The Pastry School Diaries: When Appearance Matters

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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! 

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.

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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)

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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.

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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!