Basic Patisserie course at Le Cordon Bleu: Week 1

My chef's whites!

My chef’s whites!

I started the Basic Patisserie course at the Le Cordon Bleu school in London last week. I had been talking about improving my technical skills for ages and about two months ago I finally decided to take the plunge. I’m going to try to write a summary about each week as it passes, mainly for my own benefit to keep a record of how I’ve been performing but also for anyone else out there who might be curious about the course. The first week has flown by and as expected we’ve been eased in gently.

Day 1 was orientation and we were given our uniforms (chef’s whites) as well as two textbooks, a course manual, our knife kit & tools, and a general introduction to the school and what would be expected of us. We were also given a brief safety induction and shown how to use various pieces of kitchen equipment safely. There was quite a lot of information to take in and plenty of eager and friendly people to meet. There are 22 of us in total for this mostly female intake of the Basic Patisserie course, with a diverse range of nationalities, backgrounds and levels of experience. A couple of students had previously worked in professional kitchens, which may help them settle in with the practical sessions a bit more quickly compared to those of us who have only ever been in a home kitchen environment.

Day 2 was dedicated to Food Safety and Hygiene with lectures and an exam at the end to obtain a CIEH Level 2 award in Food Safety. Although a lot of it is common sense, I would say that doing it has heightened my awareness of just how easy it is for food poisoning to occur. It has certainly made me more vigilant when I’m cooking at home now – straight after the course I proceeded to disinfect quite a few items in the kitchen.

Decorative fruit plate

Decorative fruit plate

On Day 3, we had our first demonstration and practical session. During the demonstration the chef takes us through what we would be asked to do for the practical session, as well as giving other bits of advice and tips that may not relate directly to the practical but would be useful for the future. We learnt how to make a simple syrup and how to test for the various stages of cooked sugar without relying on a thermometer. Plunging my ice cold fingers into a pan of hot sugar was certainly an experience but if you do it correctly it doesn’t hurt. For the more fainted-hearted students there was the option to use a spoon, but I think most of us used our fingers. The third part of the practical was to make a fruit salad and decorative fruit plate. I’m sure all of this sounds very simple but it demonstrated if we could work safely in the kitchen and if could handle some very sharp knives properly as well as showing off our cutting techniques. We were also assessed on our team work, organisational skills, time-keeping and presentation. Most of us did quite well, and there were only a few very minor cuts. I was fairly pleased with my cutting technique, but then I’ve always been reasonably comfortable with using knives.

Swiss meringues - trying out different shapes

Swiss meringues – trying out different shapes

Piping of chantilly cream - some turned out better than others

Piping of chantilly cream – some turned out better than others

Day 4 was a bit tougher as we had an early start (8 a.m.) on a Saturday and although we were scheduled to be done by 2.30 p.m., due to a couple of late finishers we were only let out an hour later than expected. I felt that the chef in charge was very lenient towards the late finishers, however if I were in their situation I would of course be grateful to be allowed the extra time. I suspect that might be the last time we would be afforded that luxury and it could only happen as there was no class immediately after ours. It’s perhaps timely that our first lecture in Week 2 is on ‘Work Management’, as it’s evident that some of the students need more help with this. We ended our first week learning how to make some basic patisserie preparations: creme patissiere, creme mousseline, creme Diplomat and creme Chiboust. We were also shown how to make French, Italian and Swiss meringues although we were only required to make the Swiss meringue on our own. We prepared some chantilly cream and practiced our piping skills. I didn’t find this practical too daunting as I have made creme patissiere and each of the different types of meringues before so the techniques were not completely new to me. The feeling of familiarity is likely to fade quite quickly as the practicals become more complex but this is why I signed up for the course – to learn new techniques and to challenge myself. I was a bit disappointed with my piping as I expected to do better but with a bit of practice I’ll improve.

All in all it’s been a good first week. Bring on Week 2!

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