I'm studying the Grand Diplome at Cordon Bleu in London

Archive for January, 2012

Day 12 – Puff Pastry and Lemon Crepes – Tue 31st Jan

Puff pastry was the main focus of today’s lessons. Chef Eric was alone in giving us the demo. No chef Gilles.

Puff Pastry is made from a dough which is folded over a slab of butter, rolled thinner and folded into 3, repeated so that it has been folded 6 times. This creates hundreds of thin layers of dough separated by butter. When baked, the moisture in the dough turns to steam which puffs the pastry apart and the butter allows the layers to separate to produce light flaky pastry.

The dough was made from flour, a little salt, water and some melted butter. Mixed into a form dough, it was formed into a ball and a cross cut in the top to about half the depth of the ball. Then it was wrapped and put in the fridge for 20 minutes to rest. This stops the gluten in the flour being stretched too much, which would make the pastry tough.

While it was resting some butter was formed into a square about 10cm wide and pounded within greaseproof paper to soften it a little.

Once the dough was rested, each of the 4 corners of the cross-cut dough was flattened then rolled out to make a cross shaped dough, with the centre of the cross a little wider than the slab of butter. The butter was placed in the centre of the cross and the 4 flaps folded in to cover the butter.

Then the pastry was rolled in one direction only, back and forth, to roughly the length of the roling pin, but no wider than it started. The rolling pin can be used side on to keep the edges straight.

Once long enough, the pastry was folded: the top into the middle and then the bottom to cover it, thus foldng it in 3. The pastry was turned through 90 degrees and the rolling and folding repeated. Then it was wrapped again and rested for another 20-30 minutes.

After resting, the rolling and folding, rolling and folding was repeated and rested again. Then it was rolled and folded for the final 2 times, wrapped and will be used in tomorrow’s lesson.

While the pastry was doing all that resting, the chef made crepes. The batter was a mixture of flour, egg, a little salt and sugar, and milk to make a thin batter. A little nut brown butter was mixed in for more flavour (butter that has been cooked until it goes a little brown, then spooned off of the solids) and some lemon rind. Then it was left to rest for 20 minutes for the flour to fully absorb the moisture.

A lemon syrup was made of sugar, water and lemon juice, brought to the boil and put aside.

To make the crepes, a thin-rimmed crepe pan was heated, brushed with clarified butter and a ladleful of batter poured in and swirled around the pan to thinly cover the bottom. Once nicely coloured on one side, it was flipped over to cook on the other side.

Once all the batter was made into crepes, then were folded into 4 to make a triangle, put on a plate and some lemon syrup drizzled over them

In the practical chef Franck announced that this was his last ever practical class as he was leaving to pursue other avenues. He has been strict about time in the few practicals with us but quite fair. He has been reinforcing the need to work quickly.

Nothing about the practical was particularly difficult. Just a matter of being methodical with the pastry and it looked ok at the end of class. Tomorrow will show how well I have made it as I will be cooking with it.

I’ve made crepes lots of times before so that was quite easy for me, though many others in the class were having lots of problem with them sticking to the pan. It usually means the pan isn’t hot enough or possibly that they haven’t greased it enough.

Off to eat my lemon crepes now.

Day 11 – Quiche Lorraine – Mon 30th Jan

This week sees some overlap between the cuisine and patisserie lessons as both are covering some types of pastry.

Today we learnt about Pâte Brisée and Pâte Sucrée and watched the chef use them to make a quiche and a tart respectively. The Demo was given by chefs Eric and Gilles.

Pâte Brisée is shortcrust pastry and Pâte Sucrée is a similar pastry but is sweeter and is made by a slightly different method.

The chef made the Pâte Brisée first. Flour and salt were sifted into a bowl and the cold butter cut into small dice and rubbed into the flour. A well was made in the centre and an egg and a little water was added. It was mixed to form a dough and was kneaded briefly, then formed into a ball, wrapped in clingfilm and rested in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Then he made the Pâte Sucrée. The method for this is more like making biscuits rather than pastry. The butter and sugar were creamed together, then egg yolks, lemon zest and salt were added and mixed in. Finally flour was added and incorporated. As with the Pâte Brisée, it was then rested in the fridge. 

The Pâte Brisée was then rolled out to about 3 mm thick and used to line a flan ring on a baking sheet. Once trimmed to fit, it was baked blind with baking beans in the centre to stop it rising. After about 15 minutes, the baking beans were removed and the pastry returned to the oven to make sure the centre was cooked.

Meanwhile some smoked bacon was blanched in simmering water, cut into small dice and fried for a few minutes to release some of the fat.

Once the pastry case was cooked, the bacon was scattered over the bottom, gruyere cheese was sprinkled over it and a mix of egg, milk and cream, seasoned with nutmeg, salt and pepper, was poured into the case and returned to the oven to cook until set.

The Pâte Sucrée was also used to line a flan ring and baked blind. Then it was filled with creme patissiere, covered with some fresh fruit and glazed.

Here are pictures of the chef’s quiche and tart:


In the practical, with chef John, we were just making the Quiche Lorraine.

I’ve made lots of quiches and tarts in the past so this wasn’t a difficult practical for me but it was interesting to use the techniques we saw in the demonstration. My quiche came out very well and the chef commented that it was a very good quiche and used it to demonstrate its good points to my classmates, so I was pretty pleased.

It didn’t last long once I got home and tasted wonderful, but here is a picture taken before it got munched:

The Cordon Bleu toolkit – knives and utensils

I promised earlier to write about the knife and utensil kit each student is given when they arrive at Cordon Bleu.

Here are the knives in the kit:

In order from left to right they are:

turning knife
paring knife
boning knife
filleting knife (flexible blade)
cook’s knife
carving knife
carving fork
sharpening steel
palette knife
offset palette knife

Also in the kit are the following utensils:

In the top row are:

melon baller
channeling knife
apple corer
trussing needle
dessert spoon
dessert fork
tea spoon
balloon whisk
probe thermometer / timer

In the front row, sitting on the silicone mat are:

bowl scraper
pastry brush
12 piping nozzles
2 piping bags

The kit comes in a special zipped up case with lots of compartments to hold everything.

The knives and many of the utensils are made by Wusthof and are top quality and pretty expensive. Even the little paring knife costs over £30. Consequently I have marked everything with my initials.

Days 9 and 10 – Creme Brulée and Creme Caramel – Thurs 26th to Sat 28th Jan

The end of the week took us back to patisserie and the lessons were making creme brulée, creme caramel, creme anglaise, fruit coulis, tuile biscuits and some decorative sugar work.

Chef Matthew took both the demonstration classes. One was the preparation of the cremes and coulis and the 2nd was in completing them and presenting them decoratively.

The first task was the caramel for the creme caramel. A little sugar was put into a pan and allowed to melt over a medium heat. No water was added. Once melted, a little more sugar was added and stirred in and allowed to melt. This was continued until all the sugar was melted and then allowed to cook until the right colour of caramel was achieved. Then water was added and boiled to the soft ball stage, then the pan was briefly dipped in ice water to stop further cooking.

A little caramel was poured into each ramekin and allowed to set.

The creme was then prepared. Milk was heated with a vanilla pod while eggs and sugar were mixed together. Once the milk was almost simmering, it was poured onto the eggs and sugar and mixed together, then cooled over an ice bath. Once cool, each ramekin was filled 3/4 full with the creme and placed on a tray to which cold water was added and then placed in the oven at 140 °C for 30 minutes. Then the creme caramels were allowed to cool and placed in the fridge.

The creme brulée was next and is quite similar but only egg yolks are used and are whisked together with the sugar. The milk is replaced by a mix of milk and cream. The ramekins are placed in the oven at on a tray filled with warm water and cooked at 120 °C.

The creme anglaise is better known by most people as custard! But only containing egg yolks, sugar, milk and vanilla. Not cornflour, like instant custard.

The egg yolks are whisked with half of the sugar, the milk heated with the other half and the vanilla. Once hot, the milk is whisked into the egg yolks and then all returned to the pan and cooked gently over low heat, stirring continuously, until thickened.

The fruit coulis was next. The chef prepared 2 types of coulis, one raw and the other cooked.

The raw coulis was simply raspberries and icing sugar blitzed in a blender and then strained through a sieve to remove the seeds.

The cooked coulis is a sugar syrup cooked to the thread stage, then fruit puree added and briefly boiled again before adjusting the taste and texture with a little lemon juice if required.

The chef made 3 cooked coulis: raspberry, mango and blackcurrant. In our practical we would just be making 1 cooked coulis, but we could each make different flavours.

The batter for the tuile biscuits is equal quantities of flour, icing sugar, egg white and melted butter, with the butter being added little by little to a batter of the other 3 ingredients.

The tuile batter was spread or piped very thinly in decorative shapes on a silicone mat and baked at 190 °C for about 5 minutes. Removed from the oven, they can be shaped in to curved shaped if done quickly as they harden within seconds.

The chef then demonstrated some decorative sugar work using an isomalt caramel, which does not crystallize the way sugar does. He made some sugar baskets on the bowl of a ladle, some spirals on a sharpening steel and some decorative fountains.

He then piped chocolate onto some plates to decorate them and used the coulis and creme anglaise too, as well as some of the sugar work and fresh fruit.

The creme brulée was completed with a sprinkling of caster or demerara sugar and caramelized with a blowtorch. The creme caramel was turned out and placed onto a decorated plate.

Here are the creme caramels and creme brulées the chef plated:

In the practicals, again with chef Nicolas, we made the creme caramel, creme brulée, coulis and tuile batter in pairs. We each made creme anglaise and some sugar baskets.

I had made creme anglaise before and was able to make it successfully in the practical. However, it’s easy to overcook creme anglaise and end up with scrambled eggs. Half the class did.

I made a really nice caramel for the creme caramel and they turned out well. The creme brulée was made by my partner though I got to do the blowtorching myself.

I made a few pretty tuile biscuits including a spiral that spiralled into the air, a lattice and a treble clef. I also managed a couple of good sugar biscuits and a very delicate sugar spiral.

Here are my plated desserts:


I hope you can see my sugar basket in the left picture and the sugar spiral on the fruit on the right picture.

I can’t say I am a fan of creme caramel as it tastes too eggy for me. I much prefer creme brulée, though I have made better ones with a smoother texture.

Day 8 – Roast Chicken – Wed 25th Jan

Finally cooking some meat!

Today we were going to cook roast chicken and a whole chicken each.

In the past at home I have roasted many chickens but never cooked one in this manner.

The chickens we were using were oven-ready corn-fed chickens. The chefs would rather have given us a whole chicken, head, feet, guts and feathers included and taught us how to prepare that. But they’re not so available here as they are in France.

First of all any fat inside the neck and body was trimmed away and placed in a large pan to melt. The legs were trimmed to remove any parts of the feet remaining and the 2 outer joints of the wings were cut off and chopped into small pieces. The chicken was then lightly blowtorched to remove any scaly skin around the legs and any feathers that might still remain.

From the neck end the wishbone was exposed by scraping the meat away from it and it was then pulled out.

Then the chef trussed the chicken. This meant using the trussing needle to thread string through the legs to hold them tight to the body and similarly with the wings. The chicken was seasoned inside and out and it was ready for cooking.

The chicken was placed on one side in the pan with the melted chicken fat to start browning and the wing trimmings and wishbone added round the chicken. Then into an oven heated to 200 °C.

The chicken was taken out of the oven every 10 mins or so and basted with the chicken fat in the pan to ensure a crisp golden skin.

After 20 minutes the chicken was taken out again and turned onto the other side.

While the chicken was in the oven a small mirepoix was prepared as well as the vegetables to accompany the chicken which were broccoli florets and brown glazed baby onions.

After another 20 minutes in the oven the chicken was turned onto its back to complete the cooking – another 10 to 15 minutes.

The chicken was tested with a probe thermometer to check it was cooked at the thickest part of the legs. It was then placed on a rack and allowed to rest in a warm place loosely covered with foil while the jus was made.

The mirepoix was added to the roasting pan and the browned in the chicken fat. Once browned, the chicken trimmings and mirepoix in the pan was strained to get rid of the fat. The trimmings and mirepoix were put back in the pan and chicken stock added and the bottom of the pan scraped to get the caramelised juices into the jus. The jus was allowed to reduce by half.

Once the jus was ready, the chicken was carved – the legs were removed and cut into thighs and drumsticks. The breasts were removed and cut into two. The chicken is meant to serve 4, each person getting 1/2 a breast and one leg joint.

Here is the plating by the chef (and mine looked very similar):

The practical was taken by chef Gilles alone. He is very friendly and keen to teach.

My roast chicken went very well and he was very happy with my cooking of it and even commented that I had handled chickens before.

When I took the chicken home, the 2 hours of cooking took 2 minutes for my wife and I to polish off. It was very tasty and moist and tender. My wife said it was the best chicken she had ever had.

Day 7 – stocks and basic sauces – Tue 24th Jan

Today was about making veal and chicken stocks and bechamel and tomato sauces.

Chefs Eric and Gilles took the demo again and jumped straight into making the stocks.

For the veal stock they had a veal knuckle bone, which is about the size of my head!
A little oil was heated in a wide shallow pan and the bone put in to brown on one side. Once it was browned on one side it was turned to brown on each side then the whole pan placed in a hot oven to continue browning.
Meanwhile they roughly cut some onions, carrots and celery for the stock. The cut used is called mirepoix and doesn’t have a specific size unlike many of the other vegetable cuts. Instead it is cut depending on the cooking time. In this case, it will be cooked for at least 6 hours so it can be cut quite chunky.

Once the bone had browned well in the oven, it was put aside and the mirepoix was browned in the pan, on the stove and some tomato purée added and allowed to keep browning. Once browned, the pot was deglazed with white wine to get all the colour and flavour from the bottom of the pan. The acidity of the tomato and wine helps to extract the gelatine from the bones. Some mushroom trimmings can also be added to the browning vegetables.
Eventually the bone (and others) would be put in a large pot, well covered with cold water, brought to a simmer and skimmed of the scum rising to the surface. Once well skimmed, the mirepoix is added and simmered for 6 or more hours, skimming regularly.

The chef said 6 to 8 hours was a minimum, while some places might cook it for as long as 48 hours.

Meanwhile, the chefs made some chicken stock. Similar process, but this was to be a white stock so no browning was required. Chicken wings were put in a pan, covered with water and brought to a simmer and again skimmed. Once well skimmed, mirepoix of onions and celery was added, the carrot omitted as it would colour the stock. The mirepoix here was much smaller as it would only be cooked for a couple of hours.

Next the chefs made a couple of basic sauces: Bechamel and Tomato sauce.

Bechamel is a simple milk and roux sauce with a few flavourings. A roux of butter and flour was cooked gently for a couple of minutes and allowed to cool.
In a separate pan milk was heated with a pinch of nutmeg, a bouquet garni and a clove studded onion to flavour it. Once simmering it was left to infuse for a short while, then slowly whisked into the cool roux and then brought to a simmer to thicken completely, strained and seasoned.

Tomato sauce, the French way, is a rather unexpected creation and nothing like the tomato sauce used on pizzas and other Italian cooking, which is essentially just tomatoes, which have been blended into a puree. The French version is a sauce thickened with flour and has lots of other ingredients in addition to the tomatoes.
First a mirepoix was sautéed in butter, then fresh tomatoes, which had been cored and chopped, were added, as well as some tomato purée. A little flour was added and then plenty of chicken stock was added along with a bouquet garni and the sauce allowed to simmer for 30 mins. It was then strained to remove the vegetables, seasoned and was complete.

In the practical we had chef John, a tall and laid back Canadian chef.
We started making the chicken stock as this would take most of the class to cook.
Once that was going we each browned a veal bone and the mirepoix to go with it. The cooking of the stock would be done in the preparation kitchen with all the bones from the class as there wasn’t enough time in our class.

We made the chicken stock, bechamel and tomato sauce just as in the demonstration. Can’t say I was too keen on the tomato sauce, though the chef said I had made everything well and the tomato sauce tasted ‘just like Campbell’s tomato soup’ which is apparently how it should taste!

Day 6 – Concassé, Duxelle and Glazed Vegetables – Mon 23rd Jan

Week 2 started with Cuisine (at the moment our cuisine classes are at the beginning of the week and the patisserie classes are at the end of the week). Chef Eric has taken all our demo classes in cuisine so far, along with chef Gilles who is new to the school (he started a week before I did) and is learning the ropes. Both are French and very experienced chefs. The 2 of them also took us for the practical last week on Potato Salad and Salad Italienne.

Today’s demo and practical involved cooking that wasn’t just boiling. We were making concassé of tomatoes, duxelle of mushrooms and glazed onions and turnips.

Concassé is tomatoes that have been peeled, deseeded, and finely chopped, then cooked with a little sautéed shallot, garlic and bouquet garni under a cartouche for about 30 minutes until reduced by half. A cartouche is a circle of greaseproof paper cut to about the size of the pan, with a small (about 1 cm) hole at the centre to let steam out. The purpose of the cartouche is to keep the surface of the food being cooked moist.

Duxelle is finely diced musrooms cooked with a little sautéed shallot in butter until just about dry.

Both concassé and duxelle are used in many places within French cooking.

The glazed vegetables involved learning how to turn vegetables. This means taking a block of vegetable and slowly paring it down into a shape like an elongated rugby ball, about 6 cm long and 2cm in diameter. If done perfectly they are meant to be 7 sided. I think mine varied anywhere from 5 to about 17 sided. It takes a bit of practice and is done with a turning knife which has a tiny crescent shaped blade. Since the technique is to pare towards yourself I was expecting lots of cuts in practical but there were hardly any. We were using long white turnips (also called mooli or daikon) as they are quite soft and easy to cut to shape. The chefs made lots of perfectly turned pieces, while even talking and looking at the students!

The other vegetable was to be baby onions, which we had to peel and remove the root.

Each vegetable type was put in a pan (separate pans as they have different cooking times) with some seasoning, a little butter, a pinch of sugar, enough water to not quite cover the vegetables, covered with a cartouche and put on a low heat to cook. The idea is for the water to slowly boil away until the vegetables are cooked through and the liquid is reduced to a glaze about the consistency of honey, which gives the vegetables a lovely glaze. If the vegetable is cooked before the water is reduced enough they can be lifted out and put back in again when the glaze is ready. The idea was to glaze the vegetables without colouring (i.e. caramelising) the glaze.

Here is a picture of the chef’s plated results showing a quenelle of duxelle in the centre, the concassé to the left, the turned turnips at the top and the baby onions at the bottom left:

In the practical we had chef Franck looking after us. Everyone seemed to find that the time was running out and some didn’t get any vegetables turned or vegetables glazed. I did manage a few and got the cooked and glazed. The chef thought my onions and turnips were a little undercooked, but I thought they were pretty well cooked and would have fallen apart if cooked any longer, which was why I had stopped them when I did. The duxelle and concassé were pretty good.

Once the chef had evaluated them, I ate the lot. It all tasted delicious and I hadn’t made enough to warrant taking it home.

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