Sunday, 8 February 2015

Le Cordon Bleu intermediate patisserie week 4 - here we go round the strawberry bush

Whilst preparing this weeks blog post, a little notification popped up letting me know that Path to Patissiere has now had over 5,000 hit (5,108 to be exact)! I'm totally blown away. Thank you to everyone who's read about my little culinary adventures at Le Cordon Bleu London. I hope, at the very least, I've made you giggle at my misfortunes and baking accidents and of course broadened your knowledge of this fantastic subject. I am incredibly lucky to be studying this course and as you can tell, despite the mishaps, I'm loving every minute...and although tough, this week has been no exception.  

Having been warned by both the chefs and superior students at Le Cordon Bleu of this weeks arrival and the challenges I'd face, I entered my 4th week of intermediate patisserie training with much trepidation. Now, we were told, the real challenges would begin and we'd come face to face with two of our three exam dishes; the Gateau Fraisier and the Gateau Opera. 

Although trepidatious, I couldn't wait to meet the cakes I'd heard so much about. Having never tried either, I was looking forward to hearing all about their origins and sampling their many complex layers. Whilst first researching the Fraisier, I was inundated with many beautiful pictures - some showing the cake made in the traditional fashion and others branching out to create a more contemporary take on this colourful dish. Reminiscent of balmy summer days and perhaps a chapeau one might have found at the milliners during the Victorian era, the Fraisier is a deliciously romantic confection made from feather-like genoise sponge, delicately whipped, silky smooth creme mousseline, freshly cut strawberries arranged in a crown formation, kirsch syrup, marzipan and royal icing. 

Requiring an incredible amount of focus and artistic attention to detail, this wonderfully feminine cake begins to spring into the windows of pastry shops across France as soon as the first summer berry is ripe for the picking. You'd think that a cake with such popularity and beauty would be well documented in terms of its creator and origins but sadly it's not. Named after the strawberry bush, digging a little deeper I discovered a Scottish clan by the same name with links back to France. Perhaps entirely unrelated, but interesting none the less, I'd like to think the cake was designed with this clan in mind but there are no records to indicate that this might have been the case. Strawberries however have a rich and juicy history.

First discovered as a wild fruit, the strawberry (and still growing happily in the wild around the country might I add...if you look hard enough. Pictured below, my good friend Thom owner of 7th Rise - also known as @soulful_hunter on Instagram, with a handful of these mini bursts of oral pleasure. He ate the entire handful for brekkie but please note the size, they are so incredibly far from the gigantic fruits we find on the shelves of our supermarkets) is well documented within ancient Roman literature for its medical uses. Its said that the French first began taking the strawberry from the forest to their gardens for harvest in the 1300s. Charles V, the King of France from 1364 to 1380 boasted 1,200 strawberry plants in his royal garden and enjoyed the fruits the plants bore regularly. During the early 1400s the monks of western Europe were using the wild strawberry in their illuminated manuscripts - the fruit can also be found in Italian, Flemish, German and English art dating back many centuries. During this time, the entire strawberry bush was used to treat depression related illnesses. It's safe to say that simply casting your eyes over the scrumptious Gateau Fraisier will lift ones spirits and the taste of a ripe, juicy, in season strawberry on the tip of your tongue will certainly assist with more positive thinking.

Demand for the strawberry from both a medicinal and indulgent point of view grew in the 1500s across Europe. Strawberries began to be studied and categories by botanists and instructions for their growth and harvest in the UK was documented in 1578. Its clear to see that our love affair with this romantic fruit has been one of longevity, but sadly our greed and demand has put huge amounts of pressure on the farming world - the results? We've sacrificed quality and flavour. Now available day in day out at every local supermarket in Great Britain, these once strictly seasonal fruits are pumped and injected with water so that they meet consumer standards in terms of their size, colour and shape but once purchased and taken home, biting into a shop brought strawberry in February leaves you with nothing but a hint of the flavour the fruit used to be so highly sought after for. Its truly saddening, even their sweet aroma has been removed and what we're left with is something which resembles what we desire, but in fact, is far far from what our ancestors (our less greedy and significantly more patient ancestors) enjoyed. Technology and advances in farming is a wonderful thing but when we begin to compromise on flavour just to satisfy greed - should we not question what we're doing and eat as mother nature intended us to? Season by season? 

Regardless of the season, the Gateau Fraisier was the first of my three exam dishes to be demonstrated by chef. Before heading in for my 8am lecture I turned to tea for inspiration and I wasn't let down. Inspiration was found. 

Comprising of five key elements (the genoise sponge, the fruit, the creme mousseline, the soaking syrup and the marzipan decoration), when broken down the baking and construction sounded fairly simple. First we'd make the genoise sponge, which you may remember was my exam dish for basic patisserie. The genoise is a beautifully light sponge made only of a large quantity of eggs, beaten into submission along with sugar, next flour is gently folded in and a tiny amount of melted butter added after that. Once baked our cakes, approximately 6cm in height needed to be hand cut into three discs. INTO THREE! And might I add evenly into three discs...thankfully the top of the cake was to be used as padding within the centre so it's appearance was less important but still, with both the middle and bottom discs being very much on display, it was important they were cut perfectly. 

Before the cutting came the making of the creme patissiere, later, once cooled and knocked back, softened butter was added to create the mousseline and of course, a drop of sweet tasting kirsch. The soaking syrup was then prepared and the strawberries cut with absolute precision. Using the elements prepared, the cake was assembled and topped with an embossed marzipan disc, marzipan rose, vines and detailed royal icing piping. 

Before entering the kitchen I checked my knife kit for one very important piece of equipment. My ruler. I wasn't exaggerating when I said the chef cut the strawberries with precession. He dwelled over the nine individual fruits required to make the dish for some five-severn minutes which in chef terms is an incredibly long amount of time. This was one of the areas where we lost a great deal of time during our practical, having never made this dish we of course wanted to do our absolute best so out came my ruler and no fruit entered my cake ring unless it had been thoroughly checked and measured for size.  

Thankfully I made up time when making my marzipan rose. As mentioned in last weeks post, I've been making these for years so I was able to quickly throw something delicate and dainty together and crack on with the more challenging task. The emulsion. With any cake, such as the Gateau Fraisier, made using a semi stable emulsion - in this case, a creme mousselinee (the butter being the key to creating stability), before de moulding the cake is chilled to assist setting. Its then the act of de moulding which fills you with terror and nerves. Chef demonstrated this process with no nerves at all and as he, rather violently, picked up and shook the cake ring the class gasped with fright. When the cake popped out gently in one solid piece the gasps turned to applause and sat before us was a thing of beauty. When the time came to de mould our own cakes, we approached the task with caution. When you've come this far and spent many minutes carefully measuring fruit, tirelessly whipping up a genoise and managing to successfully create a stable mousseline the last thing you want is to drop the damn thing on the floor. Although a littler slower than I'd hoped, I'd managed to do all of the above, and create a beautiful marzipan rose at the same time. Out my cake popped. There it was, sat before me - just as chefs had done. Perhaps not quite as beautiful but it certainly had an enticing charm about it. 

There were very few dramas involved with the making of this dish. Other than time and the odd bit of practise required on the piping front, chef was impressed with my design, my rose, my construction and the quality of my core elements. He mentioned the next time I am to make it that I must ensure the creme is sufficiently smoothed against the wall of the cake tin, but other than that, what you see before you is a dish that would have passed at intermediate level. Pretty hey? 

Following a take away, a bottle of prosecco, two slices of this light and airy cake (shared with a friend of course) and four hours sleep I returned to school to take on the Opera. I was dreading it. 

Eyes barely open I stumbled off the tube (it was 6am so you'll forgive me for using public transport rather than walking on this occasion), rode the escalator to ground level and began walking through the incredibly quiet streets of London, in the snow, in the direction of Le Cordon Bleu. You'd think it would be a rather magical moment and it was until I looked up and a large flake of snow landed in my eye. Nothing extinguishes magic like ice in your eye. Whilst walking, and rubbing my eye better, I was reciting the break down of the task ahead of me. Step one, beat the almonds and egg yolks, step two, whisk the whites and sugar to create a medium peak meringue, step three, combine, step four, spread out onto a tray evenly and bake. Make the ganache, prepare the soaking syrup and buttercream, cool and cut the sponge, prepare the pate a glace, assemble and...enjoy!

Again, broken down into simple steps it sounded perfectly achievable but in reality, and I should imagine due to the very early start, the task seemed just a touch too much for everyone. We took far longer than chef would have liked and I made some pretty silly mistakes along the way. Regardless, my end result was a Gateau Opera. It had all the necessary layers and tasted delicious. Sadly my chocolate ganache failed to sufficiently bind the layers and strangely my buttercream seems to be a little set back from the edge but for a first attempt...

The positives; chef liked my design. It needs a little more work but she liked the concept (I apologies, chocolate on chocolate is a little tricky to photograph, especially when in a rush), and it tasted lovely. Next time I need to make sure I don't mess about with my pate a glace. What a mess. Whoops! Following a long walk home in the bitterly cold wind with my freshly made Opera, I cut myself a slice and sat down with a cup of tea to find out more about this delightfully complex cake. Like the Gateau Sabrina (which I've still heard nothing more of from the chefs in Paris), the Gateau Opera is a relatively new cake but its origins are hugely disputed. 

Sadly after reading extracts from several books and blogs it seems that we'll never know the honest truth as to this cakes past. There are two main contenders battling for claim over the recipe, they are the house of Dalloyau in Paris and Louis Clichy, one of Paris' legendary pastry chefs. The house of Dalloyau claim to have invented the Gateau Opera in 1955. According to the owners it was Cyruaque Gavillon who invented the cake which was later named 'Opera' by his wife, Andree, in honour of a prima ballerina at the Paris Opera. A feasible story, however Louis Clichy claims that Gavilllon stole the recipe from him which he'd had written down since the turn of the century some 50 years prior. Its said by many supporters of Clichy that he'd premiered his famous Gateau Opera at the Paris Exposition Culinaire in 1903 after which it became the signature cake at the Clichy's patisserie on the Boulevard Beaumarchais, Paris. 

Whilst the two Parisian families continue to squabble over who created the dish, another truly delightful story has emerged. Some say that it was in fact the pastry chefs at the Paris Opera who created this dish in 1890. It was said that the chefs wanted to created something heavily soaked in coffee to help the audience stay awake through the final acts of the lengthy Wagnerian epics.  

What ever its true origins, the Gateau Opera is now an incredibly popular cake found in patisseries across the globe. Made using high quality coffee and dark chocolate, its comparable to drinking an incredibly creamy mocha and as someone who hates the taste of coffee and has never drunk a cup, I rather liked it.

Before my week came to a close, I promised my babe of a Nan a visit and a batch of the English madeleines she'd been dreaming of since she was a little girl. You may recall I wrote about them and experimented with a couple of recipes a number of weeks ago: English madeleines

The madeleines were very gratefully received but it was in face the slice of Gateau Opera that I'd set aside for her that stole the show! It's just such a crowd pleasing cake. I shall look forward to making it again when the time comes to practise my exam dishes!

Next week on my path to patissiere I'll be facing my final exam dish; the Gateau Alhambra, and I'll be back in the boulangerie making frocaccia, rye bread and baguette Viennoise. I then have the pleasure of making a cake for a very dear friend of mines birthday and I'll be doing so back in the fabulous city of Bristol! I'm incredibly excited to be returning, even just for a couple of days. 

I shall be naming the cake the Gateau Lillian, after the birthday girl, and the Gateau Lillian shall take its inspiration from the Gateau Fraisier. I love experimenting and the changes I intend to make are as such; I'm going to add sherry to the mousseline rather than kirsch. I don't find the taste of the kirsch to be particularly present which, in my eyes leaves the creme feeling a little bland. Adding sherry will be both complimentary to the creme and the fruit and hopefully will lift the flavour and take it in a more desirable direction. I'm going to try adding white chocolate to the genoise in some capacity and will top my gateau with white chocolate bottomed strawberry meringue kisses topped with gold and no doubt I'll add a few features for flamboyancy. The cakes appearance will take inspiration from both its names sake and her fancy dress fashion inspiration, Effie Trinket. 

The very next day I shall be whipping up a Valentines inspired tea party for my girls, the details of which I'm keeping closely guarded in case they are reading this post ;o) Expect to see a lot of pink, many hearts and heaps of smiles. 

*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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