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

Mango Macarons and How I went to Cordon Bleu

There is a very talented Facebook page called the Home Bakers Guild, and for the next four Tuesdays I am the Blogger of The month. Each tuesday, I will post a new recipe and boy, I am working on a deadline for the first time.

My theme for the next four Tuesdays will be – “Tropical French Cooking – Classic French recipes with mangoes”. Those recipes which we learnt in Le Cordon Bleu, Paris and I adapted them to include mangoes. Our best thing of the summers.

A little about how I went to Cordon Bleu:

So I started baking 4 years back, a little after I got married, and then a year later I started harbouring dreams of going to a culinary school. I researched and read and talked to a few people and but of-course Le Cordon Bleu and Paris grabbed my attention and made a little home in my heart. But I am a working Chartered Accountant, and I had no idea how I would manage the three month courses. So I whiled away some time. Then husband and I started thinking of a baby (although, it was me who was struck by the I-want-a-baby syndrome at first). So a baby meant I bid farewell to my Paris dreams, atleast for a good 3-4 years. I had been talking to one Mr. Abhishek, who is the LCB representative in India. He gently kept reminding me of the deadlines of application. But I had to make a choice. Starting a family and having a baby or going to LCB and postponing baby plans by a year. I was 27. Time was running out. I made the choice. Lets have a baby (or two) before we are 30.

Then came the twist in the tale. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and the doctor advised to put baby plans on hold for a couple of months. When she said that, the first thing that came to my mind was, ‘Now I can go to Cordon Bleu’. 🙂 Like Paulo Coelho said in the Alchemist, when you want something badly, the universe conspires for you to get it. And that came true for me.

Immediately I started planning for a sabbatical. I decided to do the intensive Basic Patisserie course, of 5 weeks. I applied, waited with bated breath and did a little dance when I was admitted. Now, funds had to be arranged, leave had to be taken, visa had to be applied for; and I had exactly 2 months before the course began. And I did not speak a word of French.

In a frenzy, I started all the preparations. I was buzzing with energy, making a hundred to-do lists and learning some French in the evenings. And as the day neared, I felt very nervous. I hadn’t stayed without my husband for more than 2 weeks and it was always he who used to travel. While I used to be at home. This time I was going to go for six weeks, and I had never travelled out of the country alone. Yes, I was wary, but deep in my heart I knew I had to go.

And what a blast I had! In the school as well as in the adorable city of Paris.

Now I have a little baby and going back to school for doing Intermediary and Superior Courses seems out of question. But just the other day, Abhishek told me that the biggest campus of LCB in the world is soon opening in Paris in 2016. My heart has again started to flutter. Who knows? 😉

For all those of you reading this post and wanting to know more about LCB, the curriculum, schedule, where to stay, what to expect etc , stay tuned. I will write in detail everything you want to know.

And then ofcourse you can ask questions.

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Mango macarons in a box

And with that I am be posting a recipe of Macarons. Now there are two basic techniques of making macaroons. One is the Italian Meringue (IM) method and the other is French meringue (FM) method. The former is a bit technical and cumbersome. It requires a candy thermometer to cook sugar syrup to a certain degree and then pour it into the eggwhites. Pierre herme uses this technique and also requires the egg whites to be aged for a week.

Mango Macaron held in hand

The second one, the French Meringue technique is fairly simple and can be whipped up effortlessly, with very brilliant results. And I felt that this technique yields macaron shells with a much lighter texture. Plus its easy! These macarons which are sold in Paris at 2 euros per macaron, can be very well made by you at home. Voila!

Macaron shells and filled macarons

Mango Macarons 

What you will need :

  • 75 gm egg whites (from about 2-3 eggs)
  • 100 gm caster sugar
  • 100 gm whole almonds
  • 100 powdered sugar

Filling :

I used mango jam for the filling here, but any buttercream or even pastry cream will go very well.

What to do :

  1. Preheat oven to 150C preferably in convection mode (fan on).
  2. Grind whole almonds (with the skin) and sift it twice to ensure a smooth powder.
  3. Combine powdered sugar with almond powder and again sift it once to ensure there are no lumps.
  4. Now put egg whites in a bowl. Beat them with an electric mixer to medium peaks.
  5. Add caster sugar slowly while beating the egg whites and whisk to stiff glossy peaks.
  6. Add desired color. I added a a few drops of yellow + a few drops of red.
  7. Now sift the almond powder and sugar mixture into the meringue.
  8. Fold it in with a rubber spatula. If you leave the batter for 30 seconds, the contours formed from mixing should even out.
  9. Now cover a baking tray with parchment paper or silpat.
  10. Add the batter to a piping bag fitted with a 10-12 round nozzle.
  11. Pipe small amounts of batter on the sheet. leave it on the countertop for a couple of minutes.
  12. Then bake for 12-15 minutes. Open the oven door one after 6-7 minutes so that any trapped humidity is let out.
  13. Once baked take the parchment paper or the silpat off the baking tray and let it cool for a couple of minutes on the paper. Then with  spatula ease it off the paper.
  14. Fill in mango jam sandwiched between two macaron shells.

Notes :

  • The color in egg whites is suggestive of the filling. So since I used mango jam as a filling, I have used yellow + red color combination.
  • Macarons lighten in color as they bake. So use a little more color in the batter.
  • Do not open the oven door anytime before 6-7 minutes or the “feet” of the macaron will collapse.

Macarons on a plate

Mentoring : An everyday walk. And Flan de mango – the last of this season

It is true that every day, in every walk of life we are learning something new. Something that you didn’t know a day before, but something that you can’t live tomorrow without. Most of it is self-awareness, but the nudge to move towards that zone of being aware, is an external one. Sometimes I think you yourself are your best mentor; but of-course that would be being too full of yourself. So we assign the ‘mentorship’ to a teacher, a coach, a boss, a friend or even an author whose writing played a major role in your belief system. Positive or negative, they all had a role to play in what you are today and I am thankful to them, to say the least.

I remember, till the seventh grade, I disliked mathematics. And then it changed, because I was in love with my new mathematics teacher. She was so warm, kind and witty, that I had to do well in her subject. And at the end of that year, I genuinely started liking those numbers, and went on to become an accountant. Of course, all the Sin-Cos-Tan is now lost on me, but I knew that these numbers can be manipulated and that I could do it.

Few years later, in the first month of my internship, I was assigned to work with a hated big, fat, snobby boss. He asked me to study a particular accounting standard and would grill me at the end of every day about my learnings and no answer seemed to please him. He constantly counter questioned and looked at me with a cultivated look of hopelessness that still scares me. I was 19, had cleared the difficult entrance test in the first go and considered myself at-least an average student. But this guy, within a week, shattered the very base of my belief. Predictably, after about 10 days, I broke down one evening in the office. And then suddenly, he was like this big daddy, trying to console me, explaining how he was “preparing me” for the future. I wanted to punch him in his gut. I didn’t care about those stupid accounting standards, but I knew that this is a corrosive man, I needed no association with him. I almost managed to stay away from him for the rest of my 3 year internship, and hence preserved my sanity. He has damaged a lot of my friends by constantly assuring them that they are no good. Somebody needs to shut him up.

At a deeper level, in a rougher way I realised that some people will try to pull you down. You have to recognise them and run as far away from them as possible, because arguing with them is just not worth it.

But soon after, I took up a job in a private bank and luckily for me, I reported to a sensitive and mature lady, the VP of our audit department. She soon realised, even before I knew it, that I needed freedom and independence to work my best. Those two years, I was at the peak of my performance, firstly because I loved my work and secondly because I could think and audit in a way no-one had before. She subconsciously ingrained out-of-box thinking in me, by making me believe that I could do it. Had it not been for her, I would have been a mediocre clerk in some bank, assuming that I could be only as good as the person besides me.

Another very crucial role in my mental set-up has been played by Ayn Rand. Basically it felt as if she was talking to me through her books and telling me (in her own words) –

“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists.. it is real.. it is possible.. it’s yours.”

Hang on to everyone who tells you that. Because those people are precious. In this dog eat dog world, sometimes all you need is that word of encouragement which will restore your belief in yourself. And yes, the person next to you needs it as much as you do. Go on, tell him that he worked well, tell her that she is right in taking a firm stand, pick up that child and teach him a magic trip, or just help fix that little girl’s broken doll.

It always helps. The ball is now in your court.


Well, the Indian monsoon is almost here, and to cherish the mangoes one last time before they disappear for this season, I made the Mango flan. It is delicate yet robust, smooth but chunky and colorful yet natural.

Flan de mango

Presenting : Flan de Mango first brought to my notice by a friend Jasmine Gandhi on CAL

What you will need :

  • 1 cup mango puree
  • ½ can condensed milk
  • 2 tbsp cornflour
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup milk

What to do:

  1. Dissolve the corn flour in 2 tbsp milk so that there are no clumps. Then combine it with the rest of the milk, mango puree, condensed milk and eggs.
  2. Scoop the batter into four-six ramekins or metal molds.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 170C.
  4. Take a large shallow pan and fill it halfway with water. Put it in the oven while it is being preheated.
  5. Now place the four-six moulds in the pan with the warm water.
  6. Bake for 40 minutes till the flan is set.
  7. Let it cool at room temperature before putting in the fridge to cool for 2-3 hours.
  8. Before serving, release the flan from the sides of the mold with a knife and turn it upside down on a serving plate.

Mango flan single serving

Notes :

  • By placing the molds in a shallow pan filled water, we are essentially creating a water bath. This helps provide moisture while baking, so that the flan does not dry up, but still gets firm.
  • While un-molding, if it is unwilling to leave the sides, gently heat the mold on a gas flame before turning upside down.

Mango Cupcakes and what would it have been had I failed.

I have never failed an exam in my life.

Does that mean I am super brilliant? Heck no. That just means I haven’t taken up enough challenges in my life. It means that I have stayed in my comfort zone , doing things I have been sure about. I had even registered for some exams, and chickened out at the last-minute thinking I am not prepared, I am sure gonna fail. Hence there was no exam which I took and failed. But there is a major flaw in this system. It restricts my view of the world. Though not blatantly, but in my head it makes me think “Oh, I am quite cool”. And there goes that.

When I gave my Chartered Accountant (Indian CPA) exam, luckily for me, I cleared it all in the first attempt. But what if I had not? Would I have had the guts and the patience to take it again? or would I have chosen another career path? Would I have excelled far better at something else or become a sloppy worker, just going through the day? There is no way to know.

In school whenever anyone asked me “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I always answered heroic professions like a criminal lawyer, a journalist etc. And apparently, I answered with such conviction that even now when I meet someone from school, they are shocked to realize I did not pursue law or journalism. How and when accounting profession came in my life is kinda fuzzy in my head. I just registered for the first exam because I think everybody in my college was doing so, and cleared that exam, the next and the next and here I am.

Don’t get me wrong, I am mighty proud of my profession and the security a valued degree provides me. But as I said, it put me in a comfort zone I am reluctant to get out of. But sometimes, I get a strong urge in my heart to do something extremely challenging. Something which I have an equal chance of failing at. Something which will make me sit up and be scared about. Something which brings out the edge in me.

My brother is currently taking entrance exams to get into the MBA colleges. In one exam he scored 99 percentile, which means he is better than 99% of the population taking the exam. You would think that life is set right? No. The day and age where we live, the college admissions are closing at a whooping 99.4 percentile. How can you beat that? It is so fucking crazy, that I feel I am luckier having passed all that and be here. So there is no room to complain, but there is this feeling of insufficiency in my heart. It feels I can do much better, I need some push. To do more.

But I also feel there was a time and stage in life to do all that. Now I am 28, married for 3 years and wishing to take personal life to the “next stage”. Yeah, yeah I know that shouldn’t change anything, considering how liberal and encouraging my husband and in-laws are. But it does. That does not mean it is lost on me. May be I will do something which will (pleasantly) surprise the hell out of me. But for now, I wonder “what would I have done had I failed in the CA exam?”

Rutvika Charegaonkar

P.S : Do you ever wonder what you would have done, had you failed in one of life’s important stages and how different life would have been? Do write in the comments section, I would love to read.


Mango Cupcakes with Mango frosting:

Mangoes are back! Summer in India gets extremely hot, but it brings the luscious oh so sweet mangoes and hence I am not complaining. The color, the fragrance, and then the eclectic taste. Last year I made the no-bake mango cheesecake, and this year the vibrant super soft mango cupcakes.

Mango cupcakes

What you will need:

  • 1/2 cup salted butter
  • 3/4 cup castor sugar
  • 3/4 cup ripe mango puree (about 2 mangoes pureed)
  • 1 and 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoon milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
  • a pinch of salt if using unsalted butter

For the frosting:

  • 1 and 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • 2 tbsp softened butter (not melted)
  • 2-3 tbsp mango puree

What to do :

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F / 170C. Line muffin pans with paper.
  2. Beat butter till it is pale in color and then add the sugar. Beat till light and fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time and fully incorporate.
  4. In a separate bowl, take flour and baking powder. mix it well together, to prevent biting into a chunk of baking powder.
  5. Fold the dry ingredients with the butter mixture.
  6. Add the mango puree, grated ginger and milk. Continue whisking till it is fully homogeneous.
  7. Pour it into a pan and bake for 20 minutes till a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
  8. To make the frosting, mix together icing sugar, butter and mango puree. Add more icing sugar if you want stiffer frosting and more mango puree if a smoother frosting.
  9. Pipe the frosting on the cupcakes and eat. 🙂

mango cupcake platter

Notes :

  • The cupcakes stay well at room temperature in air-tight container for upto 4 days. If keeping in the refrigerator, slightly heat in the microwave before eating.
  • You can skip the ginger, but it brings out the mango flavor beautifully.
  • Canned mango puree can also be used to make the cupcakes.

Drool worthy mango cupcake