Ritz Module 1: Chocolate Heaven
Tomorrow I wake up and am once again a student. Gone are the hours of leisure and laziness during the holidays to be replaced with hard work and creativity.
It will not be easy!
Today was a new beginning, and so, I got a new haircut.
Waking up this morning somehow things felt different.
I felt at completely at home in Paris, wandering the streets felt great. I was a local, except the fluent French.
I meet old friends outside Ecole Ritz Escoffier on Rue Cambon ready for the challenge ahead for the next month!
After a quick tour we put on our new uniforms and joined the class.
We celebrated with the other students as they completed their first level training in the “Initiation to the Art of French Pastry” – large glasses of champagne were enjoyed by all but with 3 hours of class ahead we were all very cautious with the amount we drank.
Four of the students were continuing with the second level of “Advanced French Pastry Training” and two of us were new having recently defected from our old institution after completing our Basic Certificates.
I quickly realised this would be a very different experience both in baking and intellectually.
More like a real bakery or pastry kitchen we work in a cooperative environment – each tackling individual elements of the desserts and handling multiple desserts at a time!
We have to think ahead, plan, prepare in advance, bake and store.
We also have taken our techniques to the next level – the cakes are more complex, the assembly more involved and the presentation more modern.
We don’t complete a cake every day – we work on up to 6 desserts at a time – and so the way I present our learning and our final products will change accordingly.
This is a summary of two and a half days of bliss and ultimate decadence devoted to the glory of Chocolate.
I can comfortably say that most of the world loves chocolate – but most just think of chocolate as that bar of milk chocolate you buy from the supermarket.
Until recently I never quite fully appreciated that chocolate is as complex as an aged wine or a single origin coffee.
Cocoa Beans have for centuries been a valuable commodity which has been the subject of brutal civil wars in the time of the Maya, and empire making wealth in the time of the trading companies. It has been lauded by emperors and kings for centuries and is now the subject of intense debate and a renaissance in the hands of skilled pastry chefs.
Chocolate is an art form; a delicacy which when treated to the highest standards of production can be as unique as a glass of wine.
Warm tones of dried fruits, bitterness and woodiness, roasted nuts and caramelized sugars, creaminess and velvety textures are all individually perceptible at the initial bite and melt, or as intense lingering flavour.
At the school we are absolutely spoilt by a cupboard filled with 3kg bags of Les Grands Crus Couverture Chocolate by Valrhona.
We regularly use large quantities of the most delicious chocolates including pure origin Manjari 64%, Caraïbe 66% and Guanaja 70% from the classic dark chocolate range. We also get to use some unique creations from Valrhona’s master chocolatiers including Jivara 40% Milk Chocolate, Ivoire 35% White Chocolate, Caramelia strongly flavoured caramel chocolate, and a perfectly balanced Equitoriale Noire and Extra Noire each of them for special purposes which are tailored to our desserts down to the most amazing flavour combinations.
These classes were dedicated to exploring chocolate in its different forms to the best of our creativity. We made mousses, glazes, sponges, ganaches, nougatine, puff pastry and tempered decorations all to highlight its unique characteristics.
After Thursday, I left Rue Cambon on a high with my first two cakes from Ecole Ritz Escoffier and was so proud. Luckily a friend was in the neighbourhood so we conspired to eat our way through the cakes at the local café under my apartment block. The owner was absolutely lovely and so welcoming, after a little French introduction and some international sign language, we borrowed his knife and made the first cuts into my cakes. Enjoyed with a cup of tea we ate a slice of the Chocolate and Raspberry Log Cake and the Chocolate Tart, then we enjoyed a leisurely walk back to St Germain des Pres.
And so after two and a half days we finished at 6:30pm on a Friday and I left the esteemed basement of the Ritz with 10 cakes and a box of incredible caramel parfait.
But before leaving the kitchens after my first week at Ecole Ritz Escoffier the class ended with a celebration and degustation.
The chefs desserts where displayed on a gold tablecloth and scattered with leftover tempered chocolate leaves.
We were spoilt with yet another glass of champagne this time to celebrate confirmation that the four students had successfully graduated their first level and passed their practical exam – we cheered as they each collected their certificates.
Degustation is a difficult job which we take very seriously – it is hard to eat great desserts and then discuss their relative successes and to drink it with a glass of champagne!
And so for your enjoyment here are photos of my first 7 creations – I was amazed at just how far I have come…
The first was a Chocolate and Raspberry Log Cake – which had a moist chocolate cake laced with almonds, pistachios, raspberries and chopped chocolate and then covered with a bittersweet chocolate ganache and incredibly crisp and shiny chocolate glaze.
The second was a wickedly soft and gooey set chocolate cream tart covered in a smooth chocolate glaze and adorned with the most awesome crisp crushed cocoa bean nougatine.
The third was an Ebony Apricot Square which consisted of consecutive layers of chocolate sacher sponge, apricot chocolate ganache, chocolate ganache and a perfectly set layer of apricot marmelade all covered with chocolate glaze and hand-made chocolate pieces.
The weirdest of the bunch and sadly also probably my weakest outcome was the traditional Pomme de Pin – literally a chocolate mousse cake atop of almond sponge shaped and disguised as a pine cone with tempered chocolate leaves set into the mouse in a radiating design.
We ventured into the unknown territory of flavoured puff pastry hand-making chocolate puff pastry by infusing the butter with cocoa powder before making our thousand layers which was also new in that I had as yet not made the famed French dessert by hand, especially with the incredible orange cream.
The Maracaibo could be described as death by chocolate and blackcurrants – it was the richest most deadly chocolate cake with three layers of chocolate sponge imbibed with crème de cassis separated by extra bitter chocolate ganache which has been completely enriched with blackcurrant puree, cassis liqueur and poached blackcurrants then encased in more ganache and the same smooth and glossy chocolate ganache.
But the clear winner for the module and most inspired creation was the third dessert – a Milk Chocolate Caramel and Earl Grey Tea Dome – which consisted of an almond genoise, and three enlarging domes of milk chocolate and earl grey mousse, encased in a thick layer of caramel mousse and then a shiny caramel glaze with candied roasted hazelnuts.
Despite being involved, complex and a lot of work, this will definitely come out at very special occasions and in simplified versions used to make small verrines to savour. The mousse was smooth, creamy and light and the earl grey and milk chocolate mousse was a revelation!
It was the greatest introduction to my new school and I can’t wait for the next module which starts on Monday…
I am so happy right now!