Baking

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!

 

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: A New Year of Baking Adventures

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 a surefire way to get on dessert duty for all of the winter holidays? Just tell your family you’re enrolled in pastry school!

 

The pressure was on this holiday season, as I was juggling learning new techniques in class with showing off my best baking skills while at home. I got to show off my pie crust capabilities, puff pastry proficiency and cheesecake finesse over Thanksgiving and Christmas, and in between learned about chiffon and angel food cakes, tortes, layered ganache cakes, petit fours and more buttercream frosting than a childhood birthday party on steroids. I’ve discovered the differences between baking cakes with full eggs versus only whites, solid fats like butter versus liquid fats like oil, baking powder versus omitting it and even how the addition of cocoa powder yields a very different product than a cake without it. We’ve whipped, folded, poured, sliced, frosted and piped more cakes than I even thought was possible, and we’re only halfway done!

 

Needless to say, the world of cakes is bigger than I ever imagined, but I’m very much enjoying learning about it. Here’s just a taste of the confections I’ve created thus far.

 

Cinnamon Chiffon Cake

Lemon sponge cake with vanilla buttercream and raspberry preserves

Chocolate ganache cake with coffee buttercream

Vanilla cake with blueberry mousse and blueberry glaze

Check back next week for more cake intel!

Christmas Appetizer Hack: Puff Pastry

Between decorating the tree, crafting the perfect cocktail and making sure the roast doesn’t burn, Christmas entertaining can be stressful. One part that shouldn’t feel like a chore is making a crowd-pleasing appetizer. This introduction to your party should mimic the vibe: welcoming, easy-going and of course, delicious. And when it comes to making an appetizer that meets all three requirements on top of being a cinch to throw together, our secret weapon is store-bought puff pastry. We love it for its versatility, ease to work with and quick cooking time. These five savory (and one sweet!) puff pastry apps will make you want to have a Christmas party every day of the year!

 

Asparagus in a Blanket

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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.

 

The Pastry School Diaries: Saying Goodbye to Gluten

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 gluten intolerance and its awareness grows, I’ve become more and more grateful that my body allows me to eat whatever I want. Being so invested in food, cooking and baking, I can’t imagine the struggle that 18 million Americans go through being sensitive or intolerant to gluten. For 12 hours a week, I am completely immersed in flour, doughs, cakes and tarts—a celiac’s worst nightmare. But this week, we explored the (wider than I expected) world of gluten-free baking.
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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!

The Pastry School Diaries: Blurring the Lines Between Sweet and Savory

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 week was all about making and rolling out doughs to use for various techniques and fillings. Sound familiar? While the second half of our doughs unit has focused on this subject matter, this week was a bit different in that when I say “rolling out doughs,” I really mean rolling out the dough. We spent the majority of our class time rolling and stretching linzer, puff pastry and strudel doughs to various sizes in order to be formed and filled.

The most manageable–and easy to make at home–was the linzer dough. You simply press half of the dough into the bottom of a cake pan, cover it with jam and then roll the remaining dough out into a flat sheet. Use a pizza wheel to cut straight lines that will become the lattice (or criss-cross) top and roll small balls to outline the tart. Sprinkle the top with almonds and bake until golden, brown and delicious! We used a hazelnut flour-based dough, which created a rich and warm flavor that tasted like fall.

 

Puff pastry dough is a bit more labor intensive, as you have to repeat a layering, folding and rolling process four times in order to create paper-thin layers of dough and butter. It is then rolled out into a uniform sheet, cut into strips, circles, halves–you name it–filled, formed and baked.

 

Rosemary parmesan straws

Turnovers filled with prosciutto, mozzarella and parsley

 

Strudel dough is an easy mixture of high gluten flour, salt, eggs, oil and water. The hard part comes in when you have to roll it. It took four people to roll the dough out to cover two entire tables (about 4 feet by 6 feet). We then poured one large row of filling at the end of the dough and began to roll it up. The strudel bakes in a large U shape and is cut into squares once it has cooled. This was a very fun and interesting process, but it is something I’ll probably never be able to do at home in my tiny kitchen (New York City problems).

 

I am particularly intrigued by (and value the importance of) these techniques because of how versatile these doughs are. We made a variety of sweet and savory fillings for each recipe because the doughs themselves contain very little sugar or salt. Rather, they are a blank canvas and serve more as a delicious vehicle for the filling. Here are some of my favorite sweet and savory filling combinations

 

Strudel:

Apples, cinnamon, raisins and walnuts

Farmer cheese, raisins, lemon and vanilla

Spinach and cheese

Butternut squash and leek

 

Puff pastry:

Parmesan and paprika

Smoked salmon and chive cream cheese

Cinnamon sugar

Spinach and roquefort

 

What are your favorite fillings for these doughs?

 

Check back next week for another delicious tale!