March 30th, day #2 we all piled back into the kitchen at noon. There was to be no more two hour pre-amble in the demonstration kitchen. Chef Hervé, would demonstrate what we needed to accomplish, we would take notes and then head back to our stations to attempt what he had demonstrated.
I could tell from the looks on some of the other ladies faces, I was not alone in feeling tired both mentally and physically. We all persevered though and once we were at work the jitters faded and bit by bit a little confidence returned. Under Chef Hervés watchful, interested eye we all learned how to roll rectangles and squares. It is tricky, prior to Cordon Bleu my pastry always looked like Greenland when it was supposed to look like a circle. We learned how to cut pastry properly with a swift, decisive cut down through the pâton, no knife dragging please, and paint with egg glaze. Chef Hervé would playfully tease us while we toiled “Oh my God, Chef we measure, learn geometry, cut and now paint. It is grade school.” We all laughed and the nerves relaxed. Chef Hervé passed around chocoate sticks made by the Belgian chocolate company Callebaut for our pain au chocolate. Sounds of pure pleasure echoed throughout the kitchen as we sampled the chocolate as it melted into a creamy bittersweet pool on the tongue.
March 31, day #3. We had all settled into the swing of things and we all picked up momentum. Chef Hervé is an amazing teacher, exact, informative, interesting and interested in seeing his students succeed. We all clued into this early on as he explained not only the techniques for Viennoiserie but some history. I opened my blog piece on the history of the croissant, most of that information came from Chef. We were riveted and hungry for everything he could teach us. When Chef Hervé would speak there was dead silence in the room except for the furious scratching of pencils on paper. He would talk for two minutes and an epoch of knowledge and wisdom would tumble into our waiting sponge like ears.
On this day we explored different shapes and fillings for Danish. We also mixed and completed a couple of turns on a paton for puff pastry to be completed the following day. The difference between a détrempe for croissants and that of puff pastry is that croissants require yeast, puff pastry does not. Croissants require three turns which results in 27 layers of butter. The puff pastry we prepared in class requires 6 turns which results in 729 layers of butter.
One lady asked about Kouign Amann (kooeen ahman) a specialty from Brittany, known for their butter. Translated literally it means butter cake. It is a laminated dough but with butter and sugar, so that when it cooks in a muffin tray a crackly dark caramel just a shade shy of burnt forms on the bottom of the pastry. Chef and I were chatting about children, Paris and marrons glacé while waiting for the kouign amann to bake. He gave me fair warning that in his house when there is kouign amann there is war between his children. He also told me I was quick in cutting and folding my pastries and that he liked that. I am pretty sure I beamed, but could not have felt prouder than at that moment. When the pastries were baked and we sampled it was pure heaven, crunchy, sweet, addictive, like a Liege waffle but not. With vanilla ice cream or whipped cream to soft peaks they are bliss. When I returned home that evening stoked about introducing something French and new that none of our family had ever tried I grinned to myself because there was war between them over this pastry. To this day when I ask Chris what I should make he always asks for Kouignettes.
April 1, day #4 and last day. We had all come full circle, not nervous anymore in the kitchen, moving and working with more speed and confidence. We had also become friends. There was laughter, and a kinship had developed. Our last day we worked on puff pastry and baked off kouglof.
While I was bent over and taking the Kouglof out of the oven, someone moved behind me unexpectedly and I dropped mine on the floor. I was gutted and didn’t want anyone to see what had happened, especially Chef. As an aside, Julia Child did this but with a chicken once. Yes, it was an accident but I was was looking forward to taking it home to my husband as it is one of his favourite breakfast items when we travel to Paris. There are no tears in pastry, but I wanted to cry. The lady on my left, Cynthia, saw what had happened and without so much as a blink of an eye, she offered to share hers with me. We broke bread together that afternoon in a deeper meaning of the phrase and we remain good friends to this day.
Our last order of business before the course was over was puff pastry. Aside from the croissants and the Kouign Amann, I enjoyed making these pastries the most. In a quiet moment I asked Chef Hervé if apple turnovers were the same as Chausson aux Pommes and they are except the shape is a slipper shape instead of a square turned triangle. To my delight Chef announced we would make Chaussons for “La fille de Paris”, his nickname for me on account of my Paris aprons. My chest swelled with pride and joy.
We finished the four day course with a mini presentation of our certificates and the affiliate restaurant Signature’s, signature drink called the Champs Élysées. We all took selfies, pictures, exchanged e-mail addresses helped each other get packed up. And, it was done.
It has taken me almost a year to write this piece and in that time I have taken 8 other short courses. Viennoiserie is the course I enjoyed most, it was the most difficult and also the one that helped me to decide that completing the Boulangerie program in early 2018 is a life goal my family will help me to accomplish. When I walk through the heavy door of the entrance to the school, I feel like it is home and there is no place I would rather be learning. I could not have asked for a better introduction to the world of Le Cordon Bleu than through Viennoiserie with Chef Hervé and my schoolmates. I am hungry for more. Thank you Chef!!
I titled this blog piece Viennoiserie at le Cordon Bleu and radical change. Why the radical change? The radical change took place in me, since taking the course I have made new friends, I stand a little taller and with my shoulders squared. I respect myself in a way I didn’t before and for the first time in 48 years on this planet I know what I want to do with my life. For me this is radical and it makes me very happy indeed.
Bisous et bon appétit!