Sunday, 1 March 2015

Le Cordon Bleu intermediate patisserie week 7 - sweet like chocolat

This week was chocolate week for the intermediate patisserie students at Le Cordon Bleu. If you were to say these magical words to any other group of students their faces would fill with joy, their bellies would begin to rumble at the thought and there would be a buzz of excitement...but now in our 7th week at culinary school, the 7th week of our second term, we know that chocolate week means chocolate stains on our chef whites, tempering chocolate which is both time consuming and frustrating and seeing how much sugar goes into each little mouthful leaves your teeth aching and you in fear as to how much more expansion your thighs can endure before your jeans will no longer fit you. As soon as my course if complete I'm going on a 6 month sugar free diet. Thankfully I had one issue well and truly covered. Having worked with Unilever and Persil in the past I sent them a funny tweet showing them the issues us chefs have to face. Chocolate stains are notoriously tricky to get out and being the lovely team they are they sent me a bottle of their latest formula along with a lovely good luck message for my forthcoming exams. Not only do I LOVE receiving post, I love it even more when it's going to help my whites stay white! I'd like to add that it worked perfectly and in future I won't worry so much about getting covered in the delicious brown stuff, although the chefs would prefer that we didn't. 

The first of our chocolatey challenges was to make a selection of chocolate confectionary including truffles, moulded chocolates, malakoffs and caramel cups, the process of which was fairly straightforward. Working with polypropylene chocolate moulds, which are far less glamorous than those which I stumbled upon in Said last week, chocolate snobinettes, which are pre prepared chocolate baskets and pre prepared chocolate shells, as a team, we made ganaches, mixtures and toppings in order to create this gorgeous selection. 

(Image borrowed from Rayne, also known as The Healthy Trini Girl. Check out her blog and instagram feed (@thehealthytrinigirl) she's an incredible food photographer and a chef in training at Le Cordon Bleu also!)

With regards to chocolate we're all guilty of it... we pop chocolates into our mouths without knowing a thing about them, sometimes not evening bothering to find out the flavour or taking the time to really savour the taste. Many don't know how they are made, where they come from, where they originate from or how they've come to be in the form they are now. Until this week I could happily consider myself a part of this group. We indulge in cheap chocolate that contains very little cocoa, so little that really we can't call it chocolate and in order to capitalise and make sheds loads of money, our favourite chocolate suppliers continue to lower the cocoa and cocoa butter content and instead replace it with increasing amounts of milk, cream, sugar and anything else they can get away with. 

Naturally following class I wanted to find out where each of the chocolates we'd made originated from. Did you know the chocolate truffle can be one of three varieties? American, Swiss or European. It seems that like cakes, everyone wants to have a go at making their own take on the simple chocolate truffle. Why not! If it means more for me to sample I'm not going to moan. 

Of course between the three varieties there are subtle nuances but which came firsts? Well...none of them really. We have the French to thank for the creation of the chocolate truffle, as well as many other sweetmeats. I suppose you can group them into the European category but I would have thought they'd have liked their own. Regardless, its thought that N. Petrucelli created the first chocolate truffle in Chambery, France in December 1895. The truffles grew in popularity and reached a winder public when they featured within the collection at Prestat, a chocolate shop in London's Princes Arcade. The Prestat chocolate shop was established in 1902 by Antoine Dufour and its said that they still sell the "Napoleon III" truffle to Petrucelli's original recipe. Being a short stroll from school I would have been crazy not to pop along to Prestat to find out...and of course sample an original recipe truffle. So I did just that! 

Having walked Prestat so many times (my Dad LOVES watches and they have a good many watch shops and mens shoes shops there, as well as Laduree. I can't possibly remember how many times we've been down both the Burlington and Princes arcades but its safe to say that its been many, many times!) I knew where it was but I'd never actually been into the shop or brought one of their chocolates. I just used to look at them. Longingly. 

First my eyes lit up when I saw the shop due to the magnificent magenta and blue colour ways. Such a beautiful colour combination which greatly appealed to my girlie side. As we opened the door the sweet scent of chocolate hit us and instantly I wanted to try them all. I spotted the original Napoleon III recipe chocolates, which the sales assistant kindly bagged up for me and then I took time to gaze at the packaging and branding, especially of the beautifully designed gift boxes. Having spent many years working with packaging designers I've come to appreciate the small but necessary details. 

(Please note the colour of the bag matches my nails. Another feature I found to be quite pleasing.)

£8 later we left with a bunch of chocolates to sample, including white chocolate and pistachio, sea salted caramel (super sexy), champagne and the original chocolate truffle, and I was one very happy lady. Being in the area we popped into Fortnum & Mason and as we were leaving were offered a slither of something which looked rather lovely to sample and rather lovely it was! What we'd been offered was a canele, a patisserie treat I'd never come across. It was light and caramelised on the outside, with an eggy but dough like custardy middle and (the variant I tried) was accompanied by a milk chocolate ganache filling. The bakers, a company called Babelle, have received such high demand for their product but currently only stock in Fortnum & Masons. If you happen to be close to the store I suggest you go grab yourself one. I've never tried anything quite like it.

And so back to mentioned, there are a number of varieties of chocolate truffle. Asides the previously listed categories of European, Swiss and American, there are a number of subcategories. Let's begin with Belgium. The country best associated with premium chocolates. This one is pretty simple, traditionally the Belgian truffle is praline based, made with a milk or dark chocolate, filled with a ganache, butter cream of nut paste. Delicious and simple. Moving on next to France, the truffles here are usually made with a fresh cream and chocolate. They are then rolled in cocoa or but powder. The Swiss truffle, a key truffle within the wider truffle family, is made by combining melted chocolate to a boiling mixture of dairy cream and butter. This concotion is then poured into moulds to set before being sprinkled with cocoa powder. Like the fresh cream based French truffles, the Swiss truffles, with their high diary content have a very short shelf life and much be consumed within a number of days. 

Before moving across the globe to the Americas it seems only right to address the European truffle. This truffle is made using a syrup and a base made up of cocoa powder, milk powders, fats and other such ingredients in order to create an oil-in-water type emulsion. It doesn't sound in the slightest bit glamorous but I'm sure it tastes delicious. As so over to the Americas...beginning with a state owned truffle - the California truffle! Chocolatey goodness from the sunshine state. How lovely. The California truffle is lumpier and larger than the truffles you'd expect to find in Europe. That seems obvious, after all, it is a product of America. The land of the super sized product. The California truffle was first made by Alice Medrich in 1973. She'd tasted the truffles available in France and wanted to recreate them but make them more appealing to her state side audience, so first the size was increased and then more texture added. She began selling them in her own store, Cocolat in 1977 which quickly expanded to become a chain. 

Rather enjoying the California truffle, Joseph Schmidt, a chocolatier based in San Francisco, California, had a stab at creating his own truffle in the mid 1980s. His truffle is half-egg in shape, contains a mixture of dark and milk chocolates with butterfat, and in some cases, hardened coconut oils. The half-egg share in then coated in yet more chocolate. Not wanting to be left out, the Canadians came up with their own take and in Canada you'll find truffles very similar to the American truffle but with the inclusion of Graham Crackers and peanut butter. These are often referred to as Harvey truffles.

The truffles we made would be referred to as French truffles as they were made with a fresh cream and chocolate filling. Our ganache fillings were flavoured with passionfruit, made with white chocolate and given an extra kick of flavour by the inclusion of eau de vie de framboise. The truffles were then coated in white chocolate and rolled in passionfruit ensured pink sugar. 

The malakoff has proved much harder to research. If you throw the word into Google you'll find its also the name of a Russian cake, incidentally the cake falls under the category of a Charlotte as it is sponge and mousse based but these no mention of the praline based, nut filled and chocolate topped concoction that we conjured up. Perhaps its origins will be yet another one of the mysteries at Le Cordon Bleu; one day I'll meet someone who knows something about the Gateau Sabrina! 

Caramel cups sadly don't have a documented history, I should imagine they were just a simple evolution of the caramel filled hard shell. Same goes for moulded and filled chocolates. They are hear due to the creativity of many chocolatiers from around the world. So hats off to them, past and present. Something as small and simple as a chocolate can bring a smile to your face, make someone feel special and loved and bring a family together. It's a small but powerful thing. 

My second and last challenge of the week was to create a 2D chocolate centre piece using tempered chocolate and coloured cocoa butter. The lecture could only be liked to watching paint dry and the results of both chefs and our efforts were less than impressive. Due to a lack of time in class my chocolate master piece didn't set in time, leaving it looking torn apart and frankly quite odd. Of course I chose to base my centre piece on Beyonce. Why? Because she's an inspiring role model. She's strong, talented, never afraid to speak her mind, writes music that appeals to me and has many items of clothes that I would like to wear to Glastonbury. She was supposed to look like this, but made out of chocolate. 

She ended up looking this like...

A 5 year old could have done a better job (please note the light shimmer effect was added to the picture to distract from all of the glaringly obvious errors!) Still, despite looking less than amateur the chef was impressed with my tempering. I should imagine less impressed with my temper. This practical is the only practical in my time at Le Cordon Bleu that drove me to the point of cracking. Whilst piping my chocolate Beyonce I had, what can only be described as a grown up tantrum. Angered by the fast setting of the chocolate within my piping bag, this got thrown dramatically in the bin, I then pulled out a foot stamp for good measure. Theres just something about being in those kitchens and piping. The chefs throw me off and my flow goes all wobbly. I suppose I'm just used to piping alone and given plenty of time to do so. And I much prefer that. 

I finished my week at LCB with a ridiculously early soufflé lecture. Before our tired and sleepy eyes chef demonstrated who methods of making the notoriously tricky soufflé, the creme patissiere method and the roux method. He then showed the baking of them, three ways, in the oven within a presentation ramekin dish (the creme pat method), within a water bath and piped into a crepe (both using the roux method mix). A delicious and unexpected way to end my weeks patisserie training. Chef told us tails of his time working in hotels and restaurants and spoke of how the soufflé was regarded as the best indicator of a chefs abilities. Some critiques would come, order the soufflé, review it's rise and presentation and then leave it. If they saw it was well cooked then that was indicator enough as to the chefs capabilities. They didn't feel it necessary to taste the dish. A failed soufflé meant a failed chef. Thankfully our chef's soufflés came out perfectly. So perfectly that even he wanted to take a picture of them before we tucked in. Just look at their uniform rise. Now that's baking perfection. 

The crepe soufflé, made using the roux mix

The creme patisserie method soufflé

The roux method soufflé

In between shopping for chocolates and revising, I had another shift down at Crosstown in Piccadilly. It really is wonderful working for a company who value the thoughts and opinions of their staff members. Wanting to try out new flavours for the summer they asked us what flavours we'd like to see. Having made the passionfruit and white chocolate truffles earlier in the week I thought that combination might work quite well in doughnut format so suggested it and vola! The following day there were 25 mini passionfruit and chocolate doughnuts available to sample! Delicious. I mean just look at the full collection...doughnut heaven! Thank goodness I only work once a week, imagine the size of me if I worked in store full time! I have such a sweet tooth, its hard to say no. 

And as though I hadn't had enough cake and chocolate for one week, yesterday morning I decided to get up early and to try my hand at making the Gateau Alhambra, without my notes, in preparation for my exams which are coming up in a few weeks time. I came across very little issues other than LONDON DOESN'T SELL WHIPPING CREAM! I know this may seem like a small issue but to a baker, trying to make the perfect ganache it really isn't. This was a huge problem. I tried not once but twice to make my ganache and chocolate glacage as perfectly as I had done in class but to no avail... and the reason for this was due to the fat content of the cream. I tried with double, I tried with single and then I tried with 75% single and 25% double. All I needed was a pot of whipping cream but London failed me and consequently it failed my ganache.

Incase you're curious about the differences between the fat content of each cream, see below.  

Single – 18% fat
Whipping cream – 35% fat
Double – 48%
Clotted cream – 55%

It's funny to think that just a few percent out and things can really go tits up. The cake turned out perfectly and the ganache was still passable and edible but with the correct cream, I know I've got this one down should it come up in the exams. 

After this week I feel thoroughly cake and chocolated out, which is lucky as this week on my path to patissiere it's all about plated desserts. Restaurant standard plated desserts. Starting off with chocolate (yes...more chocolate) fondant with an orange and ginger syrup and finishing up my practical classes with a banana mousse. Having said how fed up I now feel with chocolate, I wasn't over the moon to find out that my tech class is a chocolate tasting technical. On any other day I'd be utterly delighted at the thought. Give it a few days and I'm sure I'll be back to my chocolate loving self!  

*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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