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!

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!

America’s Best Snow Cones

One of your favorite childhood fixtures has officially grown up: Snow cones are now appearing at restaurants, bars and food trucks–complete with local ingredients, artisanal syrups and the occasional splash of booze. Time to explore the next ice age!

Brabo Restaurant in Arlington, VA, serves up the kickin’ Old Town Ginger snow cone, a refreshing blend of kaffir lime vodka, ginger beer syrup, mint liqueur and ice chunks, all of it topped with lime zest and chili flakes.


At the Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls shop in New Orleans, the specialty is made with light-as-air shaved ice (versus the ground kind you’re used to) and crowned with house-made syrups such as watermelon-jalapeño and cardamom cream.


Kauai’s Uncle’s Shave Ice serves up shave snow, a Hawaiian take on a Taiwanese treat that starts as a frozen block of water, milk and syrup (try the Asia-inspired lychee or dried plum), then gets shaved into creamy ribbons.


 Sno con Amor at L.A.’s Hollywood Farmers’ Market fancies up raspados (Mexico’s answer to the snow cone, served in a cup) with handmade syrups. Two faves: lime-mint and grapefruit juice with vanilla bean.


In true Bay Area style, Oakland’s Skylite Snowballs makes nearly everything from scratch with local farm fare. The result? Seasonal syrups–from pluot to lemon-ginger–poured over crunchy ice and served from a truck.



By Jenna Scatena

How to Make the Very Best Chocolate Pudding

We love a good chocolate pudding and we know you do too: it’s one of our most popular chocolate desserts ever! In honor of National Chocolate Pudding Day (that’s today!) we’re sharing an updated version of the classic dessert. It’s warm and luscious and just sweet enough. You’re going to want to make extras!



Warm Chocolate Pudding



1/2 cup plus 2 tsp. sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

Pinch salt

3 cups milk

2 egg yolks

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Whipped cream, for serving


In saucepan, whisk 1/2 cup sugar, cornstarch and salt. Whisk in milk and yolks over medium heat. Stir in chocolate. Simmer, whisking, until melted. Divide pudding among ramekins; let cool slightly. Top with cream.


If you’re looking for something more out-of-the-box, try our slow-cooker version or our Amaretto-spiked version.

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

Our 4 Favorite Italian Comfort Food Recipes

A bubbly, warm, saucy Italian dish on a cold, winter night? Now that’s amore! Save the caprese salads and basil pesto for the summer–this winter, we want the hearty baked dishes, crunchy baguettes and creamy desserts that Italy is known for. So take your pick at a cheesy, sausage-laden pizza bread, a rich and smoky sauteed chicken or a creamy, gooey, this-is-what-dreams-are-made-of baked pasta dish. Finish it off with a riff on Tiramisu and you’ve got yourself an Italian grandmother’s hug for your taste buds.


Three-Cheese Bread Pizza with Kale & Sausage

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How to Make an Edible Christmas Tree

This tabletop display sparkles with decorations you can eat: doughnut holes!


How to: poke the bottom portion of an S-shaped ornament hook into a plain doughnut hole; repeat with additional hooks and holes. Melt one package of chocolate chips or mini Candy Melts according to directions, then roll doughnut holes in the melted candy and coat in sanding sugar. Let dry on parchment until hard, about 15 minutes, then thread a Life Savers candy onto the hook to rest flat on top. Hang ornaments on a tabletop tree and, when dinner’s done, let guests help themselves to dessert!



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