The Pastry School Diaries: Tricks of the Trade - Rachael Ray Every Day

The Pastry School Diaries: Tricks of the Trade

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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.

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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.

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

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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

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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!

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