This week I have finally started on the intermediate patisserie course at Le Cordon Bleu in London. I had originally planned on enrolling for the September 2015 intake but by the time I had submitted my application the course was full and I had to defer enrolment to January 2016 instead. In a way, it was quite good to have a break as I did an 11-week baking and decorating internship with Konditor & Cook. I met some really lovely people and gained an appreciation for what it takes to work in a commercial bakery. It is definitely hard work, but I think it’s closer to the sort of environment I would prefer to work in compared to a restaurant or hotel kitchen.
I was filled with mixed emotions before my first day back at school. I was obviously excited to start learning again, but the nerves were kicking in too. How would I cope with the next level? Will the other people on the course be nice? I’m an introvert and it usually takes time for me to make new friends, especially in large groups. I’m quite happy doing my own thing most of the time, but I certainly don’t want to be billy-no-mates.
I expected the group to be large, but I don’t think I had prepared myself for how big it would be. I’m not sure of the exact number, but I estimate that the whole intake is around 60-70 students. Day 1 started with our first demo session for the term and we discovered that we would be making puff pastry to be used for our second practical session as well as a dobos chocolate slice. This would be our first test in multi-tasking and my first chance to work in a pair with my new classmates. Thankfully my first partner turned out to be a very sweet girl and we worked pretty well together. My puff pastry preparation could have gone a bit better as some of the butter broke through the dough when I did the fourth book turn so I would just have to keep my fingers crossed that I would get an even rise. The dobos chocolate slice was not particularly complicated to make and the assembly was easier than it looks. The key elements were spreading the cake batter evenly, making sure the cutting of the sponge is correct, maintaining the right consistency of the chocolate ganache by controlling the temperature and smooth masking of the cake with the ganache. I let the ganache get too cold so had a gently warm it up to bring it back to the correct consistency, but I made up for it by managing to get a fairly smooth coating of ganache, with just a few air bubbles. But the sponge and ganache layers were uneven, so I will need to take a bit more care with this in the future.
For our second practical session, we made a mille-feuille aux fraises and a phitivier using the puff pastry dough that we had prepared earlier in the week. I paired up with a different girl this time and she too was very nice. We worked as quite a well-organised team and it helped that both of us knew what we were doing so things ran smoothly. Now that we’re in intermediate patisserie, the chefs are trying to step in less but are of course there to offer advice if we need it and help out if they see someone struggling. For this practical we had to make sure that we had the pithivier in the oven early enough as it needs between 40-50 minutes to ensure the almond cream in the centre is cooked completely. I was pleasantly surprised that the rise of my puff pastry was pretty decent and even despite the butter breaking through. The scoring on the pithivier could have been a bit more even, particularly with the depth but it wasn’t too bad for a first attempt. Overall the assembly of the mille-feuille aux fraises was alright, but there was a bit too much fondant on top and the chocolate piping and feathering could have been neater and more symmetrical.
To round off week one, we were informed of the three potential exam dishes for this semester: the gateau Sabrina, the Fraisier and the Alhambra. Two out of these three dishes require tempering of dark chocolate. We had one lesson on this in basic patisserie but I definitely need more practice with the technique used in school to gain more confidence. I’m glad that we’ve been given all this information in the first week as that gives us time to plan and practice. It’s been great being back at school and the first week wasn’t too stressful. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the course and getting properly stuck in.