Technique

The Pastry School Diaries: Whisky Business

Editorial Assistant Lauren Katz is enrolled in the part-time Pastry & Baking Arts program at New York City’s Institute of Culinary Education. Follow her each week as she shares her sweet experiences! 

 

When I began pastry school, I knew I was going to collect an extensive amount of information about the art of baking. From the importance of precisely weighing out each ingredient, to the exact technique of rolling a French baguette, to tips and tricks to perfectly frosting a three-layer cake, my curiosity has peaked every step of the way. What I hadn’t thought about, however, was taking all these skills and applying them practically, in a business.

 

My class’s petit fours. We concentrated very hard on making every cake the same exact size with the same exact design.

 
I wouldn’t go as far to say that I’ll walk out of the pastry program with an advanced understanding of how to run a bakery, but I’m definitely picking up some tidbits on what makes a bakery successful. For example, I never really paid attention to the way I cut a cake or tray of brownies, but when selling such a product, it is important to make sure every piece is exactly the same dimensions. Any piping work should look identical, all sides and surfaces should be completely flat, no crumbs in the frosting(!!!) and always use rubber gloves when handling a cooked product are just a few of the reminders that have become second nature to me.

 

Grenoblois, walnut cake with walnut buttercream and walnut ganache, and Symphonie, hazelnut cake with praline buttercream and chocolate ganache. We measured out 2” x 3” rectangles before slicing into the full cakes. 

 

Sour cherry chocolate crumb cake, attempted to cut into even shapes

 

I’ll be the first to admit it, I have yet to master the art of identical perfection, but I know it will come over time. Practice makes perfect, right?

 

Check back next week for more pastry tips!

The Pastry School Diaries: Patience is a Virtue

Editorial Assistant Lauren Katz is enrolled in the part-time Pastry & Baking Arts program at New York City’s Institute of Culinary Education. Follow her each week as she shares her sweet experiences! 

To this day, I am continually asked the question, “why pastry—why not culinary?” My go-to response is something along the lines of, “I’ve always wanted to delve deeper into the world of pastry arts. Since there is such a science behind it, I know I would benefit and learn more at pastry school than at culinary school. Besides, I don’t have the patience to learn how to chiffonade basil, dice an onion or poach an egg—I do that all the time at home already!”

 

Want to know what else I don’t have the patience for? Building, frosting and decorating a perfect cake.

 

We’ve transitioned from baking rustic desserts like crumb cake and muffins to more detail-oriented techniques: using a serrated knife to create a perfectly flat and round cake; Frosting in even layers that conceal any cake or crumbs; Piping perfect shells and rosettes around the edges to make a bakery-quality confection. As I’m getting my first taste (figuratively and literally!) of what our final project will be (creating a three-tiered celebration cake), I’m truly beginning to understand that patience is a virtue. Every step must be taken in a slow, methodical manner—you absolutely cannot rush the process. If you slice off too much of your cake, there’s not much you can do to remedy it, and while frosting can be spread and piped over again, there’s no hope in getting those little stray crumbs out (a cake baker’s worst nightmare).

 

So as I’m learning from my mistakes and trying new things, I’m thankful for this opportunity of trial and error. Am I set out to be the next Duff Goldman? Probably not. But I’m looking forward to seeing my skills in the cake department improve.

 

Check back next week for more pastry school fun!

The Pastry School Diaries: It’s Not Always a Cake Walk

Editorial Assistant Lauren Katz is enrolled in the part-time Pastry & Baking Arts program at New York City’s Institute of Culinary Education. Follow her each week as she shares her sweet experiences! 

As our second unit came to an end, I was happy to be leaving breads and doughs behind for something a little lighter: cakes!

 

 

I’m familiar with a wide variety of cakes: red velvet, carrot, angel food, flourless chocolate, pineapple upside down–you get the idea. But I had no idea how many different methods there were to making cakes, and that each method has a never-ending list of ways to tweak, flavor and recreate it into a brand new dessert.

 

 

Of course we’re beginning with the simplest methods and recipes, like the creaming method, where you beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy then alternate adding your wet and dry ingredients. We’ve made carrot cake, chocolate cake, crumb cake, muffins and more pound cake than I can even comprehend. But out of all the subjects we’ve covered so far, I’m most excited about what I’ve learned so far about cakes–and can’t wait to learn more!

 

Something I’ll definitely have to get used to, though, is how to tell when a cake is ready to come out of the oven. With breads and pastry dough, more color means more flavor. You can decide when your bread is done based on how dark you want the crust to be. That is not the case with cakes, as some treats shouldn’t be darker than a light bronze.  A few extra minutes in the oven may not seem like a big deal for a loaf of bread, but those same few minutes could dry out and potentially ruin a cake or muffin. It’s a race against the clock, but I’ve enjoyed the attention to detail, not to mention the final product very much!

 

Class is breaking for the holidays (yay!), so check back in 2016 for more sweet updates.

 

Gingerbread House Do’s and Don’ts

Make your gingerbread house look anything but cookie-cutter—even if you’re working from a store-bought kit—with tips from beth “Ginger Betty” Veneto, owner of Ginger Betty’s Bakery in Quincy, MA., and multiyear winner at the Boston Christmas Festival’s famed Gingerbread House Competition. Read on for her delicious do’s and definite don’ts.

 

 

DO

 

Make a mischievous Rudolph by coating a marshmallow in melted chocolate, adding pretzels for antlers, red candy for a nose and paper-doll sunglasses for an—ahem—clever disguise. Place him so he’s peeping out from behind a tree, thanks to a lollipop stick or skewer.

 

Transform ice cream cones into trees (coat with green frosting, then decorate with candy ornaments or sprinkles).

 

 

Build a fence out of pretzels. You can go the straight-up rod route, as we did here, or stand a series of traditional looped pretzels upside down. Use frosting as mortar.

 

Pile and scatter shredded coconut for sweet snowdrifts.

 

Gussy up your gingerbread men (or toy figures) with fun accessories. Licorice or any other candy that comes in strips makes for a cute muffler.

 

Place Peppermint Pattie candies or cookies as “pavers” to form a pathway to your house.

 

DON’T

 

Build on a rainy day or store your house in the fridge. Under these conditions, moisture can seep in a make the walls wilt.

 

Start decorating the house too soon. The frosting that holds the structural elements together should be 100 percent dry first. Every house is different, but give yours at least eight hours to set.

 

Now that you know how to build the gingerbread house of your dreams, find out how you can win $2,000 from Trulia!

The Pastry School Diaries: A Sweet Snack Attack

Editorial Assistant Lauren Katz is enrolled in the part-time Pastry & Baking Arts program at New York City’s Institute of Culinary Education. Follow her each week as she shares her sweet experiences! 

 

After spending five rigorous days mixing, folding, rolling, shaping and baking puff pastry, it’s safe to say I’m very relieved that this section of the curriculum is over. Puff pastry is incredibly versatile in how you flavor and shape it, and although there are plenty of written recipes and formulas to make items such as palmiers, mille feuille and—my favorite—cheese straws, the dough lends itself to the imagination very well.

 

My favorite part, however, about experimenting with a slew of ingredients, spices and herbs is a little unexpected for a pastry program: snack time!

 

In culinary programs, the students are surrounded by scraps and plates of food that are actually edible: some chopped vegetable here, a chicken entree there–you get the idea. However in pastry, we are mostly working with raw ingredients that can’t be consumed, like sugar, flour, eggs and butter. This was the case for our entire bread unit and during most days of my intro unit, until the final product was out of the oven. But I’ve found a way to wrangle all of the ingredients going into our dough creations and turn them into a delicious mid-class snack. I’ve also discovered some awesome flavor combinations on the way! For example:

I dipped fresh fruit into extra lemon curd from our fruit tartlets. I also took a container of the curd home and added a spoonful into Greek yogurt. It adds the perfect amount of sweet-tartness to my breakfast or snack!

 

To make apple tarts, we peel and thinly slice multiple apples. Since the apples add to the aesthetic of the tart, we only use the prettiest slices. Can you guess where the ugly ones end up?

These puff pastry braids were coated in parmesan cheese and paprika. The extra shards of parmesan make for a delicious pairing with my apple slices!

 

Finally, I’ve found my new favorite garnish or flavor profile for any sweet dough: a mixture of sugar, cinnamon, cardamom and ginger went into these palmiers. I am calling them “a chai’s best friend.”

Check back next week for more sweet tips!

Our 10 Best-Ever Cooking Tips

We’ve given hundreds of helpful cooking tips over the last 10 years, but we must admit, we have some favorites. We’ve hand-selected our best tip from every year of the magazine that we still use today. How many do you have in your cooking rotation?

 

1. When you’re done juicing lemons, use them to wipe down a cutting board to disinfect it and make it smell nice.

 

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The Pastry School Diaries: Crust is a Must

Editorial Assistant Lauren Katz is enrolled in the part-time Pastry & Baking Arts program at New York City’s Institute of Culinary Education. Follow her each week as she shares her sweet experiences! 

 

This was an especially production-heavy week, as we made five different doughs and about 20 filled tarts, pies and shells. What I’m learning–and loving–about the more rustic desserts is that they’re supposed to be imperfect. The filling itself is more of a trial and error process than a science. For example, we made a delicious plum galette, despite the fact that plums aren’t in season. To remedy this problem, we sliced the plums very thin and roasted them with lots of delicious flavor additions, like ginger and lemon zest.

 

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The Pastry School Diaries: Around the World in One Class

Editorial Assistant Lauren Katz is enrolled in the part-time Pastry & Baking Arts program at New York City’s Institute of Culinary Education. Follow her each week as she shares her sweet experiences! 

 

My taste buds traveled to the American South and across the pond all in the same day, as we learned how to make biscuits and scones. I had no idea I would enjoy making these doughs as much as I did, but after learning how simple, versatile and surprisingly stress-relieving the technique is, I already have plans to try it at home.

 

Want to know the differences between scone dough and biscuit dough? For both doughs, you combine your dry ingredients in a bowl, add your cold butter and work it down with your hands into small pieces. This can take quite a while, but the motion and texture of it feels like you’re in an edible zen garden. Very relaxing after a long day! Next, add your liquid and work the dough until it is just combined.

When making scones, you use the mealy dough method, while biscuits use the flaky dough method. The mealy method means that while breaking down the butter into the dry ingredients, you need to keep working it until there is no butter apparent. In the flaky method, you only have to work the butter down until it is the size of a hazelnut.


Scones typically contain sugar and other sweet ingredients like dried fruit or chocolate, while biscuits are typically savory.

Biscuits with sharp cheddar cheese and chives

The traditional biscuit shape is round while scones are made triangular by forming large discs and slicing wedges before baking.

 

Scones are known to be served with clotted cream, jam and tea, while biscuits can be served with butter, honey and ham.

Scones with cornmeal, lemon zest and dried cherries

Both are equally delicious and easy to make. It just depends on what part of the world you want to be in!

Stay tuned for more sweet dough lessons next week!

The Pastry School Diaries: It’s the Season for Layers

Editorial Assistant Lauren Katz is enrolled in the part-time Pastry & Baking Arts program at New York City’s Institute of Culinary Education. Follow her each week as she shares her sweet experiences! 

 

Remember last week when I told you we prepped the dough for croissants and danishes? Well, the day finally arrived when we got to roll out, form, fill, bake–and devour–the finished product. These two pastries are definitely a labor of love. They are made from a laminate dough, which is dough that has been covered with a layer of butter, folded over itself, rolled out and repeated twice more. This process forms paper-thin alternating layers of dough and butter, resulting in that sinfully delicious, flaky texture that we have known to associate with French pastries. What makes a danish different from a croissant is two key ingredients: eggs, which create a more cake-like texture, and cardamom, a popular spice in Scandinavian baking.

 

Almond croissants

 

What I liked about making croissants and danishes is the variety and liberty we had in both shape and filling. We made four types of croissant: plain, almond, chocolate and ham and cheese. For the danishes, fillings included pastry cream, frangipane (an almond filling), various fruits, a ricotta-raisin mixture and pureed prunes. We had a variety of shapes to experiment with as well.

 

Ham & cheese croissant

Braided Danish filled with ricotta, raisins and poached pineapple

 

A variety of bear claw, pinwheel and envelope Danishes

 

I’m not sure I would try my hand at making these at home quite yet, but I’m glad I learned the process. If you do, however, have the desire, time and, most importantly, counter space to try making laminate dough at home, here are my “things they only tell you in pastry school” tips:

1. When making, folding and rolling out your dough, keep everything as cold as possible. The butter cannot melt, or else you won’t get those beautiful air pockets that we all know and love about croissants.

2. Use a ruler to measure out the dough. Each pastry should be roughly the same exact size, which allows for uniform baking time (and no fighting over the biggest one!).

3. When working with liquid fillings, don’t overdo it. The filling is just going to spill out during baking.

4. When working with solid fillings, like ham and cheese, you can go a little heavier. Because no one wants a ham-less ham and cheese croissant.

5. Be sure to egg wash the ends of your dough. Seal it tightly so your filling doesn’t fall out and your pastry maintains its shape.

6. Got leftovers? Wrap them in a layer of plastic wrap, followed by a layer of tinfoil and stick them in the freezer. They will thaw looking as perfect as they did when they were hot out of the oven!

Check back next week for more baking tips!

The Pastry School Diaries: Bready, Set, Dough!

Editorial Assistant Lauren Katz is enrolled in the part-time Pastry & Baking Arts program at New York City’s Institute of Culinary Education. Follow her each week as she shares her sweet experiences!

 

It was a short week of classes this week because of Columbus Day, and I was greeted on Tuesday night with our second midterm. While each final exam includes a written and practical element, the midterms are only written. It covered all of the bread baking basics, and I’m feeling quite confident about how I did!

 

The remainder of class was spent making and rolling out croissant dough (stay tuned for next week when we bake them!) and baking various types of brioche.

Pain au Raisin

Brioche loaf sprinkled with decorating sugar

Chocolate brioche loaf sprinkled with a mixture of granulated and light brown sugar

 

Although brioche and croissant baking is a fairly different process than that of regular breads, this entire unit has made me rethink my pastry career aspirations. In the beginning, I was so excited to learn–and fall in love with–the bread baking technique. I still am learning something new in every lesson, but while I originally imagined finishing this unit with an aspiration to open the next Balthazar, I am now starting to think my passion lies somewhere else. Maybe it’s in our third module, cakes, fillings and icings. Or maybe my passion lies in the basics, like custards, meringues and ice cream. Luckily, being only a third of the way through my program, I have plenty of time to decide!

 

Check back next week for a croissant update!