Sunday, 10 May 2015

Le Cordon Bleu intermediate patisserie week 11 - certificates and chocolate cake

It's been a month since my last blog post. A month! For those of you on tenter hooks, waiting to find out how I got on with my final exams at Le Cordon Bleu, I apologise. Work and time spent with friends and family has kept me away from my Mac and if I'm being truly honest with you, and myself, I've needed a little time out in order to adjust to life after school. I'll admit that it's not been easy. I'm now a 30 something gal, highly skilled and qualified yet, living in the big bad city working on a zero hour contract, trying to figure out which step to take next whilst surrounded by friends who are doing incredibly well in their chosen careers, or who are engaged, getting married or having babies. I often feel like the only fish swimming up stream but I am lucky to have a couple of other 'fishy' friends, who like me have chosen a slightly different path to that often trodden by those my age. When I'm feeling a little lost or glum I read a letter written to me by one of those friends and it helps me to put myself back on track in pursuit of my dreams. I love writing letters, but even better than writing a letter is receiving one. There really is nothing better than post, receiving something tangible, something thats been held by someone else and that you can read from or interact with. Long live the written letter I say, an email just doesn't cut the mustard. 

Letters aside, lets talk cake! Firstly, it's no secret that I'm a HUGE cake fan. I love making, baking, decorating and eating the deliciously spongy stuff which is why I opted to specialise in all things cake for my final few weeks at Le Cordon Bleu. Rather than, like my peers, studying sugar work and additional chocolate modules I felt this to be the right decision for me. After all, cake is why I wanted to study patisserie, it only seemed right that I should end knowing all I possibly could about the subject and who better to learn from. 

I began my intensive course in a mad 8am start in London is never an easy task, especially if you add public transport into the mix. Of course my bus was late and consequently so was I. Quickly I took up a seat at the back of the class room and waited patiently as my new form took a tour of the school. Set over four floors in an old and traditional building on the beautiful Bloomsbury Square, looking back now I was so lucky to have access to the amazing facilities that the school boasts: a pastisserie kitchen, a boulongerie kitchen, a multi use and cuisine specific kitchen as well as well kitted out demonstration classrooms. 

Upon their return we dove into all that the module would cover. We would be looking at fruit cake, lemon cake, chocolate cake, cake tasting, cake costing, wedding cake, brush embroidery, royal icing piping techniques and sugar flowers. As well as this we'd be making our own fondant icing, Mexican paste and marzipan - a first for me. Following an hour or sos Royal icing practise, we were faced with the arduous task of tasting samples of the cakes that we'd be making during our two week course. Chef warned us that there would be a lot to try and so to pace ourselves but of course we took on the challenge with a smug look in our eyes. How could we possibly not manage to sample them all? Minutes later chef had proven himself right. 

With a belly full of cake I returned home with homework - to design a wedding cake which I'd then be expected to make the following week. Already aware of this task I'd gotten a bit of a head start. Firstly, I had a real bride with a real brief. Not wanting to essentially make my own wedding cake with no wedding for the cake to go to, I, at the very least wanted to have someone in mind to make it for and some sort of artistic direction to follow. A few weeks before I'd met the Devonshire bride to be. We'd discussed colours, flowers and of course the venue (a chateau in the Loire Valley, which she massively underplayed) and of course the groom. The groom to be, like most men in London now, was an Aussie lad and as a large number of his family and friends were due to fly in for the wedding he requested that the cake featured hints from home. I felt in a good place - I had a rough idea of what I wanted to do and so put pen to paper to sketch out a few ideas. My drawings are pretty rubbish, but still, it's nice to have ideas on paper.

Before we could begin work on our wedding cakes, we turned our attention to a brushed embroidery decorated lemon cake, with a twist. Not too dissimilar to the lemon cake made during my first term at Le Cordon Bleu, this was a lemon pound cake, soaked in syrup but instead of coating the cake with marzipan or buttercream before then covering it with fondant icing we did something called the spackle technique. New to me, we trimmed the outer, browned edge of the cake and to the trimmings we added apricot jam. These ingredients were then blended to form a paste and this paste was used to cover the cake. Once set, the cake was covered with fondant and to this Royal icing was piped and brushed to create a brushed embroidery pattern. This was my first attempt at brush embroidery but I like the technique and will most certainly be using it again in the future. 

In between spackling and piping floral embroidery on my cake I dashed off to my graduation ceremony to collect my certificate and with it my exam results. Full of nerves, I joined my group and moments later I was stood before Chef Julie shaking her hand and clutching onto the envelope that contained my fait. I already knew I'd passed my practical exam but inside I'd discover how I'd done overall, adding to my practical exam the results of my written paper and of course my class by class results. All I was hoping to see was the little sliver sticker that had greeted me previously which read "mention bien". It wasn't there. I hadn't achieved over 80%. Close at 75% but no banana, or in this case, silver sticker. A glass of champagne later and I'd forgotten all about the sticker and instead focused upon saying my goodbye to the chefs who'd taught me and of course the students I'd happily learnt along side. Clearly, judging by this picture, stickers were the last thing on my mind! 

Before the day was through, we prepared and baked the chocolate sponges required to build our sculpted chocolate cakes the following day and whipped up the fruit cakes that would form the foundations of our wedding cakes. I was so excited to learn how to make a wrapped chocolate cake and of course to see my wedding cake sketch come to life. I had so much mix made up that I had enough to make my Mum a mini birthday cake (which she's only just finished), but with no cake pan left in sight I had to improvise and this little saucepan became a cake baking pan, just for one day. 

Friday was chocolate day. Taking the sponges we'd prepared the day before, chef showed us how to stack, fill and sculpt the chocolate fudge goodness and then came the good bit, how to cover the chocolate cone which then resembled Harry Potter's sorting hat, in thick yet flexible sheets of chocolate. Thankfully it was a simple task, the results of which I left looked fantastic. Onto baking sheets we poured melted, untempered chocolate. This was left to cool and set a little. Then using builders scraper we scraped back strips and stuck them to the cake. The chocolate was then piped on top of or coloured up using iridescent paints and this is what it looked like. Mine, I left looked like an underwater Disney palace. I wouldn't have been surprised to see Ariel swim from between the layers. Well, I would because that would have been odd but in my mind that happening would have been a lot of fun. 

The final task of the week was to bake a batch of cupcakes which were to be filled and covered with fondant icing. Having taught cupcake decoration in the past, I was a little dubious about the technique we'd be using and sadly, I feel I was right to have my dubious thoughts. The cupcakes baked were gigantic - unnecessarily large and far more than anyone could manage in a couple of bites. The cakes were baked in two parts, top and bottom. A hollow was made in the base of the cake which is where the filling sat, then using buttercream a dome of sponge was sandwiched on top. To the top, buttercream was spread and then covered with the fondant. I felt the cakes were unstable and looked, as mentioned, far too large and imposing. I'l be sticking to my technique of creating domes using buttercream should anyone ever ask me to bake them a cupcake in the future. Now very much overdone, I feel the cupcake has had its hay day and needs to be put to pasture for a few years. For now, bakers seem to be focusing on new, more exciting small treats such as meringues, doughnuts and iced biscuits. Bye bye cupcakes, we'll see you again soon, of that I'm sure. 

Next week on my path to patissiere I'll be covering wedding cakes - the history of the wedding cake, how we've picked up traditions along the way and of course showing you my final cake created at Le Cordon Bleu. As well as that, I'll tell you all about Laduree and Ljubljana! 

PS I've discovered Enya Todd on Instagram and now I have serious art envy. Just look at how talented she is...and her chosen muse, cakes! Check her out - Enya_Todd. Her feed will make you want to pick up a paint brush and then promptly put it back down and just scroll through her amazing creations instead ;o) 

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