The Pastry School Diaries: Knead a Change

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


As someone who considers pizza one of the major food groups, I never thought these words would come out of my mouth: I never want to see another piece of bread ever again.



Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but we’ve been on bread overload in class lately, and despite it being some of the best bread I’ve ever tasted, it’s become hard to even look at. Just look at my freezer. Who needs this much bread???




Luckily, we’re wrapping up the bread portion of this unit and moving on to sweet doughs, like croissants, brioche and doughnuts. I’ve never been more excited to see a tray full of fresh doughnuts, hot out of the fryer.


What I am thankful for, however, is what I’ve learned about the not-so glamorous process of baking bread. It requires a lot of time, patience and practice. It is truly a labor of love, and an acquired skill. I’m not quite sure if it’s my forte, but I had a lot of fun trying my hand at rolling and forming bagels and pretzels. They tasted delicious, nonetheless!



Stay tuned for more carb-loaded updates!

The Pastry School Diaries: The Best-Kept Secrets of Bread Baking

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

One of the best parts about having a renowned bread baker as your bread unit instructor? Besides his world of knowledge and years of experience, he has an unending supply of tips that you won’t find in any cookbook. Every day as I come into class, I can expect to learn something new about the art of bread baking, and not just about the technique. Whether it’s a secret last step to making perfectly textured dough or a traditional British recipe that differs from its American counterpart, Chef Sim has shared a wealth of information that has infinitely improved my creations. And now I can share that information with you!



Tip 1: Bake your bread until the crust is extremely dark

It may even look burnt in some places, but trust me, it’s not. As “The Prince of Darkness” has taught us, a darker crust enables a deeper flavor all the way though the bread. Your crust should have a full ombre effect of coloring–from very dark to golden brown. His bread is the real deal.


Tip 2: Don’t add butter or oil to your focaccia dough

Doing so only inhibits the gluten and rising process. Instead, coat both sides of your dough in olive oil and bake it on a sheet pan. This will create a crispy, buttery crust and leave the inside of the bread light and airy.


Tip 3: When making focaccia, ice water is your best friend

Just before baking your dough, dip your fingers in ice water. Make impressions with your fingers in the dough. Repeat twice. I think some sort of magic happens, but the dough bakes up beautifully light with lots of holes. Just the way you want it.


Tip 4: When it comes to making cinnamon rolls, less is more!

This week we made Chelsea Buns, which are quite similar to a cinnamon rolls, except the filling is a mixture of cinnamon, brown sugar and currants. Rather than glazing them with a thick icing how we do in the states, the British recipe simply calls for a generous sprinkling of sugar. And let me tell you, on pastry this good, no icing necessary!


I hope you’ve taken away a tip or two that can be helpful in your home baking! Check back next week for more fun tips and tricks.

The Pastry School Diaries: Rising to the Occasion

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


I was excited to start our bread unit for various reasons: for the variety (sweet! savory! croissants! pizza!), the experience (I’ve never made bread before) and of course, for that amazing aroma of a freshly baked loaf. We’re only two days in, but my expectations have already been exceeded. We’ve baked four different types of bread in seven different shapes, I’ve learned about different yeast and rising methods and I’ve taken home more bread than I know what to do with. The cherry on top? I’m learning from the best of the best, Chef Sim Cass, dean of the bread baking program at ICE and founding baker of Balthazar Bakery.


On our first day, we made a one-step bread, which means you don’t need to let the yeast ferment overnight. You simply add it to warm water, add your flours and salt, mix it, knead it, let it rise and bake it. The end product is a light, fluffy and super flavorful French loaf.


Whole wheated French rolls


We also made a starter, which is a a fermented mix of flour, water and yeast that you add to the dough you’re making. This causes the dough to ferment, and fermentation equals flavor! Some bakers have had the same starter for years (Balthazar’s has had theirs for 38!). Our starter was only a day old but it still imparted tons of flavor into the finished product. Imagine what a few more decades could do!


Whole wheated farmhouse bread with pecans and raisins


A sliced walnut loaf to share with the office


It’s a good time to be one of my co-workers! Check back next week for more bread goodness.

The Pastry School Diaries: Life Outside the Classroom

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


One of the reasons I chose to attend ICE over other culinary schools in the city was because of their externship requirement after classes ended. For nine months, I’m learning, executing, studying and creating in the comfort of my classroom, but when my 100th lesson (yep, 100!) comes to an end, I’ll be expected to work in a bakery, restaurant or specialty shop for 210 hours–either on the weekends, before or after work at the magazine–to demonstrate all that I’ve learned.


It was a short week this week due to Rosh Hashanah, and our only class on Tuesday was dedicated to learning about the externship process from our career advisor. She explained that before we choose an externship site, we are expected to trail, or interview, at a few locations. We will visit various bakeries and restaurants, work an entire shift and decide if the environment is a good fit. She asked us to start thinking about the type of place we’d like to work: a large restaurant kitchen, a small independent bakery, a bread shop, a cake shop–the list goes on. While I’m still not quite sure where I want to focus and hone my skills, I’m leaning more towards a specialty shop, like an ice cream shop or small bread bakery. What I do know is that by the time I have to choose, I’ll have enough experience in the kitchen to really understand where my skills and passions lie.


Where would you want to extern as a pastry student?


Doughn’t forget to check back next week for an update on our bread unit (see what I did there!).



The Pastry School Diaries: Bake It ‘Til You Make It

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


As if recovering from Labor Day weekend wasn’t a feat of its own, I was promptly greeted Tuesday night by my first of four pastry school final exams. Luckily, I spent the long weekend practicing my creme anglaise and souffle skills, prepared to (hopefully) nail the recipes when put to the test.
This is the first time I’ve had to study for a test since college, and although that was only two and a half years ago, I knew my study skills were a little rusty. I’ll spare you the details of the written exam itself and skip right to the final result: an A! I am not usually one who performs well under pressure, and admittedly, I didn’t perform my best– the creme anglaise was slightly undercooked and my souffles looked less than perfect. But being put to the test for the first time by myself (we always work in teams of 2 during class) showed me the importance of having confidence in the kitchen. I kept doubting myself, and it was apparent in my work. Luckily, my souffles were perfectly cooked and still tasted delicious, so I was only penalized for presentation. For anyone interested in trying their hand at souffle at home, here are my personal tips to making it successfully:
1. Find a recipe that calls for as little liquid as possible. The more liquid, the harder it is to keep the souffle light and fluffy.

2. Gently fold in your egg whites just until they are incorporated. Over mixing the batter is a surefire way result in a cracked souffle.

3. Fill your ramekins alllllll the way to the tippy top. This way, your souffle can begin to rise above the ramekin, and you won’t have to worry about the vessel interfering with the batter.

4. Try not to open the oven to check on your souffles. Doing so interrupts the heat distribution and lets cold air in.

5. When all else fails, it’ll still taste good. Like my exam proved, even though they didn’t look the prettiest, I still received a good grade for the taste and degree of doneness.


Before I mentally prepare for Module 2, which includes breads and pastry doughs, I’ll share some of my favorite lessons and recipes from Module 1:


One of the first things we ever made, blueberry muffins


The most delicious apple crumbles


Dacquoise, layers of almond cookies and meringue frosting


And a class field trip to Odd Fellows Ice Cream Co., which included a sampling of every flavor on the menu and this cornbread sundae. Yum-O!

Check back next week for another dessert adventure!

The Pastry School Diaries: A Choux In!

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


I was 16 the first time I ever made pate a choux, the dough used to make cream puffs and eclairs. I remember so vividly standing over the stove, boiling milk, butter and sugar, adding flour and vigorously stirring the pot until a cohesive dough formed, and then ruining all of my hard work by cracking eggs directly into the hot pot and scrambling them into the dough. My mom compared the consistency to that of matzoh balls, gave me her typical “I told you so” spiel about impatiently ignoring the directions and told me to start over.


When I found out we were going to make pate a choux in class, I was excited to have another chance to work on my technique. The procedure we were taught was exactly the same–except for one crucial detail, a word that gets used almost every day in the pastry kitchen: tempering. To temper something means to either increase or decrease the temperature of it, which is quite easy given the proper ingredients and instruction. T0 temper choux dough, slowly pour beaten eggs into the pot where your butter-milk-flour mixture has cooked and stir it continuously until the mixture is cool enough (it feels warm to the touch but not scalding) to dump the remaining eggs in. Scrambling the eggs in my dough could have been easily avoided had I just tempered it first. Lesson learned.



In class I wound up with a beautifully soft and smooth choux dough, ready to be piped, baked, filled and eaten. I couldn’t wait to share photos of my successful desserts with my mom: cream puffs stuffed with homemade ice cream, also known as profiteroles (pictured above), and one of my proudest accomplishments, croquembouche, a tower of cream puffs filled with pastry cream and held together by caramel sauce (pictured below).



You can see I’ve come a long way from my matzoh ball-like choux days– this was one sweet feat!


Check back next Friday for another delicious adventure!

The Pastry School Diaries: Never Buy Marshmallows Again

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

After a month of classes, I finally feel adjusted to my new schedule and the pastry school curriculum. I’m becoming more comfortable working in an industrial kitchen, cooking sugar, whipping egg whites and chopping fruit. I’ve already noticed a difference between baking at home and baking in a professional kitchen: we weigh all of our ingredients to the gram, a clean station is a must and we’re not just baking delicious treats– we’re developing an understanding of the science behind each of them, as well.

When I hear the word, ‘gelatin,’ the first thing that comes to mind, of course, is Jell-O. But we quickly learned that gelatin is used in all sorts of desserts, like panna cotta and marshmallows. Gelatin is essential to these desserts because it is a hyrdrocolloid, or stabilizing agent. Hydrocolloids are added to heated water to influence a dessert’s texture. Lucky for us, rather than just understanding what gelatin does, we got to see it in action.


Our Chef Instructor, Jenny McCoy, pouring freshly whipped marshmallow batter into a sheet pan to set.


I was a bit intimidated at first to try my hand at homemade marshmallows, but I’m so glad I got the chance to learn how simple it is. You just let the gelatin bloom and soften in cold water, boil a mixture of corn syrup and water, combine it with your gelatin, whip it until room temperature, add your flavor and color and pour into a pan to chill. They come out beautifully.



They taste delicious, too! My class whipped up some fun flavors including vanilla, coffee-cinnamon, lemon, orange and almond. These sweet, fluffy pillows are nothing like what you can find in the store: they’re flavorful, chewy and delicate, and oh-so addictive. Then my favorite part of class comes: when we get to take home all that we’ve made. Marshmallows for days!!

My team’s vanilla bean marshmallows

Be sure to check back next Friday for a new sweet story!

The Easiest Biscuit Topping You’ll Ever Make

We’re so happy it’s National Biscuit Day– biscuits are the perfect food to eat for every meal! When it’s time for dessert, make a cobbler. Top it off with this simple and delicious biscuit topping that can be made two different ways: it can be rolled and cut into shapes or, even easier, turned into rustic drop biscuits. The difference? Just a few tablespoons of cream.

Read more

The Only Ice Cream Sandwich Recipe You’ll Need This Weekend

No matter the time of day or day of the week, we always love a good ice cream sandwich. But now that it’s the weekend (TGIF!), we’re in the mood for something truly decadent, delicious and reminiscent of our childhood. So grab your mixer (no ice cream maker necessary!) and that bright red food coloring and get to work on some Red Velvet Meltcakes. Seriously, they’re worth every bit of effort.



More Ways to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth

Out-of-the-Box S’mores Ideas

Throw Your Favorite Desserts on the Grill!

How do You Like Them Marshmallows?



Bake Your Heart Out: Blondies

We love brownies, and we’re  also sweet on blondies, their caramel-flavored cousin. Start with our simple recipe, then fun it up with the same mix-ins and toppings for our Mind-Blowing Brownies (ours are studded with dried cherries).



Basic Blondies

1 1/2 sticks butter

3/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1 tsp. salt

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups flour


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch-square baking pan with foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang. Coat the foil with cooking spray.

2. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Off heat, whisk in both sugars, vanilla and salt. Whisk until creamy, about 1 minute. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking well between additions. Add the flour; stir until just blended. Pour into the pan.

3. Bake  the blondies until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 40 minutes. cool in the pan set on a wire rack. Using the foil overhang, lift the blondies out of the pan. Cut into squares.



Related Links

12 Days of Cookies

An Extract for Every Occasion

Homemade Cookie 101