Learning from my baking mishaps during the last week of the Cordon Bleu pâtisserie course, we’ll be looking at what not to do with a croquembouche but first can you spot what’s wrong with my Triomphe de noix?
The walnut caramel mousse cake hiccup
If you look closely at the mousse you’ll see it looks very creamy. A little too creamy. Absolutely delicious but not so easy to spread glaze over it. I managed with just a slight hint of cloudiness in a corner and chef reckoned it hadn’t been in the freezer long enough to set properly. Ahem. Much later that evening as Mum wondered at a mousse without gelatine it suddenly struck me. Oops, guess who forgot to put the gelatine in? Yup. Cheesy grin.
Well I’ve been working on putting ALL the ingredients in cakes but the interesting discovery was that they’re a lot tastier without gelatine so I’ll add the bare minimum next time! Oh and my biscuit sponge was heavy because the melted butter was cold when I added it. Again oops but… this cake is actually better with a more solid base! Perhaps I should also have tried dropping it to find upside-down mousse cake is a delight! Lol.
Anyway there was a much more challenging task awaiting me…
The croquembouche debacle
Mention this magical cake and French peoples’ faces light up. It’s the classic wedding cake in France and I still remember it from when my uncle and aunt got married many years ago. I think everyone should make a croquembouche once in their lifetime. 🙂 It’s easier than it looks, especially if you avoid doing the silly things I did. Want to play spot the mistakes again?
First, almonds need to be hot and clean when added to the caramel. Don’t drop some of your almonds then put them back dirty from the oven floor or cold. That’s possibly why my nougatine seized up halfway through. One classmate started guarding the oven door so we couldn’t open it, insisting our nougatine mixtures all needed to stay in there longer to warm up and soften. True but it meant it was ages before the chef could look at mine and confirm it had actually crystallised and seized up beyond hope. Another kind classmate later took pity on me and gave me some of hers so I could finish making triangles. So basically I’ve learnt: be very careful making nougatine and find out early if it’s gone to never-neverland then make a new batch quickly.
The hands off approach?
Second, watch what your hands are brushing against! I had successfully stuck almost all my nougatine triangles on the base with caramel. Then the chef came round and said something to me. I moved my hand and broke off half a triangle. He said something else. I moved my hand again and a second triangle snapped in two. He left quickly and silently before anything else could happen! Too late. After that triangles continued to drop like flies and I ran out of whole replacements so started piecing and glueing them together with caramel. A bit sad really. I should have placed my structure on top of an upside-down bowl so it was higher than the worktop and easier to work with (they remembered to do that in the other class) and I should possibly consider making my next croquembouche in solitary confinement. lol.
Of course there was worse to follow: sticking the choux puffs on with caramel. I did the first lot with my fingers and yes, rumours that it could be painful were all true. Several classmates did the little caramel ‘ow’ dance. Since it wasn’t really my day I burnt one finger then instinctively put it to my mouth to soothe it by licking. So then I had a burnt lip for the rest of the class (and week). I immediately cooled my burnt parts with ice then continued dipping the choux in caramel with chopsticks I’d brought along for this particular emergency. Chef was still passing by me silently but I eventually grabbed his attention and he informed me my choux tower was leaning in too rapidly. So I compensated but you can see an uneven bobble effect.
Definitely not the icing on the cake
I’m not sure I even want to remember the icing fracas but I should finish telling this sorry tale. You may be aware icing is not my forte. So I thought I’d take this chance to practise those loopy things that dangle on the side of cakes. Perhaps I felt I hadn’t suffered enough and wanted the full-on feeling of cake despair. So of course the icing strands kept breaking and dropping. And they were all uneven. The chef tactfully said the consistency of the icing he’d made for us was actually a bit off … and there were also other reasons for the problem. Um… like my ineptitude? 🙂 Ok, so I’ve learnt that if you’re not good at icing you shouldn’t try to make strands of it to finish off a croquembouche. Just stay away from icing strands.
The end (after 5 hours!)
Luckily despite various technical problems I have a certain eye for design and a gritty determination to get the job done. The chef did congratulate us all on managing to make our first croquembouche. ‘Ça a été dur pour toi, non?’ (It’s been hard for you hasn’t it?), he said to me at the end. ‘Oui chef!’ We took a commemorative photo and you can see me gazing wistfully at my imperfect creation and looking like I’ve been dragged through a shredder.I took it down to photograph in better light and the nougatine base started cracking. Holes had already started forming earlier and I swept off those icing strands. This cake would never have made it to a wedding. Again, lol.
Sadly I can’t even tell you what it tasted like. We’d been eating so much cake on the course and it seemed such an impossible undertaking to carry this construction home that we all left them downstairs in the Winter Garden area. So I would like to say it was delicious… but I have no idea. I shall have to make one at home!
A real joy to make. Relaxing. Great time beating the dough. Really ‘kneaded’ that. Tee hee. I remember thinking in class that being a boulanger (a baker) might be preferable to the life of a pâtissier dealing with all those complex layers. The bread was delicious and I think recipes for baguettes and pain de mie (French sandwich or toast bread) would be great up on the blog for you.
Don’t be put off by my tales of woe. The walnut caramel triumph cake is pretty easy and the croquembouche is very do-able if you’re careful and having a good day. The bread is lovely to make and delicious even if it isn’t exactly like a French baguette. So hope you’ll choose one or more you’d like to see on the blog. You can also vote for earlier cakes on the course here, here, and here.
The exam and graduation
I wasn’t at my best for the practical exam. I really struggled with piping ‘Opera’, even with five attempts. Then after doing all my course cakes in the simple uncluttered style preferred by French chefs I decided to throw common sense out of the window and overload my Jamaica cake. I kicked myself a lot later but Mum comforted me with jokes about the chefs probably enjoying all the fruit. Um. Anyway, we all passed the Intensive Intermediate pâtisserie course. Yay! 🙂 And more importantly I have loads of new ideas and techniques for making cakes now. It’s all very exciting!
So the course was over and I could finally do some Christmas baking with cute cutters I’d bought at la Grande Épicerie. It was great to get away from complex pâtisserie but I did use the cremage (creaming) pastry technique learnt on the course to make these delicious healthier spiced Christmas biscuits, aka cookies. I was also excited to see my chocolate tempering and piping has actually improved. You probably know how to do this but I’ll post the chocolate cone-making and piping technique soon.
Anyway hope you’ve enjoyed all the Cordon Bleu cakes and are inspired to try some with me one day. Thanks for dropping in sweet reader and to everyone who sent me support during the course and exams, and voted for their favourite cakes. Appreciate it. 🙂
Wishing you a wonderful mishap-free week preparing for the festivities! Merry baking and eating! 🙂 x