The day we were all looking forward to – graduation.
The intensive cuisine and patisserie students had our graduation ceremony together where we received our basic certificates and our grades. It was a simple affair. The chefs presented us with our certificates and that was it. Right after, we were treated with Le Cordon Bleu standard hors d’oeuvres and champagne (or water for me).
The best team – Franz, Nadia, Serçan and I. With Chef Cotte, of course!
I think I did pretty well, especially for the theory exam. I was just a couple of marks away from 100%. Ya know, typical Singaporean student! Haha! I also did better than I expected for the final practical exam.
I’ve got my basic certificate, which means I have two more levels to go before I get my diploma. I have no idea when I will be continuing with the intermediate level, nor any idea where. For now, it’s back to work, back to worrying about money and my business. It kinda sucks but at least I get to see my family and friends again.
Thank you to all the lovely friends I’ve met at Le Cordon Bleu. You know who you are! I hope we stay in touch and get to meet each other again sometime, somewhere.
Thank you to all my friends and family back home who were so supportive the whole time, and for not thinking I’m stupid for doing this.
But before I come back home, it’s time to finally take a break! Scotland, here I come! 😛
I tried my best to concentrate on “studying” for the final practical exam. How do you actually study for a practical? We wouldn’t know the recipe until the day itself. But as I mentioned before, there are only a handful of recipes that could actually come out for the exam. We guessed a gâteau, because that would require the most technique and finesse. I narrowed it down to the following recipes: Moka, Fraisier, Paris-Brest, Dacquoise, Charlotte and Alhambra. I had a sneaky suspicion that the Moka would be the recipe, because firstly, we had to make a genoise, which is the most basic of sponges. If under-beaten, the genoise would not rise enough to make three layers for the cake. The texture and crumb is also very important and telling of the technique used. Secondly, the buttercream. This was the component that most of the students had a problem with. Once again, if under-beaten, you simply would not get enough volume to allow you to fill and frost your cake. Lastly, the presentation. The Moka requires a steady hand for piping the borders and patterns.
Part two of the exam is the technical one which requires us to line a tart ring with pâte sucrée. I wasn’t so confident with this because I’d only managed to crimp decently just once in over ten attempts.
Needless to say, the Moka was the exam recipe! We all joked that the Fraisier wasn’t the recipe because it was too expensive of a recipe for the school to afford again.
I was pretty confident with the Moka. I set about with my genoise, which turned out beautifully tall and aerated. Next, the coffee syrup for soaking, the caramelised almonds, and finally, the buttercream. I made sure to whip the hell out of it so that I would have sufficient for my cake. I think some people did run out of buttercream and had to use chef’s prepared one.
While waiting for my cake to cool, I started on my pâte sucrée. I chilled it and started assembling my cake.
This was when I made my first big mistake. I did not line my cake ring with the acetate, so I couldn’t remove the ring after blast freezing it! I had to ask for the chef’s permission to use the blowtorch to warm the sides. Even then, it stubbornly refused to budge and chef had to help me with it. The heat melted some of my patterned markings on the cake which I had made with the serrated knife, but thankfully only on the sides, which meant I was able to hide them with my shell border.
By this time, some of my classmates had already finished both their cake and their tart shell, which made me panic. But I reminded myself again that it wasn’t a race, and I had 3 hours allocated. I had about an hour left to decorate and line my tart shell.
After I had completed my cake, I got my pastry dough out of the fridge to start lining the tart ring. It was probably my fault (and also the air conditioner’s) so mistake number two – I over-handled my dough. It became way too soft. There was a big complaint about the kitchen being the hottest it had ever been on the day it mattered the most. I had to return my dough into the fridge for about another 5 minutes to chill again. I made a second decent attempt at it, and though not completely satisfied, I gave up. The thickness of the dough was not completely even, so some of the crimps looked nice whereas others looked pretty crappy. However, I knew that trying to redo it wouldn’t work because the dough was already starting to crack. I finished crimping the edges and then raised my hand to inform the chef that I was done with the exam.
And that was it. I walked out of the kitchen
like a boss knowing I had done my best, and with no regrets. I had worked hard over the past month. I lived, breathed (and ate) pastry EVERYDAY. I was glad it was over. That feeling of accomplishment – priceless.
photo credits to Nadia Shurygina
We had no idea what was in store for us that day for our final demo. The chef told us that he was informed by the school only a few days before to come up with a recipe to share with us. It could have been anything, really. But ultimately, it was another tart – tarte aux fruits.
This was a rather strange fruit tart. And very complicated too. The crust was made with a mixture of Sablé Breton crumbs and the usual pâte sucrée, there was a layer of pain de gènes on top of the crust, the pastry cream contained no milk in it and the tart was topped with mini babas soaked in passionfruit syrup! Outrageous! Why the hell would there be babas on a fruit tart? Chef was either mad, or a genius.
We were used to lining our tarts in a ring, but Chef showed us an alternative method of doing so without using a ring. This makes the tart look a little more rustic, using our fingers to crimp the sides too without using a pastry crimper. I hate those things!
You might be wondering still… A pastry cream without milk?! Well, it was a mango (or was it apricot?) pastry cream, and all that liquid was replaced with mango puree. Very clever. I thought it might be a disaster, but actually, it turned out quite well. And as for the babas? Mmm… I still don’t understand what purpose they served. I guess this tart is truly one of a kind.
As the chef was decorating the tarts, I was amazed at how beautiful the tarts looked. I wanted to hate it so badly, but when I finally tried it, I absolutely loved it. Chef Tranchant is a genius. He is a mad scientist. The flavours were a little tropical with the mango and the passionfruit soaking syrup. I actually really loved the pastry cream. But the best part of the tart to me is still, and always will be the crust. The addition of Sablé Breton crumbs made it a whole lot more special. Definitely worth the effort.
After devouring our tarts, we took our very last class photo together.
That was the last of our demos, and all that was left was the final practical exam. Strangely, I was not as stressed out about the practical than I was for the theory exam. There were only a handful of recipes that could possibly be tested, and since we’d already made them at least once during our practical class, we shouldn’t have that much of a problem with the exam, right?
That was what I told myself.
Alas, the day of our last practical. Earlier that morning, we were taught how to make the beautiful Charlotte. Pink sponge fingers hide layers of sponge, raspberry mousse, red berry jelly and almond bavarian cream. I was just happy to be making something that looked that pretty. The only other cake that we made that was comparable was the Fraisier. Everything else looked dull, mostly brown, not much decoration. The chef brought us through the demo which lasted longer than usual, but at the end, we were rewarded with a delicious cake.
We had to work in pairs for this cake. I think if we were to do this by ourselves, it would take almost the entire 3 hours. I requested for a slightly more pink sponge finger and my partner did not protest, which was really nice of him! First, we piped our sponge. I tried my best to pipe them as evenly as possible. I was pretty happy with the way they turned out. Next, we moved onto the jelly, mousse and bavarian cream. As my partner can’t take pork, we had to split everything in half before adding the gelatin into the mixture. I wasn’t very happy with the way the chef dealt with it because although my partner was given a substitute, he was not told how to use it. This resulted in a less than ideal texture for the mousse and bavarian cream, and it did not set as well.
Charlotte aux fruits de saison
I had cut the sponge fingers at both ends to even them out, as the chef did during demo. I know this is a little unconventional, but the chef did mention that he preferred to do it that way. However, it seemed like not many people cut it for practical. When I looked at the uncut ones, they looked better and I was a little upset, but the chef which graded us totally understood that we were just replicating what we were taught in demo. I got pretty good marks for it, so I was happy again. He commented that my cake was extremely feminine and that the sponges were very well piped and defined. When I got home, I cut a slice to see how it looked inside, and I was quite pleased! The layers were straight and in good proportion. However, because we didn’t have enough time to chill the cake before arranging the fruits on top, the bavarian was still a little soft and the fruits sank in slightly.
This is truly a delicious cake. It’s not too sweet (very important), has good texture and is visually appealing. I just watched an episode of Masterchef Canada and they had to make a Charlotte in an hour! OMG! Obviously it was not as elaborate as ours and definitely not as pretty. There was a tropical one, a chocolate and mint flavoured one and caramel pecan one. Very innovative. I will have to try to bake some non-traditional ones too!
Our last demo is a “open” one, meaning the chef will be creating his own recipe, but we won’t have a practical on that. Let’s see what he comes up with!
I was pretty excited to make this cake. I absolutely love chocolate. That was how I gained 7 kilograms over 5 months in Europe. I was on a mission to try all the chocolates of the land. I think it’s safe to say that I had a bar of chocolate almost every single day.
The hazelnut sacher sponge is a relatively easy sponge to make. Honestly, even without soaking it with coffee syrup, I would still love it. It isn’t dry like a genoise, but I guess the coffee keeps it moist for longer, and also enhances the flavour of the chocolate.
After the hazelnut sacher, we worked on the ganache. Ganache is really simple to make, but very decadent. Less is more in this case.
After assembling our cakes, we queued up to glaze them. This was not that easy to do. Cakes with edges are a bitch to glaze in my opinion. I believe this cake was once round, but they changed it to a rectangle recently. Very modern.
My glazing went ok, except for one side. I think the cake was too cold and the chocolate cooled too quickly. However, I was able to get nice sharp edges and a flat top on mine. Overall, I was quite satisfied with it.
Chef’s only comment was that he would prefer less piping on the cake. I totally agree with him. I think I went overboard with that. My marzipan flower also improved from the last time I made it for the dacquoise. But there’s still a long way to go! I find it hard to handle the marzipan because it gets really sticky fast. Also, once you make a mistake, you can’t undo it otherwise you wreck the whole flower. I much prefer working with fondant, however, we all know fondant tastes like hell!
I was glad to have such a short day in school. I went home, had a Skype meeting and took a nap. I worked out and I felt amazing after! I’ve been sleeping really well here; much better than when I’m back home. Maybe I am really that tired!
We have our last practical tomorrow. We’re going to make a real pretty cake. It’s pink! HEHE.
The day I’ve been waiting for has finally arrived – the first of our chocolate recipes!
There were two recipes demonstrated – soufflé au chocolat (chocolate soufflé) with crème glacée à la pistache (not ice cream) and chocolate sauce, and moelleux chocolat – a soft-centred chocolate cake with a vanilla crème brûlée filling. I was very excited for these to be finished because really, who wouldn’t be? I only know a couple of (weird) people who don’t like chocolate at all. Like they would never eat chocolate because chocolate is “disgusting”. Question: What’s better than a slice of chocolate cake? Answer: Warm chocolate cake.
BUT… the soufflés were a failure! They were lopsided and the tops were cooked but everything below was a disaster. It spilled from the sides and made such a big mess. This was the first time that we had an unsuccessful recipe during the demos. I guess the chefs can’t always be perfect too. However, we couldn’t let all that chocolate go to waste, so we ate it anyway and it was still delicious and we wiped out everything. As for the moelleux chocolat, we were expecting something like a lava cake, but when it was cut, there was no flow at all. We all thought it tasted just like a brownie, so it was a little disappointing that we were making “brownies” this far into our course. This was a new recipe for the programme apparently, so I’m sure they will try to improve it.
For practical, we would be plating the moelleux chocolat with a vanilla mascarpone whipped cream quenelle and chocolate sauce. This was a pretty uneventful practical. The team leaders this week had to make the vanilla crème brûlée filling and chocolate sauce for the whole group, so we only had to make the chocolate cake batter. Someone else made the whipped cream too so… Yeah, nothing much to do! At the end, we simply plated our desserts. This was the first time ever making a quenelle, and the first time I did it, it was decent but the whipped cream was too soft and I decided to redo it again. It looked much better after the the cream was cooled a little.
Vanilla crème brûlée filling
As I mentioned, it tasted more like a brownie. It was still delicious, but it was just that. I brought them home and refrigerated them, and actually, they taste better a couple of days after, and cold! Haha! What was I saying about warm chocolate cake? We didn’t get the molten centres, but Group A did. So jealous!
After this relatively easy-going practical, we had our written exam. I WAS SO PISSED OFF. We had been told that we would be tested on our theory lessons – eggs, milk, cream, butter, flour etc., but we got questions mostly on recipes that no one actually studied for. I only flipped through all the recipes once before the exam. Thankfully, I have quite an extraordinary memory (thanks, SMU). There were some problems with the questions that I wasn’t very happy about. As the paper is written in French and English, obviously I only bothered reading the English part of it. I remember there was a question about choux pastry, but they were referring to chouquettes and if you didn’t read the French version, you would’ve answered wrongly for sure. Fortunately, a caught that at the last moment and I changed my answer. Also, the last section was a little unfair because it was a list of French culinary terms that most non-French speaking students would struggle with. I made some intelligent guesses and I think I got everything right. I think. I hope! Will definitely feedback to the academic department.
Our 7pm lesson was a demo for another cake. Chocolate. Again. At this point, we were all pretty tired as we had started the day at 8am. The Alhambra cake is a chocolate cake named after a place in Spain. It consists of three layers of hazelnut sacher soaked in coffee syrup, and filled with dark chocolate ganache. It is then glazed with chocolate. Very chocolatey, very yum! I’ve had Sachertorte in Austria thrice, and not because it was good, but because I just had to. The first time I had it was when I just got to Graz with my mum and we went to Café Sacher. We both agreed that it was very underwhelming. The second time I had it was with Cindy in Vienna at the original Hotel Sacher. It was even drier than the one we had in Graz. The third time I had it was with DJ in Graz again. Still, we were not impressed. Then Alex sent me an entire Sachertorte via post from Austria and I had it in my freezer for quite some time. I decided to heat it up one day, just for fun, and actually, it’s pretty nice when it’s warm! This is another cake which is just famous because of the story behind it. I don’t think I’ll ever eat it again. I might make my own though.
Ok, so anyhow, this cake was so good! I can say that it is one of the best chocolate cakes I’ve ever had. I loved the hazelnut sacher sponge. It was not dry at all, even without the imbibing syup, it was still moist and tender. I think I was really wowed by it because the quality of chocolate used was excellent. I believe we were using Cacao Barry in class that day. I’m also a big fan of dark chocolate. I’m one of those people who loves to tell anyone who tells me that white chocolate is their favourite that white chocolate isn’t even chocolate. What a snob. I know.
Tomorrow, we make our Alhambra. I can’t wait!
We had a scheduled chef meeting on Wednesday which was postponed from last week. The purpose of the meeting was to find out how well we’ve done thus far – we were given our grade out of 5, taking into account six or seven practicals. However, the session also included some time for us to give feedback to the chef regarding our experience in Le Cordon Bleu over the past few weeks. In turned out to be almost an hour of complaints (mostly). Le Cordon Bleu has its flaws. I knew this before I came to Paris and I’m sure it’s quite a well known fact. You just have to speak to a couple of students and you will hear the same things. Small lockers, chefs don’t speak English, chefs don’t give adequate feedback etc. I shall not make public my annoyance with certain aspects of school, because just as no one is perfect, no institute is perfect either. If you want my honest opinion, please feel free to ask me privately 🙂
After the meeting, we had a quick brunch at Starbucks before returning to school for our demo. We were taught quite a few recipes –macarons à la framboise (raspberry macarons), macarons à la pistache (pistachio macarons), moelleux caramel (soft caramel tea cakes), sablés orange amandes (orange and almond shortbreads) and sablés pochés (piped shortbread biscuits). I am pretty firm about my dislike of macarons. In my lifetime, I only remember two instances that I’ve ever liked them – the first time I ate a macaron was a rose-flavoured one in Singapore at the Grand Hyatt’s Mezza9, and the macarons that I ate at Pierre Hermé. Pierre Hermé has the best macarons in the world, at least to me. When I try a better one, I’ll let the world know! I didn’t fancy the macarons made during demo. I especially hate pistachio-flavoured desserts that use pistachio paste or essence. Guys, let’s agree that pistachios don’t taste like that. It’s just like almond extract; it sucks. I rather eat the raw pistachios and almonds! The caramel tea cakes were so-so, but both sablés were the best.
For practical, we had to make raspberry macarons and the piped shortbread cookies. We use the French method (#becauseFrance) for the macarons, which means whisking egg whites and sugar to a meringue and folding in the dry ingredients until the right consistency is reached – macaronage. The recipe we have is not a “tant pour tant” macaron base recipe (equal parts of ground almonds and icing sugar). We started by preparing our templates first. The chef gave us a few to trace onto baking paper. Then we started on our batter and piped them out onto the sheets, tapped the trays a few times, and allowed the macarons to crust before baking them. We then made our ganache à la framboise (white chocolate raspberry ganache) and our piped shortbread cookies with an chocolate praline filling.
When the macarons were out of the oven, I looked at mine and was extremely disappointed. I thought the colour wasn’t vibrant enough, and that they were flat and some misshapen. Some of my classmates had made their macaron batter too red by accident, but after baking they came out a nice fuchsia. Mine were a like browned pink – picture that. When it was time to fill them, my ganache had not cooled enough and we were running out of time, so I asked the chef for his opinion about the consistency of it. He told me to whisk it more so that it would thicken, but instead, the ganache split and it looked so lumpy and disgusting! What a disaster!
I think you can see how horrible they look. Actually, the photo makes them look better than in reality! I hadn’t realised that I had used a bigger template that we were not supposed to refer to. So although my macaronage was ok (according to the chef), it was only suitable for macarons which were smaller. He didn’t make any comments about my split ganache though. That was surprising.
Fortunately, my piped shortbread cookies were much better.
I love it when we use praline! We combined chocolate and praline for the filling and I really love this cookie. I think it is super simple to make and it isn’t too sweet. The texture is nice and crisp, and the filling just balances out the flavour really well.
Anyway, I went home super depressed about my macarons because the thought of me using the wrong sized template was just so ARGH! You would think that if there was one place where you would learn to make perfect macarons would be in a culinary school in France. HAH. A lot of people didn’t think that the recipe was good too. Disappointing…
I still don’t like macarons. Maybe I’ll go to Pierre Hermé to cheer myself up.