How Cordon Bleu experience changed me and Cheddar Gougères recipe

Going to Cordon Bleu Paris, changed me in a lot of ways. It showed me that a different universe exists , one that is quite opposite to the one we live in. As different as black and white. And still very beautiful.

To put it very frankly, I come from a conservative background. My dad has retired as a cop and my mom worked in an insurance company and then as a teacher. Growing up, we fit perfectly into the middle class traditional family category. And I am myself a very cautious person. I wanted to secure my future. The best possible method to do that was getting a good educational degree. So up until I got married, I had never thought I would go to a culinary school, in a foreign land. Cooking and home catering was what the aunty upstairs did, because that’s what she knew. I was a studious girl. I was meant to be a CA. And then going to Paris on my own, seemed impossible. But somehow, I I applied, got admitted and went to pursue a hobby which tugged at my heart. Very cautiously.

Those 5 weeks in Paris taught me a lot. I met so many different people from such varied cultures that sometimes baking was the only common thread between us. Most girls there were independent, living on their own , having travelled so many places all by themselves and in general much more confident than I was. In the initial days I found myself gawking at them, at their bindaas attitude towards life. They had no strings attached and were carefree. Then one evening about 6 of us sat drinking wine at a friend’s studio apartment and we were then going to go to a nightclub called Queens. Believe it or not that was the first time I was going to a nightclub. So anyway, when we sat there talking, I said to myself “I have nothing to lose, so why worry? Just have fun”. In a way, those girls had already alienated me a little bit since we Indians come from a different background. My parents were not divorced, they both loved each other very much, I loved my husband and me and my husband stay with our in-laws. My plans for the future involved having a baby and staying with my husband forever and not to run away to some exotic location like they dreamed of. Perhaps they found me very boring with my baby and family plans and I found them intriguing yet not in a way that I wanted it for myself.  Then when we were dancing at Queens, 6 of us girls and 3 gay guy friends I suddenly felt my heart open up. There is so much to discover in life, so much to learn. I couldn’t do that while being judgemental. Each and every one is right in their own way, and so am I. That was a turning point in my life. I learnt to accept. With an open mind.

Glimpses of LCB

After that night I was able to enjoy Paris and its quirks better.  We went to Queens a couple more times and danced our way to glory. I also went with a Russian girl-friend to Crazy-Horse (google what that is) and as a group we had some amazing dinners with each one of us from different countries cooking up a speciality. And we talked. About our lives, our hopes and our dreams and the possibilities of making them come true. I felt liberated. Yet with a firm grounding of my family and culture.

All of this was possible because I knew I had a family to come back to. A husband who was waiting for me to return. Mom and dad-in-law who were proud of their daughter-in-law and my parents who had given me a sound upbringing that I could take on the world.

xoxo,

Rutvika Charegaonkar

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Gougères

Since last time we saw how to make Mango Eclairs which is a basic Choux Pastry dough, this time I have used the same pate-a-choux technique to make savoury gougères. This recipe is taken from Le Cordon Bleu book “Classic Recipes”. It says that origin of this pastry can be traced back to the Burgundy region of France and it is mostly filled with cheese. Most commonly used filling is gruyère cheese, however other firm white cheese can be easily substituted. I have used Cheddar cheese since it is easily available.

Cheddar Gougères

Gougères (Cheese Pastry)

What you will need :

  • 250 ml water
  • 100 gm butter (I use Amul)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 175 gram flour
  • 6 eggs + 1 egg for eggwash
  • 150 gm grated cheddar (100 gm + 50 gm)

What to do:

  1. Preheat oven to 220C.
  2. Combine water, butter and salt in a large pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Once butter has completely melted, remove the pan from heat.
  3. Add all the flour at once to the butter and mix it in with a wooden spatula.
  4. Then put it on heat again and continue to dry out the dough on medium heat. Take care to see that it does not stick and form a crust at the bottom of the pan. Once the dough stops sticking to the pan and the spoon, it is done.
  5. Transfer it to another bowl immediately. It should fall in one go.
  6. Beat 5 eggs together and gradually incorporate them into the batter while mixing with a wooden spoon. Mix well after each addition to make the dough stretchy and slightly sticky.
  7. Stir in 100 gm of the grated cheese and transfer the dough to a piping bag, with a medium round tip.
  8. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
  9. Pipe approximately 2- 2 1/2 cm balls on the tray, leaving about 2-3 cm in between two balls of dough.
  10. Brush the balls with eggwash and be careful that it doesn’t run down the sides. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.
  11. Bake until the gougères are puffed up and golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.
  12. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  13. Sprinkle with some chilli powder and grated cheese before serving.

Hollow of a GougèreNotes :

  • The choux pastry balls puff up beautifully once baked. It can be then filled with a cheese filling, but I prefer to keep them unfilled and light.
  • Choux pastry is one of the most versatile doughs I have worked with, and so beautiful!

Gougères with cheese

Le Cordon Bleu procedure and Eclairs with mango pastry cream

I am a Chartered Accountant by profession and excel sheets come easily to me. Heck, I even make my grocery shopping list in excel. There is something about those cells and tidy rows and columns which makes my brain work.  Perhaps thats why I chose baking. The precision and the technicality in baking allured me. But when I decided to go to culinary school, everyone around me was surprised. Growing up, I was harbouring dreams of becoming a lawyer. Then a journalist. But somewhere along the line, I registered for the CA course and completed it in the shortest possible time. Everybody thought I am an academic kind of a girl. So why go to a baking school? And as my father once pragmatically said, ‘If you want to learn to cook, even your grandmother can teach you that. Why go all the way to Paris?!”

I now know why. Because baking tugged at my heart passionately. I wanted to learn it as a discipline. Wanted to learn it from the masters in an authentic way. Wanted to stay in Paris, learn to bake something in school and then go to a famous local boulangerie or patisserie and taste it. I had to broaden my horizon beyond accounting and taxes and also live through some stories which I could tell my children 20 years from now. I had to do it for myself.

So if there is anyone out there who is thinking of going to a culinary school, this post is for them. If anyone who is from an entirely different walk of life but still enjoys baking, cooking; these next few lines are meant for you. And if you, or your son or daughter has just completed high school and wishes to be a chef, read on.

I have done Basic Patisserie course from Le Cordon Bleu, Paris and so I will be telling you about that. I wish to go back for Intermediary and Superior, but maybe after my little baby boy is a couple years older.

Cordon bleu school

For ease, this post is divided into 3 parts :

  1. Application.
  2. Coursework and timings
  3. Paris -where to stay, travelling etc.
  1. Application

Le Cordon bleu has 40 schools in 20 countries, and students from about 70 countries study in LCB. The Paris campus is the oldest one, established in 1895 as a small Parisian cookery school. The Grand Diploma programs form the core curriculum and it is divided in Patisserie and Cuisine. Each of these two branches are further divided into three levels : Basic, Intermediate and Superior. A few of my friends had enrolled for the Grand Diploma,which takes roughly around 1.5 years to complete. Each level is of a 3 months duration. However, Basic and Intermediary levels are available as an Intensive course of 4-5 weeks as well.

It takes minimum 8 weeks for the application to get processed. An application has to be prepared with an application form, valid passport copy, resume, letter of motivation, uniform measurement form and a non-refundable application fee. Then based on your credentials i.e your statement of motivation and CV (resume) an admission jury reviews your application. And then they send a provisional admit, if everything is in order. But don’t worry, I was tremendously helped by the Indian Admissions office right from making the statement of motivation to payment of fees. And so will you be.

Basic qualification requirement is completion of high school and knowledge of French is not essential. However, students have to be well versed in English.

My course was for less than 3 months hence I went of a tourist visa, but for the 3 month courses and upwards, a student visa is required.

There are multiple short courses available too on various campuses. These range from 3 hour to 10 day courses.

2. Coursework

On the first day of school, there is an orientation lecture where you are introduced to the different chefs, the training module and the school itself. We had students from 17 different countries in our batch and I made some very good friends there.

In our intensive class, we had almost 6-9 hours of class daily, 6 days a week. The days were divided into two sessions – Demos and Practicals. Everyday there used to be a demonstration of a technique along with 4 -5 recipes and then in the practical session we made 1-2 things from those demonstrated under the guidance of the chef. Broadly, we learnt how to make Choux Pastry, Puff Pastry, Brioche, Petit Fours, Croissants, Tarts, Meringue and a few genoise and butter cakes. Tempering chocolate, working with sugar, different types of macarons etc was taught in the next levels.

All the demo sessions are conducted in both French and English. The chef speaks in French and a translator simultaneously converts it to English. A sheet of ingredients is provided and we have to write down the method (recipe) in our own words while it is being demonstrated. That sheet will then be used during practical. During demos, there is a huge mirror above the chef’s platform and TV screens display what the chef is doing.

During practicals, the chef is constantly around to help everyone with whatever they are stuck at, and believe me out of the 28-30 things that we made, none of it ever went wrong. For all of the 18 -20 students in our batch.

There is an exam at the end of the course – one written exam and one practical. It is relatively easy if you have been paying attention during the classes. A certificate is awarded at the end of each level and a diploma on completion of all the levels in both the courses.

  1. Staying in Paris

I stayed in Paris with a friend’s friend Danielle and had the most amazing time of my life. Paris is very well connected with the Metro system and although I lived about 40 minutes away from the school, it was very easy to go to school. However, the students association helps with finding a place to stay. I also have a list of flats / studio apartments available of rent given by the school, which are very close to the school. A brokerage is sometimes charged along with the rent.

Air BnB also provides a listing of hostels and apartments and booking can be done before landing in Paris.

Paris has some of the best cookware and bakeware shops apart from being an absolutely beautiful city with so many touristy things to do.

Cordon bleu goodies

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Sorry for such a long post, but I can go on and on. Shaheen of Purple Foodie inspired me to go and pursue my dream. If even one of you decides to go to culinary school based on this or subsequent posts, I will be super happy.

Adios,

Rutvika.

P.S : And as usual you can PM me with whatever questions you have, or leave a comment here and you shall get an answer.

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We were taught Pate A choux or Choux Pastry in the school and it is one of the most versatile doughs I have worked with. This dough puffs up when baked and creates a hollow in the centre which can be filled with anything. The preferred consistency is that of a pastry cream. Presenting here is Eclairs, the elongated fingers of choux pastry and filled with mango pastry cream.

Three mango eclairs

Eclairs with Mango Pastry Cream

What you will need:

Choux Pastry

  • 250 ml water
  • 100 gm salted butter
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 150 gm flour
  • 4 whole eggs

Pastry Cream

  • 500 ml milk (300 ml + 200 ml)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 125 gm caster sugar (25 gm + 100 gm)
  • 1/2 cup fresh mango puree
  • 30 gm flour
  • 30 gm cornflour / custard powder

Mango Glaze

  • 1/4 cup mango puree
  • 1/4 cup confectioners sugar

What to do:

Choux pastry making is a technique, but once you master it you can even make it while sleeping. For beginners, it is better to get all the ingredients measured beforehand.

  1. Preheat oven to 160C.
  2. In a vessel, heat water + sugar+ butter. Bring it to a true hard boil. Then take it off heat.
  3. Add all the flour at once to the vessel and mix it in with a spoon, till completely incorporated.
  4. Put it back on heat and continue the drying process. Once you lift the spoon, nothing should stick to it anymore. Thats when you know the choux dough is dry enough and should be taken off heat.
  5. Empty the choux dough into another bowl. (to stop further drying from the latent heat). It should fall in one go.
  6. Add 2 eggs, lightly whisked and incorporate it into the choux dough. Then add the remaining two eggs one at a time, while mixing properly.
  7. Take a pastry bag with F16 pastry tip or any other wide holed tip that you have. Fill it with the dough.
  8. Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Pipe uniform length sticks on the parchment paper, leaving one inch space between two eclairs.
  9. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes or so till the eclairs puff up beautifully.
  10. Now for the pastry cream, take 300 ml of milk in a vessel with a teaspoon of vanilla and simmer over medium heat. Add 25 gms of sugar.
  11. Take the egg yolks in a separate bowl and add rest of the 100 gm sugar. Whisk immediately, or the egg yolks burn (i.e curdle as the sugar absorbs the moisture).
  12. Add custard powder and flour. Whisk well.
  13. Mix remaining cold milk to the egg mixture. Add the mango puree.
  14. Now pour half of the hot milk to this egg+ sugar mixture. Whisk well. Then mix all of this back to the saucepan and immediately whisk it and stir constantly while on heat. Let it come to a rolling boil while whisking continuously and cook further for 30 seconds and take it off heat. You can see that the pastry cream has now thickened.
  15. Put in in a flat plate to cool completely and then refrigerate for half hour if required to cool it down.
  16. Assembly : Once the eclairs have cooled, poke 2-3 holes in the bottom of the eclairs with a pen. Take the pastry cream in a pastry bag fitted with a smaller tip nozzle and pipe cream into the eclairs in all three holes.
  17. Mix mango puree and confectioners sugar to make the glaze and pipe threads of it over the prepared eclairs for decoration.

Filled mango eclairs

Notes :

  1. The choux pastry dough has to be whisked well to prevent any lumps being formed.
  2. Eclairs should always be poked at the bottom or they will sink if poked on top.
  3. If you feel there are lumps in the pastry cream, you can strain it through a sieve.

Mango eclairs on a board

Cinnamon chocolate chip loaf cake

You wont imagine what happened today. I did not either, till the time it had actually happened. So in school, in Le Cordon Bleu, we have an erratic time-table. The day is divided into four three-hour parts, and the demonstrations or practicals start at 8.30am/ 12.30pm/ 3.30pm or 6.30pm. We mostly have 2-3 classes each day, and one of the three-hour slots is always free. Today, after the morning session , I said good-bye to my friends and stepped out for lunch to come back for the 3.30 class. Whilst sitting peacefully and having lunch like a Parisian, in a cafe at about 2 pm, suddenly I checked my timetable and found that I had class at 12.30! Shoot! I practically ran like a whirlwind to the class, changed into the elaborate uniform (which takes at least 5-7 minutes), and went to the demonstration class.

But it was too late. Most of the stuff was already done. And the school has a very particular rule (quite logical if you ask me on any other day) that if you miss a demonstration, you can’t attend the practical. So I missed two classes out of 40, and just came back home. Yeah, that was very stupid of me. I felt so sad, that I even refused to go shopping with my host and wonderful friend Danielle, once I came back home.

The good part was, the chef just demonstrated two types of cookies, which luckily we wont have to make in the exam. And we are allowed to miss 5 classes in the course. So, I escaped this folly without any major damages. And like my father-in-law said “Every early mistake is a stepping stone to success especially if the mistake was inconsequential.” Well, I truly hope that one helps.

Other than this incident, the classes are going very well. Sometimes, during practicals, some chefs talk only in French, and 90% of the class is baffled. I hate it when that happens. But some Canadians in our class translate parts of it into English and we manage.

The amazing thing about the school is that they teach some brilliant techniques. Later on, we can modify and experiment with it, to our liking. For instance, there is this Choux pastry technique, which is super easy once you get the texture of the dough right. And it is hollow in the center once baked, so that you can fill in either chocolate pastry, or cheese and onions, or add some savory mix in the dough before cooking. There are numerous possibilities. Once I return back home, I promise to experiment and give you guys full-proof recipes.

Here is a photo of the choux pastry in the form of a St. Honoré (a choux pastry cake with Chantilly cream). Its made in class, and you can still see my name tag on the top left corner.

Choux pastry

For now, the comforting smell of cinnamon and the makes-everything-feel-better chocolate is going to give me company while I drink a Cinnamon hot chocolate. And just because I don’t want you to feel left out of the cinnamon-chocolate goodness, and a quick remedy for those days which don’t look that good, I am sharing a quick-fix chocolate-chip cinnamon swirl cake recipe. Had I not been making two-desserts-a-day at school, I was sure to bake some today. It’s very soothing.

Two slices of cake

Cinnamon chocolate chip loaf cake recipe

What you will need:

  • 250 gms all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 120 gm semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 large egg (at room temperature)
  • 150 gms light brown or dark brown sugar
  • 50 gm regular granulated sugar
  • 240 ml ( 1 cup) buttermilk or 3/4 cup plain yoghurt and 1/4 cup water
  • 80 ml (1/3 cup) unflavored vegetable oil (I use groundnut oil)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the cinnamon swirl :

  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 65 gm granulated sugar

What to do :

  1. In a large bowl take flour, salt and baking soda and combine together with a whisk. Add the chocolate chips. Set aside.
  2. In another medium bowl, whisk the egg, brown sugar and granulated sugar to combine. Whisk in the oil, buttermilk and vanilla.
  3. Then slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredient, and gently whisk till there are no more lumps or no more flour streaks. Do not over-mix, or the mixture will become elastic.
  4. Make the cinnamon swirl by mixing together the cinnamon and granulated sugar.
  5. Grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan generously with softened (not melted) room-temperature butter. This helps to give the loaf a beautiful brown crust.
  6. Pour half of the prepared batter into the loaf pan. Spread evenly with 3/4 of your cinnamon-sugar mixture.
  7. Pour the remaining batter on top and finish with the rest of the cinnamon-sugar. Sprinkle with a some more mini chocolate chips if desired.
  8. Pre-heat the oven to 170° Celcius.
  9. Loosely cover the cake loaf tin with aluminium foil and bake it for 45 minutes to one hour. Poke the centre of the cake with a toothpick, if it comes out clean, it is done.
  10. Allow the cake to cool completely before in the pan on a wire rack before cutting into slices.

Slice of cinnamon cake

Note :

  1. Buttermilk gives the cake a very moist texture. Don’t skip on it.
  2. Room temperature egg is essential to mix it well. You can also get the egg to room temperature by placing it in warm water.

Cinnamon before and after cake

This cake stays well for a week in an air-tight container. You can also put some banana slices on top and get brownie points for adding fruit to your dessert.

And now I am going to check my time-table every 3 hours, just to ensure I don’t miss any classes.