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!

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.


Goodbye Savory, Hello Sweet!

Three weeks of Café Savory and I’ve already come to the end. Though short in length, it was rich in content, leaving me with a new found confidence and understanding of the kitchen.

img_2516 To start the week off, we went over one of the most basic of meals, roast chicken. Simple yet flavorful, roast chicken has always been a go to meal when looking for a quick dinner solution. Our chef went over a few tips and tricks to help ensure our roasts achieved optimal texture and flavor. These included such things as stuffing the skin with butter, and tying the legs in towards the body to ensure heat and moisture retention. He also made sure we were liberal with our seasoning, as according to him you can “never over salt poultry.” We used the rendered fat and vegetables the chicken was roasted atop to make gravy. To accompany the dish, we made Duchess Potatoes, which were something akin to baked mashed potatoes.img_2539

From there, we moved onto fish. As we gathered around the bench for a demo at the beginning of class, our chef lugged a huge, whole striped bass onto the work space to demonstrate proper filleting technique. After removing one side of the fish, he portioned it out for us to use in our Fish Provencal, a sautéed fish tossed in a pan gravy of tomatoes, wine, butter, and olives. In addition to the fish, each team was tasked with producing rissoto, which we were given the freedom to flavor as we wished. My group chose to make mushroom.IMG_2556.JPG

After fish day, we moved onto international street foods. Each group was assigned to produce a variety of tasty finger foods from various countries. My group was tasked with the Chinese assortment, consisting of scallion pancakes, spicy Asian chicken, and Asian slaw. All of our food was put out for family meal for a delicious multi-cultural buffet. The next day expanded img_2573on this concept, with a full-blown international meal day. Rather than finger food, each group was required to produce multi dish meals, such as Pad Thai with Thai curry and chicken satay, and stir fry beef with vegetable dumplings and dipping sauce. My group was in charge of producing seafood paella with manchego fritters and romesco sauce. With such a huge selection of food, no one left hungry.

The final class was a breakfast for dinner theme, concluding with our final exam. In the few short weeks I was in the culinary kitchen, I managed to pick up way more than I expected to. In being taken out of my comfort zone, I have learned new skills that I will continue to develop throughout my life as I produce delicious meals for my family and me. As my transfer credits have allowed me to bypass the art class I was scheduled to take next, I am now on a sort of semi-vacation till the next block starts. Upon returning, I will be back in the bakeshops for Basic and Classical Cakes. I can’t wait!

Skills Exam 2!

Like lightning, the Skills 2 exam has come and gone. A stressful affair without a doubt, but I leave it behind gaining confidence in my abilities. It’s amazing to think how far we’ve all progressed. Our first class, we labored through the process of making chocolate chip cookies. After 14 weeks, simple techniques like that feel like second nature.

I set out for the kitchens, fueled by a pre test ritual of punk rock and caffeine. I had constructed my timeline and planned to stick to it hard. I entered the kitchen and my nerves soared, as the class before us ran late in their clean up, setting back our start time. I waited for my station to clear out before assembling my tool kit and making a break for the dish room. I grabbed my supplies and started my production.

I chose to start with my puff dough, as that would require the most hands on time throughout the day. I mised out my ingredients, made the dough, and rushed it to the refrigerator to firm up. I grabbed the butter and beat it into submission. By the time it had reached the proper temperature and shape, it was time to lock it into the dough and roll it out. I blasted my way through the first steps on my timeline, and managed to get out ahead of schedule. Next I started on the genoise, beating the eggs and setting them aside to stabilize. From here I went back to the puff dough, doing the second of the four folds. By the time I finished that up, I was back to the genoise, finishing the mixing of the batter and getting it in the oven. After the third puff dough fold, I moved onto the production of my crème anglaise, leaving it to cool in an ice bath after cooking to silky smooth perfection. It’s here I ran into a bit of a crisis. All the ice had been claimed by other people, leaving a mostly melted, soupy mess at the bottom of the bucket. I took what I could, but it wasn’t very effective at cooling down my product. Luckily, one of my classmates was kind enough to lend me a handful of cubes.

img_2162            After cleaning my station, I moved back to my puff dough, rolling it out and performing the final fold before wrapping it up for the second day of the exam. With time running down, I moved to my final item on my timeline, the Italian meringue butter cream. I managed to finish and get it wrapped up with only 10 minutes to spare before the kitchen had to be clean and we had to be out. As I scrambled to do the final clean up of my station and assist in the clean up of the kitchen, my crème anglaise finally came down to the proper temperature. Unfortunately, we could not get the kitchen clean in time, going 5 minutes over and losing the entire class 2 points for the first day.

Despite really only being half way done with the exam, I felt relieved after leaving the kitchen. Though there were some issues with my product, chiefly the disappointing height of (or lack there of) my genoise, I had managed to complete the majority of what was required for presentation at the end of the exam. All that stood ahead was the assembly of the cake, which consisted of the genoise and butter cream I had made, and the construction of the apple strip using the puff pastry. I went home and used the day off in between exam dates to construct my timeline for part 2 of the test.

The morning of the second part went much the same as first, coffee and rock n’ roll. Focused and pumped up, I made my way back to the kitchen to complete the exam. As the construction of the apple strip required just as much hands on time as the production of the puff dough it’s made of, I chose to start there. I rolled it out, trying to fit the supplied template, but somehow managing to over roll its length. It was useless and had to be tossed. Luckily, an apple strip only uses 1/3rd of a puff dough recipe, meaning I had a backup supply from the dough produced on the first day of the exam. I hastily grabbed another 1/3rd, rolled it out, and got it in the freezer to stiffen. I grabbed my butter cream and began the process of re-freshing it on the mixer. As it churned, I cut my genoise sponge into 3 layers and grabbed the simple syrup and raspberry jam I would need to brush each layer with.

I sped through the cake assembly, spreading a generous layer of cream on each layer and stacking them into an even tower. I lathered the outside with a thin, translucent layer of butter cream to lock the crumbs in and prevent them from blemishing the finish of the cake, and got it in the refrigerator to set. On the way back to my station, I grabbed my rolled out puff dough to cut to shape and continue assembly. After getting the base together, it was back in the fridge. I grabbed my cake to continue the frosting, completing another round of culinary musical chairs. I finished up the cake and set my sites on finishing the apple strip.

I sliced up my apples and fanned them out on the dough. I brushed them with butter img_2157and sprinkled them with a generous dusting of cinnamon. After egg washing the sides, it was straight to the ovens. I was done with my production early, though I must admit to taking some short cuts. I cleaned my station and hit the dish pit to assist with the load. Unfortunately, clean up ran about a minute overtime, leading to another point reduction, but I had done it. I completed Skills 2!

I left the kitchen feeling invigorated. Though I still have my showcase ahead of me, this really felt like the capstone to my baking fundamentals. I’m on a journey, and the first part of that journey is rapidly coming to a close. I’ll take all the lessons I’ve learned in this class and build upon them for the rest of my career to come.