The Art Of Decor

IMG_4529The ticking on of time is something that looms heavy in the bakery. If you mix something too long, you ruin it. If you bake something too long, you ruin it. If you try to crank up the heat on the stove, chances are you’ll ruin it. And above all else, if you miss a deadline, you’ll ruin it. If you need to have a wedding cake somewhere at a certain time you better make it or you’re finished. In a business that’s based largely on word of mouth, one negative experience could potentially cost you a dozen clients.


IMG_4554I’ve now completed my course in Confections and Special Occasion Cakes and will be starting up Chocolates and Confections this week (yay!). As a chocoholic, I’d be surprised if anything could sway my opinion towards the negative in that class, but I can’t say the same for Confectionary Arts and Special Occasion Cakes. It wasn’t a bad class by any means. The Chef was awesome, and I am proud of the projects I produced.


This second “year” of school, though young, is definitely more specialized than the first. Where as year one, each class sort of built on to the previous one and focused on baking and production, year two is, at this point, all about new and unfamiliar mediums and techniques. If everything continues as it has so far, this is where you really start to find your niche.


FullSizeRenderIn terms of the Confectionary and Special Occasion Cakes class, I didn’t really take to it. Building the large cakes was fun, and utilizing the available decorations to enhance the products was awesome, but taking the time to make little detailed decorations like gum paste flowers felt like a chore. It takes up so much time for such a little detail I find it hard to justify not utilizing pre made décor for cakes. It’s very interesting learning the proper construction techniques of these pieces, but I don’t see myself using them very frequently in the future. It certainly wasn’t what I would consider fun, but others in the class loved and excelled at it.


FullSizeRender-1Towards the end of the class we made large wedding cakes with a partner, which allowed us to divide the labor and handle different aspects of the production. While I was in charge of the larger blanket aspects of the cake such as fondant and royal icing, my partner volunteered to take on the task of the gum paste decor, which she completed with dazzling results. This division allowed us to complete a breathtaking final product, which we were proud to display in the class.


When it came to the individual tiered cakes, we were given free range to decorate as we pleased. This allowed us to kind of work with the techniques we felt most comfortable with in the class, ensuring our cakes turned out the best they could be. I chose to focus on chocolate and fondant work, and based my decor on the film Black Swan (something I had been planning to do since learning of this class on my first tour of the school a few years back.)



Although it wasn’t my favorite class I have taken at The Culinary, I appreciate the experience and the knowledge I walked away with. Next up is Chocolates class and I cant be any more excited! Time to bring it!

Hey There! I’m Back!

IMG_4158It’s true what they say about time seeming to move faster the older you get. My stay at The CIA still feels fresh and new, yet I’m more than halfway through, well on my way to graduating.

I’ve now completed my externship, something that’s hyped up to be one of the biggest parts of my education. Five months gone in the blink of an eye, and a week into the first class of what counts as my second “year” of school.

FullSizeRender-1In the four months I spent off campus, I can honestly say I picked up more than I did in the seven on. That’s not saying anything negative about the school, just the difference between producing in a learning environment vs. practical application. I also have to give credit where it’s due. Chef Steenman of La Tulipe Desserts, the bakery that was kind enough to take me on as an intern, is an absolute master. Equipped for every situation, he taught me as much as he could in the time I spent under his tutelage. I was able to dabble in a huge variety of pastries, chocolates, cakes, mousses, custards, and creams. I also was incredibly lucky, as I have heard from numerous others that their experiences off campus were not as positive as mine.

FullSizeRenderNow back on campus, I feel a bit like a stranger getting back into the old routine. I’ve started my Confectionery and Classical Cakes Class, making chocolate and pulled sugar showpieces. It’s new information, but the pace of a class vs. professional production is a bit jarring. I’m sure I’ll fall back into the groove, and have loads of cool things to post about. Till then, I’ll be in the bakeshops


More Bread

Breads is now fully under way, and we’ve fallen into our groove. Production is running smoother, and more efficient as we bake our way through crusty loaves and flakey treats.

fullsizerenderThe week started with my group producing the challah dough, which we braided into miniature (as well as much much larger)  versions of what we had done the week before. Challah is an enriched dough, meaning that in addition to the lean dough ingredients (flour, water, salt, and yeast,) there are fats and oils. In this case, the bread contains a large quantity of eggs and vegetable oil, as well as sugar and honey, all coming together to form thtat signature (and delicious) dense and doughy texture we know challah to have.

IMG_3322-1.JPG    In class we have rotating duties. Each day, one group has the responsibility of baking off the bread we produce. My group had the “pleasure” this week, which was a bit of a chaotic day. Since the bread we make goes out to the restaurants and dining halls, there is a tight deadline we have to make. That makes the oven team pretty much the most important job there is. It’s much faster paced than the rest of the class operates at, which can seem a bit jarring, especially when you’re held to knowing the proper arrangement of items in the oven without ever having baked them before. We got through it though, and will hopefully be better prepared for next week, when we have to do it again.

img_3343 We also took our work to the sweeter side of things this week, making coffee cake and pastry cream/blueberry/brioche braids. They may not be as impressive as some of the things we baked up in IPP, but they’re just as tasty.

This upcoming week will be the final week of Breads, as well as the final week of school before I leave for externship. I’m excited for both, as I head on to new ventures and delve deeper into the baking and pastry world.


Gluten Is Good

Easing back into the bakeshop after our winter holiday proved easier than expected, as I moved into the truly zen Breads class. Unlike IPP, which proved to be an amped up version of our Cakes and Techniques classes, Breads is almost as different and unfamiliar as Café Savory was. It is a completely different world, far away from the sugary sweet cakes and cookies.

img_3289Where we had previously relied mostly on chemical and physical leavening, bread utilizes biological leavening in the form of yeast. It’s alive and takes time, to work, setting a pace for the class that is the complete opposite of what we have previously experienced. Also different was that unlike previous classes where everyone made the same things as each other each day, our teams are on a rotating schedule of production. Each group makes a variety of different things each day that we will all have the opportunity to make by the end of the class.

IMG_3300.JPGMy group started our week off (and really ended it as well due to the shortened nature) with sour dough, soft rolls, and Danish dough. We worked in large batches, mixing, shaping, and baking off bread that eventually found its way onto the tables of the campus’s three restaurants. Although we were assigned these specific items to make, we were able to get our hands in everything, helping out other groups with items such as croissants, and delicious challah. It’s pretty much exactly like playing with play dough, only with the added benefit of being able to eat it when you’re done.

So far, I am falling in love with breads, and can’t wait to try out some of the other recipes my group will be making in the coming days.


One To Go

These past few weeks have been a whirlwind of excitement and hard work. I’ve completed IPP, passed my practical, and am now recharging, as I enjoy my winter vacation.

In my last entry, I recounted my feeling of being hit by the barreling locomotive that is IPP (Individual Production Pastry). Though flattened like a pancake, it was certainly a necessary and beneficial experience that simulates what we are likely to find in the field. A product is a reflection of a baker, and in a kitchen, we are extensions of the chef. It is our responsibility to produce items the chef is proud to put their name on. This means it is imperative to follow their directions to the letter. This was a fact we were reminded of over and over again.

fullsizerender-1  Due to where this class fell for us in the year, our calendar was a bit unconventional. Rather than have a full 15 days of class, the winter vacation shortened our block to 13 days. Two of these days were devoted to the practical, meaning we only had 11 days of actual classes. That certainly didn’t prevent us from learning though, as we crammed topics together and produced exquisite works of edible art, the most impressive, in my opinion, being the petit gateau.

fullsizerender-2    Each group was assigned a mousse and insert to produce, which were assembled in a variety of molds, creating these gorgeous geometric desserts that are so perfect looking it almost feels wrong to eat them. My class partnered with the contemporary cakes class to produce a large selection of miniature petit gateau (or perhaps petit petit gateau) to be served at the Bachelor’s graduation. We actually wound up serving them during the reception, fielding questions from inquisitive (and ravenous) guests. It was my first experience with front of house work, and one of many things I am happy to have done in this class. All around, it was difficult but informative, strenuous but rewarding. I learned a lot about precision and artistry, and in retrospect, it will probably be one of the most important classes I take at The CIA.

img_3098 The practical exam which took up the last 2 days of the second week of class, proved to be one of the most stressful tests I have ever taken. Every little detail of every item needed to be taken into account. If the fondant on your éclairs dripped down the side, fail. If you lacked chocolate on the top of your cake, fail. Though I sort of feel like I fell with style through the whole thing, I, along with a handful of my classmates, managed to pass on the first try.

With the stress of the practical out of the way, I’m off to 2.5 weeks of bread and then externship. It has been a crazy year, but it has gone by in a flash. There’s many more exciting things to come.

Yes Chef!

If I were to choose an analogy to describe my time at The CIA thus far, I would compare it to a rollercoaster. Techniques was the slow, steady climb to the top, Café Savory and Basic and Classical Cakes were the straight away at the peak, and Individual Production Pastry is the gut sucking, terror inducing plunge to the bottom.

This point in the program is where you are either made or broken. It’s much more intense than previous classes and you are held to far higher expectations. Walking in on the first day was a bit like the opening scene of “Saving Private Ryan.” The doors of the bakeshop opened to all out pastry warfare. Our habits of talking through class and meandering through production were instantly admonished as our new chef’s expectations were laid out for us preceding production. It’s a class that operates as if it were a professional bakeshop, meaning professional standards apply. As chef laid out in her presentation, unlike other classes where our products would be thrown in the blue bin (food waste) at the end of the night, everything we make was to be served at events at the school. This means they all needed to be absolutely perfect.

img_2992We started the week by making a variety of different opera cakes and chocolate mousse cakes. My team was responsible for a mousse cake consisting of chocolate decadence (a dense brownie like cake), and chocolate mousse. The other teams made either coffee, pistachio, hazelnut, or gingerbread operas. This first day was spent on production of the product, while the second day was spent on décor and portioning. This seems to be the typical schedule for the class, as it remained consistent through the rest of the week’s productions.

IMG_3006.JPG     As the week progressed, we used the pate a choux recipe we learned in Techniques in new exciting ways, as we piped and filled Paris Breasts, Religieuse, and much more complex variations of éclairs.

The week concluded with the production of components for verrines, a parfait like layered cream dessert assembled in a glass. As always, we are all making different flavors, mine being comprised of coconut tapioca, diced pineapple, and lime curd. It’s sure to be a delicious combination.

IPP is incredibly intense, sometimes overwhelmingly so. Though it will be both IMG_3035.JPGmentally and physically draining, I am sure I will learn a lot of valuable information that will help me while I’m out on externship. This upcoming week will be exceedingly stressful as I will be taking my second term practical, a comprehensive exam I must pass in order to go out on externship. Although I am prepared, I will still be nervous heading in. Fingers crossed I’ll have some good news to share in next week’s post.

Piece Of Cake

After weeks of being out of the bakeshop, we’ve finally dusted off our rolling pins and gotten back to work. This week marked the start of our 3 week course in basic and classical cakes. This class is a sort of review-plus of our culinary techniques class, taking what we learned and building upon it. As of now, it pertains mostly to decorating, but I’m sure we’ll be adding to our repertoire of production techniques in the coming weeks.

After a brief rundown of the class and review of some basic techniques, we launched img_2846right into production. The first items of the week were raspberry cheesecakes and a variety of tarts. The cheesecakes were more like a warm up, acting as a sort of refresher for the motions of the bakeshop. They were a simple production with a delicious result. For the tarts we utilized the creaming method as we had done previously with cookies and pound cake. We made 1.2.3. cookie dough, or pate sucree as it is also known, which was rolled out and molded into tart pans. Each group was responsible for a single kind of tart. These included, apple, fresh fruit, pear, plum, and img_2844walnut varieties. My group produced the Hawaii tart, which consisted of a thick layer of caramel and macadamia nuts, covered in a thin layer of Kaluha ganache. As is the norm for our productions from this point forward, our desserts were sliced up and served to students dining in Farquharson Hall for dessert.

After cheesecakes and tarts, we moved onto layer cakes, starting with a refresher of the vanilla butter cream cake we had been tested on in our baking techniques class. Despite everyone in the class being required to produce their own cakes, we were only allowed to make one recipe of buttercream per group. This supplied each person with half the amount we had previously been allowed to use. To me, this seemed like an impossible task, as I had very nearly run out of butter cream when frosting my cake in the previous class. Amazingly, after watching our chef’s demo, I realized just how much ingredient I had been wasting. In the food industry, product is money. Learning how to properly assemble this showed me I was throwing away what would equate to half my profits. Everyone managed to frost their cakes, though the combination of us being out of practice and utilizing new techniques lead to some less than desirable results. At the end of our class, we were asked to do a self critique of our cakes. If we deemed them sellable, they would be served in Farquharson hall the next day, If not, they would go in the blue bin (food waste). There were no buttercream cakes to serve for Farquharson the next day.

img_2861Chef assured us that this happens with every class, and that the next day’s
production, a mocha butter cream, would be 100% better. Needless to say, he was right. Although my cake was still rough around the edges, I definitely felt more comfortable with the motions. At the end of the day, our class of 19 had 19 sellable cakes to be sliced up and served.

Moving on from buttercream, we tackled a slightly different beast, frosting with whipped cream. This technique would be utilized in the construction of Black Forrest Tort, a German classic consisting of Kirschwasser soaked img_2870chocolate cake layers, cherries, and whipped cream. The frosting technique was the same, and chef informed us that some would find it easier to work with it while others would find it more difficult. I fell into the “more difficult” school of thought. Although whipped cream is easier to spread, It deflates as you work it, making it near impossible to correct mistakes.

Week one concluded with carrot cake frosted in cream cheese frosting and topped with marzipan carrots. Next week moves away from the standard frosting procedure as we head into mousses and creams. The program has really kicked off now and I can’t wait to get back into the kitchen next week for some pre Thanksgiving fun. Till then, I’ll be practicing.