school and everything I need to prepare not one, but two birthday cakes for Lil. My bags packed, crammed full of pans, cake tins, pallet knives, chef knives and goodness knows what else (I think I threw some clothes in for good measure) I arrived at my home from home and did some of what I like to call 'baking and entering'. Whilst my friends were out at work I spent a solid and highly enjoyable six hours in the kitchen whipping up my take on a modern Fraisier and replicating the Alhambra that I'd produced so successfully at school. I saw this as a great opportunity to practise for my exams which are now less than a month away!! What a nail biting thought that is...

First into the oven went my Alhambra sponge, swiftly followed by the genoise sponge needed to create my Fraisier. Both sponges came out well risen and with the perfect amount of bounce. Like an octopus my arms were flying around the kitchen melting chocolate, whipping eggs, making custards, softening butter, sieving various ingredients and then... Disaster. 400g of beautifully bitter, dark chocolate ganache - split. My heart sank. This hadn't happened at school! I'd done exactly as instructed but instead of a silky smooth ganache what sat before me was a separated mass of oil and lumps of chocolate solids. I tried everything I could think of; warming the undesirable looking concoction over a Bain Marie, cooling the oily mass, whisking to add air and encourage the fats to re connect...everything. Before waving my little white flag of surrender I turned to my trusty friend, Google. Quickly I skim read the top ten hits and noticed a handy hint from a fellow baker, the hint read: don't despair if your ganache splits (I was firmly in the despair category at this point), to encourage the fats to come back together all you need to do is add a little whole milk. The fat content is significantly less than that of the cream and will help the two ingredients and fats to combine. At this stage it was worth a go, I'd try anything if it meant avoiding binning £6 of chocolate and traipsing back down the road to the shops in the rain. 

In a pan I warmed a little whole milk, making sure it was at the same temperate as my mess of a ganache. Of course this is done to prevent any further buckling due to temperature difference. When the two temperatures matched I poured the milk over the chocolate mass and began to stir from the middle, creating a chocolatey cyclone in the centre of the bowl as chef had shown us. Nothing was happening and then all of a sudden...the ganache began to come together and there was that silky spread like consistency I'd been longing to see. Without wanting it to spoil, I turned out the Nutella like spread onto a tray and left it to cool.

Thank goodness. I was back on track and ready to assemble my cakes and add the finishing touches. Inspired by a few of the London bakers I thought I'd try my hand at making some meringue kisses. Into the oven went a tray of sugar whilst I whisked up yet more eggs to medium to soft peaks. After five minutes of baking the sugar was ready to be incorporated. With each spoonful of sugar added, the fluffy white egg mix grew glossier. When ready I painted the inside of my piping bag with pink food colouring, popped in the meringue mix and began piping a variety of kisses. After baking at a low temperature for 40 mins they were ready and just how I'd imagined. Crunchy on the outside, chewy in the middle and just the right size to pop in your mouth and sit upon my modern patisserie bake. A few feathers later and of course a little gold glitter and my cakes were ready for the arrival of the birthday girl! Cakes fit for a Princess. What do you think? 

Next week on my path to patissiere I'll be whipping up a couple more entremets and having an experiment with choux pastry puff balls! Of course it's also pancake day and I'll be meeting my first bride of the year to discuss her wedding cake. Exciting times ahead!

*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