Baking

The Pastry School Diaries: A Bittersweet Goodbye

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 started school back in July, I honestly couldn’t even picture what my last few classes would look like. I couldn’t imagine walking into a kitchen, following a recipe, asking questions and exploring my culinary strengths and weaknesses with the confidence that I’ve developed. I felt so unsure of the relationships I’d develop with my classmates and instructors, and I definitely didn’t think I would be capable to design, bake and decorate a two-tiered celebration cake all on my own. Now that the day is finally approaching, I’ve taken great pleasure in looking back at my growth along the way.

 

Gum paste bases for roses, cala lilies and mimosas

 

We’ve started making preliminary plans and accessories for our cakes. I submitted my first draft of what I hope my cake to look like, and I’ve spent most of my time in class working on gum paste roses. My cake is going to be draped in roses, so you can imagine I have a lot of work ahead of me.

 

My very rough sketch of what I hope my cake to look like

 

Out of all the unknowns that existed when I started school, I think the biggest was where I’d be completing my externship. Well, that day has finally arrived too, and I’ve happily accepted a placement in a test kitchen. I’ll be testing both savory and sweet recipes and continuing to learn more about life as a chef. I’m excited for a new phase in my culinary journey, but I know how much I’m going to miss this chapter of my life.

 

My classmates and me posing with our chocolate sculptures. So happy!

So as I close the book on the Pastry School Diaries, I want to thank you all for reading and letting me share this experience with you. I hope you’ve learned something along the way, and that if you’ve ever considered going back to school (whether it’s culinary school, business school or something completely different), my journey has pushed you just a little further to do so. On to the next sweet adventure!

The Pastry School Diaries: It’s what’s on the inside that matters

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! 

 

The first step of learning how to make a wedding or “celebration” cake is learning how to pipe beautiful buttercream roses, buds and other flowers. If you’ve been following along, you should know by now that I was neither looking forward to this technique nor expecting to be very good at it, and I was right.

 

I was so ashamed of how my roses and piping work turned out that I actively chose to not photograph my work, although in retrospect I wish I had something to look back and laugh at.

 

“After about the 27th time, you’ll get the hang of it,” my chef-instructor said with a smile. She wasn’t kidding.

 

But what I’ve realized (yet again) is that this is just another test at my patience. Piping perfect flowers isn’t something someone should be naturally good at—it takes practice, diligence and concentration. I may never master the art of the perfect cala lily or rose, but I’ll certainly improve over the next few weeks. And you know what? The cake underneath is going to taste the same no matter how beautiful my buttercream work is (or isn’t).

I don’t need to walk out of my schooling with the ability to brag about my piping skills. If I can tell my friends, family and peers that I can bake you the best lemon-scented cake you’ve ever had in your life, that is more than enough for me.

 

Got any piping tips? I’d love to hear them! Check back next week for more tales from the kitchen.

The Pastry School Diaries: Making Marzipan

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! 

 

Want to become a pro at knowing the exact physical makeup of any fruit or vegetable? The answer is probably no, but just in case you’re into that kind of thing, I have some advice for you: make marzipan.

 

Marzipan is a mixture of almond paste, liquid fondant, corn syrup and powdered sugar, which is then dyed with edible paint and formed into adorable little fruits and vegetables. These marzipan figures can be used as decoration on a cake, dessert table or as a garnish. They’re pretty sweet to eat on their own, but they do offer a delicious almond flavor and smooth texture.

I found this technique to be rather relaxing and stress-free, because unlike making flowers for a wedding cake, fruit shouldn’t look perfect. It should have dents and bruises and not even the roundest of oranges is going to be an exact sphere. As someone who is not ashamed by her baking inconsistencies and thrives off the “rustic” look, making these little fruits and veggies was fun and freeing.

 

The fruits get a shiny coating of simple syrup at the very end.

 

Have you ever tried your hand at marzipan? How did it go?

 

Check back next week for more sugary stories!

Celebrate Pi Day All Day!

Whether you’re a math nerd or you just like a good food holiday, Pi Day is the perfect excuse to indulge in a slice (or two!) of the good stuff. But don’t stop at a wedge a la mode for dessert—we’ve got sweet, savory, individual, breakfast and skillet pie recipes so that you can celebrate all day long. Get your geek on!

 

For breakfast: Bell Pepper & Manchego Crustless Quiche with Greens

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The Pastry School Diaries: Tricks of the Trade

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! 

 

Going into pastry school, I knew certain things would change about my perception of baking: I’ve grown a greater understanding behind the science of it, I’ve grown a greater appreciation for the true art form that it is and I’ve definitely developed a level of creativity when it comes to pairing flavors, textures and recipes. One element I didn’t think about, however, was how being in school would change my style of baking, from prep to clean-up.

I’ve gone from being a “measure as you go, use as many bowls as possible and follow specific instructions” baker to a “measure your ingredients before, use specific tools and bowls and trust your instinct” baker in just 8 short months. Let me explain:

In class, we have established a pretty regular routine: we arrive, set up our stations, our chef instructor talks a little about what we’ll be making (she may even demonstrate depending on the level of difficulty) and then we get to work. We read through the recipe, talk through who will be doing what (since we work in teams of two) gather and measure all of our ingredients and start baking. Having your mise en place, or “everything in place,” is by far the most efficient way of baking and cooking. For example, I’ve learned how much easier it is to whisk a measured amount of sugar into egg whites while the mixer is running, than it is to let the mixer run, measure out the sugar and risk over-whipping. I’ve exercised this technique at home, almost to an obsessive-compulsive level. I truly cannot bake or cook without my mise en place anymore.

Another habit I’ve picked up from school is truly learning to trust my gut. I must admit, I grew up baking from boxed cake mixes and pre-made cookie doughs, following the step-by-step instructions to the tee. While I know how important it is for measurements to be exact, ingredients to be added in a specific order and oven temperatures to be accurate, I’ve gained the confidence to stray away from the rules. Whether it’s adding an extra spice, extract or liqueur to my batter, swapping in hazelnuts for almonds in a crumb topping or leaving that loaf of bread in the oven for a few minutes longer to develop that crunchy, charred crust (like in the photo above), I take pride in my creative decisions. I’ve even developed some of my own recipes, based on riffs on what I’ve learned in class.

 

Chai-spiced palmiers—I created the spice combination myself!

A super rich coffee glaze and chocolate drizzle over homemade doughnuts

Finally, my kitchen tool collection has vastly expanded, and I cannot fathom the idea of baking anymore without the following:

Small offset spatula—from icing cupcakes to letting chocolate set, this tool comes in handy for everything

Digital instant-read thermometer—when the temperature matters to the exact degree (sugar syrup, tempered chocolate), this baby is my BFF

Scale—weighing your ingredients is far more accurate than measuring them in cups and spoons

Bench scraper—it looks like it belongs in a hardware store more than a kitchen, but my bench scraper helps me slice butter, bread dough and blocks of chocolate…not to mention, it’s great at scraping off crumbs and messes from my countertop!

 

 

What are your best baking habits? Check back next week for more sweet advice!

The Pastry School Diaries: Confessions of a Chocoholic

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 the past few lessons about making chocolate confections, I will never look at a chocolate bar, truffle or bonbon the same way.

The art of making chocolate is one that requires patience, expertise and creativity. Once melted over a double boiler (to prevent burning), you need to constantly watch over chocolate like it is your most prized possession—it can’t get too thick, too thin, too hot or too cold. Just a few degrees off and your chocolate becomes dull or does not set.

We started off easy with mendiants, which are rounds of melted chocolate that are piped onto a baking sheet and topped with a variety of dried fruits, nuts, spices and other flavorings.

 

We then moved on to rolling truffles. We made a wide assortment, from maple-bourbon, to green tea, to caramel to strawberry.

 

 

Finally, we learned how to make and fill bonbons, which was the most time consuming and temperamental process out of them all. The results were gorgeous, though.

 

 

I’ve enjoyed learning about chocolates because of all the different flavor possibilities: you can add so many different sweet, savory, spicy and tangy ingredients to your product—chocolate really is like an blank canvas.

 

I want to know: What’s your dream chocolate combination?

 

Check back next week for more sweet tales!

How to Make a Coconutty Bunny Cake

When Rachael and her older sister, Maria, were growing up in Upstate New York, Easter was full of sweet surprises. Their grandfather would arrive bearing 4-foot-tall hollow chocolate eggs filled with Italian Easter candies. Dozens of family and friends would gather at their house for a ham or lamb feast prepared by their mom, Elsa, followed by a fun dessert, like this adorable bunny cake. These days, Maria is the family baker. She’s made pony, lizard and ladybug cakes for her kids’ birthday parties, but the bunny cake, which she learned to make alongside her mom, is still her favorite. “It feels like home,” she says. “It’s familiar and comforting and reminds me of all of those good times.”

 

Photography by Will Styer. Food styling by Maria Del Mar Sacasa. Prop styling by Sarah Guido-Laakso

 

 

Coconutty Bunny Cake

Serves 12

Prep 25 min

Bake 30 min

Assembly 30 min

 

Cake

3 3/4 cups cake flour

2 1/2 cups sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 1/2 cups buttermilk, at room temperature

2 sticks butter, melted and cooled slightly

9 large egg yolks

5 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract

4 large egg whites

3/4 cup rainbow sprinkles

 

Frosting

3 sticks butter, at room temperature

5 3⁄4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1⁄4 cup whole milk, plus more as needed

1 tbsp. plus 11⁄2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

 

1. Position racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven; preheat to 350° for light pans and 325° for dark pans. Grease and flour three 8-inch cake pans.

2. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, 2 cups sugar, the baking powder, salt and baking soda. In a medium bowl, whisk the buttermilk, butter, yolks, oil and vanilla. (If you really like coconut flavor, use 1 tsp. coconut extract and 1 tsp. vanilla extract.)

3. In a medium bowl using an electric mixer on high, beat the egg whites until very soft peaks form, about 2 minutes. Gradually beat in the remaining 1/2 cup sugar; beat until stiff, glossy peaks form.

4. Using an electric mixer on medium, gradually beat the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture just to blend. Using a rubber spatula, fold half the egg-white mixture into the batter until almost blended. Fold in the remaining egg-white mixture and the sprinkles. Divide the batter among the pans.

5. Bake the cakes, switching the pans between the top and bottom racks halfway through, until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cool in the pans on a wire rack, about 15 minutes. If needed, run a thin knife around the edges of the pans to release the cakes, then invert onto the rack and let cool completely.

6. For the frosting, in a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium, beat the butter until smooth. Add the sugar, 1 cup at a time, mixing to blend between additions. Beat in 1/4 cup milk and the vanilla. Increase the speed to medium-high; beat, adding milk by the tablespoon if too thick, until smooth and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Assemble and frost the cake as shown here.

 

The Pastry School Diaries: Style Like You Mean it

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! 

 

I have about a month left of classes before I have to start focusing on my final cake design. I’ve said this over and over, but one of the biggest takeaways I’ve discovered from enrolling in pastry school is that my level of patience for intricate designs and desserts is not very high. I definitely have more of a rustic, homemade-looking style. While I originally thought this wouldn’t help me succeed as a cake decorator, I now know that this will set me apart as an artist. I can incorporate my true style, talents and taste to make a cake I am genuinely proud of—perfect or not. Here are some cakes that have inspired me and my personal style.

 

photo credit: Baked

This simply frosted cake with a signature swirl and gorgeous ombre roses from Baked NYC

photo credit: @bk_floral_delight

These incredibly realistic-looking roses in muted correlating colors by Brooklyn Floral Delight

photo credit: Grace Rasmus

The “naked cake” look perfected by Momofuku Milk Bar

Check back in the upcoming weeks for progress on my cake design skills, plus truffle and candy making galore!

The Pastry School Diaries: When Appearance Matters

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’s hard to believe I’m three-quarters of the way through with pastry school, but as we near the end, it is becoming more and more apparent to me how important the visual appearance of each dessert really is. Everybody knows, you eat with your eyes first, but at home when I bake for my friends and family, I rarely receive feedback about the appearance. However, in a professional kitchen, the way a dessert looks is just as—if not more—important as the way it tastes.

 

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m far from perfecting the art of a layered celebration cake, but the past few lessons have shown me the importance of patience, practice, advance planning and creativity when it comes to crafting a styled dessert. Even in something as simple and rustic as a tray of cookies has incredible potential to be beautiful.

 

We’ve also worked on more advanced techniques, like making molding chocolate, wrapping it around a cake and forming it into ribbons to adorn the top. (We got to experiment with extra-fancy gold dust, too)

 

I had to execute more patience and handiwork than usual to get these ribbons to look effortlessly placed, yet perfectly formed.

And then there’s the art of the plated dessert: crafting a restaurant-worthy dish with multiple components, garnishes, flavors, textures and colors. Each element was made ahead of time, and then placed out on a table for our creativity to run wild.

The components of this dessert include: a chocolate mousse bombe sitting on top of a shortbread cookie, coated in chocolate sauce, caramelized banana, vanilla bean ice cream, chopped roasted hazelnuts and a painting of hot fudge on the plate. Each of my classmates’ plates looked completely different, which was fun to see everyone’s different creative styles.

I’m definitely enjoying seeing my progress as not only as a baker but also as an artist. I can’t wait to even further explore my personal creative style—stay tuned!

The Pastry School Diaries: Putting My Skills to the Test

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 each week comes to an end, I get closer and closer not only to finishing pastry school classes but also beginning the next part of my pastry career: the externship. I remember thinking to myself a few months ago, “okay, I’ll start seriously considering externship locations in 2016.” Well, 2016 has quickly approached and it’s time to start getting serious.

 

The first place I visited that got me thinking about my externship: Oddfellows Ice Cream Co.

 
As I’m laying out my options, a lot of considerations are running through my head, such as location, type of venue, schedule and primary products produced. I’m mainly looking into specialty bakeries and ice cream shops, and shying away from places like big restaurants, bread-focused bakeries and locations in Brooklyn (sorry Brooklyn, I still love you). I’ve heard both horror and success stories from externship experiences, and I want to make sure I fall into the latter category.

 

Maybe I’ll be making Nutella Milk Bread and Frozen S’mores at Dominique Ansel Bakery!

 

Frosting cupcakes at Buttercup Bake Shop would be fun, too

 

Baking and filling cookies for ice cream sandwiches at The Good Batch would be a dream

 

In an ideal externship world, I am rolling cookies, frosting cupcakes, churning ice cream and maybe even testing some new recipes out, all while ensuring my pants still fit. It’s going to be a very exciting—albeit, very busy!—few months come April, but I can’t wait to get my hands dirty.

 

Then again, there’s always Momofuku Milk Bar!

 

Hey, New Yorkers: what are your favorite bakeries in the city? Any externship suggestions? Leave them in the comment section below!