Savoriesnsweets’ Blog

Archive for August 2009

experiments Over the past few days I’ve been experimenting a lot in the kitchen.  Most of this experimentation has been motivated by the fact that I have a lot of certain ingredients on hand and I want to find a good use for them.   Of course, the rest of the experimentation is motivated by my desire to try new things and see how well my culinary (and pastry!) skills have been developed.

My most recent experiment was for barbecue sauce.  I have made barbecue sauce before, but it was the kind of sauce that had mostly a sweet flavor with a heat that built up.  So far, I really like that sauce and I do have to make it again.  However, I decided to try to make a sauce that was still very thick and rich as well as very hot.  When I tried this sauce, I basically broke out into a sweat, which I know is something a lot of people do enjoy.  I unfortunately do not enjoy that and so I reached for a cup of milk right after tasting.  As this is way to hot for me or my family, I think I’ll gift this creation to my boyfriend and his family as they seem to appreciate serious heat a lot more than I do.  For those of you into this kind of thing, here’s the basic recipe for how I made my  hot bbq sauce.

Ingredients:

  • 1 shallot (minced)
  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 jalapeno (minced, seeds and membranes removed)
  • 2 serranos (minced, seeds and membranes removed)
  • 3 chipotles en adobo (minced)
  • 1/2 cup rum (dark)
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1, 14- oz can of tomato puree
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1 T dry mustard
  • 1 T liquid smoke
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 T dry mustard
  • Tabasco (to taste)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • cayenne pepper (to taste)
  • 1 tsp canola oil
  1. In about 1 tsp canola oil, saute the shallot, jalapeno and  serrano until soft.
  2. Add garlic and cook 1 minute.
  3. Add chipotles en adobo and cook 1 more minute.
  4. Add rum and scrape off any bits off the bottom of the pot. Cook until reduced by 3/4.
  5. Add cider vinegar, tomato puree, ketchup, molasses, brown sugar.
  6. Stir in Worcestershire sauce, mustard, cayenne, liquid smoke and Tabasco.
  7. Cook down until thick.  Use stick blender to remove any chunks and create a thick sauce.
  8. Adjust seasoning with salt & pepper.

Homemade barbecue sauce is almost always delicious but this one was just way too hot for my taste! (Note: I tried this sauce the next day with some shredded beef and it was NOT as hot as I thought it was when I cooked it!)

My next experiment this week has been with pie lollipops.  The first thing I did was to cook down my fillings until I had a very thick almost paste-like apperance.  I added some more sugar and cornstarch so that my fruit would concentrate in flavor and texture.   I brought some of the ones with the concentrated friut to class and many people enjoyed them!  Chef also thought it would be a cute addition to the graduation grand buffet!

When I got back home, I decided to try a different dough since some were falling off the sticks and were just really doughy.  I used a pate sucree instead of a pate brisee.  I did like the pate brisee’s flakyness, however, the pate sucree added a nice sweetness and crunch. It was also a more structurally sound dough so that it did not have any problem adhering to the lollipop sitck and creating a nice lollipop.  I still need to figure out a good moisture level for the filling and a good amount of filling for the lollipops to work best.  For now though, I think I’m onto something with these and I’m going to also try pumpkin pie flavor and pecan pie flavor.

While making pie lollipops, I was also working on some blueberry ice cream.  I know it sounds weird but I figured why not since I had about 2 lbs of blueberries at home and I had had my fill of blueberry muffins and blueberry tartlets!

Blueberry Ice Cream Ingredients

  • 3 cups blueberries
  • 4 fl. oz water
  • 4 oz sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • juice of 1 lemon + zest
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 oz sugar
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 T vanilla extract
  • Equipment:  Have an ice bath ready with a steel bowl on top.  Also have a fine-mesh strainer and a ladle ready.
  1. Add all of the first six ingredients to a pot and stir to combine.  (Note:  If you use a wooden spoon for this, it will end up dyed purple after!)
  2. Simmer until you can no longer taste the acid of the lemon and the mixture is thick.
  3. Then I prepared a creme anglaise. Combine heavy cream, milk and sugar in a pot and bring to a boil.  Be sure to stir to ensure the sugar dissolves.
  4. Add some of the boiling milk/cream mixture to the eggs, whisking vigorously to keep your eggs from scrambling.
  5. Combine the eggs with the rest of the milk/cream mixture and continue to cook while stirring.  You want to stir until you reach nappe or until the mixture coats the back of your spoon.  (If you’re like me and you want a more accurate way to know it’s cooked, use a calibrated thermometer and cook until you reach 180F)
  6. Strain over an ice bath.  You want to stop the cooking right away and remove any egg clumps that may remain.
  7. Once your creme anglaise and berry mixtures are cool, fold the berries into the creme anglaise.  Then you can put this mixture in your ice cream maker and then you’ll have blueberry ice cream!  Check out its cool purple color!

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All these experiments were going on in my own home kitchen, but I also had to conduct an experiment while in class.  A portion of the final course we have is called “market basket cooking” where we’re given a list of ingredients we’re required to use while cooking our food.  So far, we’ve had to prepare 2 appetizers and we had to use spinach, grape tomatoes, slab bacon, scallops and shiitake mushroom in our dishes.  As long as we used all those ingredients between the two dishes, we’d be fine.  We were also allowed to use staple ingredients, like citrus fruit, rice, potatoes,  onions, etc.  We were evaluated on creativity, technique, flavor and presentation. And we were told to keep in mind that we’re preparing appetizers and not entrees, so we should keep an eye on our portion sizes.

For my first dish, I tried to do a spin on a traditional stuffed grapeleaf.  I made some rice and added some cooked mushroom, grape tomato, and bacon.  I then tried to roll the spinach leaves around the rice filling.  And I served it with a lemon cream sauce.  The chef thought the idea was good and that the flavors were good, however my presentation wasn’t as great.  I should have blanched my spinach leaves to make them easier to roll.  Other than that, it wasn’t bad.

For my second dish, I tried to dress up a traditional hash.  I sauteed some bacon and then cooked potatoes, onions and carrot in the bacon fat.  I then seared the scallops.  When I plated the dish, I placed two blanched spinach leaves in the center of the plate and then a layer of the hash.  I topped the hash with two seared scallops.  Chef enjoyed this dish saying the flavors were really good and the presentation was nice.  Unfortunately, my scallops were a tad on the rare side, but still not very undercooked.

After this exercise, I really feel much better about the upcoming practical exam which is run the same way as the market basket exercises.  And after that exam, it’s just a few more classes to our grand buffet and the end of our formal culinary education!

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After seeing photos at Bakerella and Luxirare about pie lollipops, I thought these would be very fun to try also!  As I already had some leftover pie dough in the freezer from my last pie experiment, I figured these would be an easy experiment.  I headed to the craft store to get some lollipop sticks and treat bags so I could store these easily in my freezer.  I’m also thinking something like this would be a wonderful dessert to do for my upcoming culinary school graduation grand buffet!

I decided to try 3 flavors: blueberry, blackberry, and apple.  They were all simply prepared with the fresh fruit, sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice. I also added some cinnamon and clove to the apple. I macerated all the fruit overnight and used a pate brisee dough. Once I cut out my dough I placed a bit of each fruit and the lollipop sticks.

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Then I topped each pop and used an egg wash to seal the ends.  I egg washed the front do that they would come out golden brown and covered the sticks with aluminum foil to prevent burning.

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Although some of them leaked, for the most part they were lovely and golden brown.

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The notes from Luxirare and Bakerella were great!  I baked for the recommended 15 min but at 400F.  I did not cook down my fillings, however I think that is a vital step to concentrating the flavor into such a small package.  I also would want to try this with a pate sucree, just to see the differences.  For the most part, I liked it and even if I don’t make these for graduation, I’ll definitely be making more for my friends, my family and myself!

I recently saw this article, from Business Week on food criticism through a link from my Twitter account.  Yup, I’m exactly one of the people the article is talking about.  Yes, I follow Martha Stewart’s tweets to get some  recipe ideas and I also follow Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern so I can get an idea of what it’s like in different lands.  There is so much food media out today not only in the form of books, but there are also an abundance of  television shows, movies (Julie & Julia) and blogs, it is difficult to keep up with them all!  However, I do believe that the central theme of all this conversation, food, is an extremely important topic that can help the participants and all others involved to learn how to develop a diet that works for them, how to save some money, how to preserve their own cultural heritages and maybe even learn how other people live day to day lives in a distant land.  After all, food should be a way to unite us all and help us understand each other.

I definitely agree with several points in the article.  There IS an ascendancy of food consciousness as well as gardening.  I’m sure a lot of it is a result of the current economic crisis.  I also think that maybe a lot of this is also the result of the desire to steer away from poor dietary choices in the past.  Although I think it is possible that this renewed food consciousness is, “ironically is making it harder for diners and grocery shoppers to get what they traditionally sought from food writing: guidance in determining what’s good to eat”, I do ultimately think it can eventually help those involved in the conversation about food and cooking to determine what is best for them to eat and how to keep in their budgets. So many people have relied on packaged foods for so long that they may have forgotten that it’s just as easy and probably more nutritious (definitely more delicious!) to make mac & cheese without an instant mix.  People can ultimately become more adventurous testing out different ingredients and cooking methods to find the ones that work for them, helping to resolve confusion about what’s best to eat.

I also agree with the article and Zimmern in this portion of the article:

“But the hordes of Web critics dishing up praise and scorn can deny diners the benefit of professional critics’ breadth of expertise, Zimmern says. Missing from many food blogs are knowledge of a chef’s range and the ability to cast a gimlet eye on some establishments’ dubious claims of authentic cuisine. “A lot of the people who are doing food writing who don’t know what they’re talking about will disappear,” he says. “There’s no way for the dining public to tell who’s full of [it].”

It’s true–everyone can have an opinion since food is so very subjective, however, without some knowledge and experience as a backdrop, it’s hard to tell if a person’s opinion is grounded in more than just some minimal cooking experience.  I do like to think I have some knowledge, since I am currently in culinary school, however, I am very aware that my experience is minimal and that I’m still learning everyday.  However, short of going to culinary school or working in restaurants, I do think many people can achieve a level of skill just being involved in the kitchens and the food choices they make for themselves and their families.

While it is difficult to keep up with all the media, the fact that there are many more voices contributing to the food dialog indicates that as a culture we are at a crossroads.  We’re no longer seeing food and food preparation as a burden and we’re no longer seeing gardening as backbreaking work.  And we’re more eager than ever to try different things.  (Who knew there was a renewed interest in Offal?)  Ultimately, I hope this food explosion helps us all become more adventurous while helping us all to rediscover how great it truly is to transform raw ingredients into fabulous meals and desserts.

Just like all our other courses, we have a module practical and written exam.  While finishing this module means we’re just ONE month away from graduation, it’s bitter sweet for me, since I now feel I’ve missed my true calling as a pastry cook.  I will also miss the instructor we had for this module.  Chef Kathryn was probably one of the most knowledgeable instructors I had at culinary school.  She was not only a great teacher, but she also tried to ensure we had fun while working on our desserts pushing us to try different items and different plating ideas.  She also offered other opportunities to learn other skills by asking students to volunteer for her, which I gladly did!  I will miss pastry and I’ll miss working with this great chef and teacher. As I have my exam tonight, I’m trying to focus on trying to get the best score I can.

The written exam is comprehensive and includes a variety of topics we covered in class. Wanna see if you can do well on a pastry written exam?  Here are the different questions we had to answer.  The answers will follow later in the post.

  1. What are four methods of cooking fruit? Give an example of each.
  2. What are four differences between Pate Sucree and Pate Brisee?
  3. What are three things you can find on a petites fours platter?
  4. What are the different types of flour?  Describe their use and their protein content.
  5. How do the following factors affect yeast?  Salt? Sugar? Heat? Cold?
  6. What are the similarities and differences between puff pastry and croissant dough?
  7. What are the three components of puff pastry?
  8. What are the steps to making truffles?
  9. How do you temper dark chocolate?
  10. Describe the methods of making a fat based cake and a foam based cake.
  11. What are the 4 important items to consider when finishing a cake?
  12. What are two differences between stirred and baked custards?
  13. What are examples of frozen desserts?
  14. What are the differences between static and churned frozen desserts?
  15. What are the factors to consider when plating a dessert? Draw an original plated dessert.

I did fairly well as I scored a 99.5.  I lost a half point for not fully describing all the fruit cooking methods.  As soon as we were done with our written exam, we moved onto the practical portion.  First, we rolled out a pate sucree dough we made yesterday.  Then we had to line a tart pan with the dough.  I scored a 39.5 out of 40 only because it wasn’t perfectly uniform.

After rolling out the dough, I made a creme anglaise.  Creme anglaise is essentially a stirred custard which is used to make ice cream!  Of course, this is very important to make!  When I practiced my creme anglaise yesterday, I under cooked it, basically causing the chef to question whether I really cooked my eggs and killed any possible dangerous pathogens.  Today, I overcooked my anglaise just a tad.  We had to show her the pot we made the creme anglaise in as well as the finished product.  Unfortunately, there was a bit too much cooked egg left at the bottom of the pot, so I only scored 29 out of a possible 30.

Our next task was to make 5 parchment cornets and then to pipe “Happy Birthday Name” on a cake round using melted chocolate.  Of course, we could substitue our own name or someone else’s name or even Mom or Dad for the “Name” part.  It was this part of the test that I was most nervous about since I did not practice enough chocolate writing nor did I ever manage to be able to make a nice border. Luckily, we only had to do a border if we wanted to, so I opted not to do it.  I piped “Happy Birthday Stacy”, “Happy Birthday Mom” and “Happy Birthday Dad” all in cursive chocolate writing.  I was pleased to know that I scored full credit on this part of the test bringing my final score for the practical to a 98.5! Overall, this was a great mod and I will miss it.  I will definitely have to continue my own pastry education by taking extra classes and doing some more work at home.

If you’d like to know how to make a parchment cornet, check out this video from Chow.  And if you’re interested to see how you’d do on a pastry exam, check out the answers below.

  1. Four methods of cooking fruit are grilling, poaching, baking and candying.  To grill fruit, slice your fruit and add sugar and spices to the cut side.  Place the fruit cut side down on the grill and turn to create grill marks.  Grill until tender as in preparing grilled peaches. Poaching, as when poaching pears,  occurs under low heat, moist cooking with water, wine, fruit juice, spirits and sugar until softened. It is then cooled in ice bath in its own syrup and stored in refrigerator in its syrup.  To bake fruit, as in baked apples, peel apples half way and hollow them out.  Then place sugar, currants, and nuts in the apple and bake until tender. To candy fruit, as in candied grapefruit peels, peel the fruit and slice the peels.  Cook in syrup, reduce and cook until tender.  Cool in syrup and store.
  2. Pate Sucree                                                                                      Pate Brisee
    Wet Ingredient           eggs                                                                                                   water
    Leavening                    baking powder                                                                                baking powder optional (rises with steam)
    Degree of mixing        mealy consistency                                                                          cranberry size consistency
    Uses                               savory and sweet tarts                                                                  Sweets preparations–pie and pastry cream + filling
    for savory, leave out sugar
    Baking                           Baked with moist filling                                                               must be docked and blind-baked before filled, otherwise will become
    soggy
  3. You can find Marshmallows, truffles, macarons, biscotti, buttercrunch, spritz cookies, chocolate dipped strawberries on a petites fours platter.
  4. All Purpose Flour contains between 9 – 11 % protein and is used most commonly in the kitchen for cookies, breads, and doughs. Cake Flour contains between 7.5-8% protein and is used mostly for cakes and pastries.  Bread Flour contains between 11.5-13% protein and is used mostly for different types of breads. High Gluten Flour contains about 14% protein and is used mostly for bagels, hearth breads, pizza and hard rolls.
  5. Salt inhibits yeast.   Fats also inhibit yeast.  Sugar feeds yeast. Cold water will slow yeast.  Hot water will kill yeast.  Ideally, you want to
    mix yeast with lukewarm water between 100-110F.
  6. Both puff pastry and croissants are laminated doughs rolled in fat and consist of beurrage, detrompe, and paton.  Layers for puff pastry are created by the 4 book folds.  Layers for croissants are created by 1 letter fold and 2 book folds. Croissant dough is leavened by both yeast and steam while puff pastry only rises using steam. Croissants contain milk while puff pastry uses water.
  7. The three components of puff pastry are Detrompe, Beurrage and paton (package).
  8. The steps to making truffles:
    1- Make your ganache. You want a shiny and smooth ganache, showing you had a good emulsion of heavy cream and chocolate.
    2- Pipe the ganache out evenly and round them off.
    3 – Cool
    4 – Temper your chocolate and coat your rounded chocolates in the tempered chocolate twice (2 coats)
  9. 1 – Heat chocolate over a bain marie/ double boiler to 115F.
    2 – Cool chocolate over ice bath to 85F.
    3 – Perform the snap test by coating a piece of parchment with the chocolate and placing it in the freezer for 5 min.  If the chocolate snaps, you are in temper.
    4 – Gently re-warm to a working temperature of 89F to get shine.
    Tempered chocolate should be shiny, have a solid snap and be non streaky.
  10. Fat based cakes rely on the creaming method:
    Creaming method
    Emulsion of room temp butter with sugar until light & fluffy
    Add flavoring (extract, zest)
    Add room temperature eggs and combine until smooth
    Add 1/3 of sifted flour, leavening agent, salt
    Add 1/2 of liquid
    Alternate between dry & wet ending with dry

    Foam based cakes such as sponge cakes rely on incorporating air into your eggs.
    Beat eggs with sugar until they are light and creamy
    Beat egg whites with salt until soft peak & beat in sugar until firm peak
    Fold egg yolk mix into egg white mix
    Fold in sifted flour & cornstarch in 3 additions

  11. 1 – Outside decorations should be indicative of flavor
    2 – Layers should be level
    3 – Do not use too much frosting or filling
    4 – For sponge cake, be sure to imbibe and soak cake
  12. Baked Custards:
    – are baked in a water bath
    – sets when baked and is not pourable
    – examples: creme brulee, bread pudding, flan, creme caramel,
    – cheesecake, pot au creme, quiche, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, sweet potato pie
    Stirred Custards:
    – cooked on the stove
    – Stirred remains pourable after cooking
    – examples: creme anglaise, lemon curd
  13. Static:   Popsicle, kulfi, granita, frozen mousse, frozen souffle
    Churned:  Ice Cream
  14. A churned frozen dessert freezes while air is being put into it while a static dessert is not aerated.
  15. 1- color
    2- portion size
    3 – temperature
    4 – market availability
    5 – seasonality of ingredients
    6 – facility–your freezer/oven capacity
    7 – time–some items are more labor intensive than others
    8  – budget

As I’m coming to the end of my time at culinary school, I’ve started to spend some more time in different kitchens.  My time in restaurant kitchens has been short lived since I’m not quite sure that the fast pace is for me.  So I decided it might be a good idea to start spending some time working with the different chefs in the culinary school.  This has also been an eye-opening experience.

Part of learning about the restaurant business is spending time as a stage, pronounced st-ah-ge.  As a stage in a culinary school, I work with another person to help set up  a recreation class and get the chef anything he or she may need.  I also help students find anything they may need and bring dishes to the wash area and break things down at the end of class.  My first experience was with a lovely chef who spent considerable time in restaurant kitchens and has since retired to teach her craft to different home cooks.  She was very polite, always saying “please” and “thank you”.  She was a breath of fresh air and was lovely to be in a kitchen with.  The students in this class were also very nice and didn’t take advantage of the fact that I was there to assist.

During my first day,  I learned how to set up a class and how to properly set up a table for the class’s service, the next day I felt like I was starting from scratch.  The chef had completely different criteria.  He did not like using plastic containers.  (Not a bad practice really.)  To this end, I had to find as many hotel pans as possible.  He also made the occasional snarky comment about me standing in the back of the class waiting to be asked to do something.  After hearing that, I mingled among the class trying to see what needed tidying and throwing out garbage.  Well, I also learned my place in a classroom.  I was asked, by a student, how to weigh out some butter.  I grabbed a scale, adjusted it and placed the butter on it.  Granted, I should have known better and placed plastic wrap on the scale’s weighing surface.  However, I was quickly told that such interactions would never occur in his classroom and that I should focus my energies on clearing off dishes or other kitchen tasks.

The next day while I was helping another chef (who also happens to be my current chef instructor in my pastry module), he related to her that I enjoyed doing things that were very important, like playing teacher.  I then apologized for my mistake in his classroom and told him I used to be a high school teacher, so it was just my past life coming back.  He then told me I should embrace my past life.  At the same time, the chef I was working with that day was rolling her eyes at his commentary.  I have to say that despite that chef being an award-winning instructor,  I learned nothing by working with him aside from the fact that I should not talk to students in his class.

After working with two chefs in very different courses, I had the opportunity to also work with my current pastry chef instructor.  Since I’m MUCH more interested in pastry, working with her has been a wonderful, yet super-educational experience!  I did get to work with her a few weeks ago during the recreational class on French Macarons.  These temperamental little cookies are so trendy now that they’re showing up in many bakeries and many people want to learn how to make them.  I did have a very important job in this class:  oven duty.

Yup, I got to hang out by the ovens  and test the doneness of each batch.  I also helped set up the class and did some clean-up.  Overall though, working with this chef really helped me hone my skills.  I learned a lot about a cookie I never realized was so difficult to make.  And I learned how to incorporate flavorings and food colorings.  We also learned how to make different fillings for the cookies, like butter cream, caramel, and ganache.  OK, I knew some of these things already, but it was still good review.  And the best part was that I learned that these little macarons taste GREAT frozen!

I also got to work with the pastry chef during a 2-day candy workshop.  This class was a small class and was definitely for more advanced students. Many of the students in this class were people with their own businesses as well as people trying to slowly increase their pastry knowledge.  (It was nice talking to some of these people and not being yelled at for it!)   I had never learned how to work with sugar in its various stages so I really got to learn about it in this class.  We managed to make nougat (I made pop rocks nougat!) , caramel and fudge as well as molded, chocolate dipped candies.  We also made Pâtes de Fruits, which are basically like gummy bears, made with real fruit and without the bear shape.

While I did do some prep work and some clean-up, this chef allowed me to try my own hand at some recipes and let me practice on my own.  Chef showed us how to make candy canes and lollipops, but after a few minutes of working with heated sugar my hands were not tolerating the heat anymore.  I then moved on to practicing my chocolate tempering and dipping a variety of candies into chocolate.  Overall, I think working with the pastry chef gives me the best of both worlds.  I manage to learn a new technique/recipe and the chef gets another pair of helpful hands around the kitchen.   It was also very, very nice to hear “please” and “thank you” after every request and at the end of class.

It’s the little things like that that keep me motivated to work with a person and help me develop more respect on an individual level.  Tomorrow, I’ll be helping pastry chef with teenagers in a cake decorating class which sounds like a lot of fun!

In the meantime, here’s some shots of the candies that were made in the candy workshop.  We all got to take home a LOT of candy! 🙂

Chef's Demo: Candy Cane and Lollipop
Chef’s Demo: Candy Cane and Lollipop
My first ever pop-rocks lollipop!
My first ever pop-rocks lollipop!
Dipped Candies
Dipped Candies
pates de fruit
pates de fruits

Big Lollipop!
Big Lollipop!

Sugar Riboon and Lollipop
Sugar Riboon and Lollipop

Chocolate Drizzled Marshmallows

Chocolate Drizzled Marshmallows

During a hot, hazy and humid summer day, I had a hankering for a sweet treat that would both fill and satisfy me.  Usually on such days I do one of two things:  make an ice cream treat or bake something.  While I love to bake and my love for baked goods transcends almost any romantic’s definition of true love, I was too tired and hot to bake something myself, so I decided to venture out into the hot streets to see the Cake Man.

I felt something like Dorothy going to see the wizard of Oz, only I wasn’t trying to get home, I was searching for the best red velvet cake I could find.  While red velvet cake is considered ordinary by some, I love its moist texture, rich flavor and the contrasting tang that is present
in the cream cheese icing.

As I entered the bakery I was pleased to see the benches outside, surrounded by a variety of green plants to give the feeling of an urban oasis.  When I walked through the door, however, I was disappointed to see a counter and two refrigerated cases filled with packed slices of red velvet cake, with nuts and without nuts.  It was clear they were catering to clients who either got their sweet fix to go or had placed orders for specific events.

While on line for my cake, I also noted their other offerings: Yellow, Chocolate, Pineapple Cream Cheese and Coconut cakes as well as a variety of pies and specialty cakes.  The specialty cakes were not available by slice, but I did observe that many were typical American “comfort cakes” like Pound cake, Strawberry Shortcake, Upside Down cakes, Carrot cake and German Chocolate cake.

I approached and asked the counter person for a red velvet cake, with nuts.  For $6, I thought this would be an adequate afternoon dessert treat.  I sat out on their bench, amidst the foliage, opened the to-go package and began to admire my cake.  The one slice was a generous portion that could easily have been shared by two.  I was glad to have it all to myself!  The cake was very moist and tender, with an even and bright red color.  It consisted of 3 layers with about 1/8th of an inch of cream cheese icing in between layers and about 1/4th of an inch of icing on top.  The outside of the slice was covered in crushed pecans, adding a bit more richness as well as a nice crunch.  The ratio of icing to cake allowed me to enjoy some tangy, creamy flavor with each bite of moist cake.  The cake itself tasted very fresh and had a subtle hint of cocoa throughout.

While the cake’s presentation and the lack of an obvious, air-conditioned seating area were both a bit disappointing, the cake itself was lovely to eat.  Each bite was rich, delicious and balanced with sweetness, tang and crunch.  Of course, I was already interested in trying Cake Man Raven’s other offerings, but that would have to wait for another day.  As I finished my slice (yes I ate the entire thing!), I left their urban oasis on another quest: a cold, iced coffee to wash down my satisfying afternoon sweet treat!

After working on chocolate and cookies we finally got to work on one of my favorite things:  cake!  We spent only two days on cakes, which is hardly enough time to really learn the different styles of cakes or how to decorate them.  However, I think we managed to figure a few things out.

The first cake we made was a chocolate cake. This cake we made by table, which actually was confusing.  My partner and & took a few minutes to realize that two other guys at the end of the table were already working on it.  This was the one cake that did not require a mixer as they just had to combine the wet and the dry ingredients and combine to incorporate.  Seems simple right?

Wrong! A few of us at the table started preparing pans and we got confused as to which pan was for what cake.  The chocolate cake required  pans and the two other cakes required 2.  Then we also weren’t sure how to tell if they were ready.  We kept opening and closing the ovens which delayed the cake’s cooking.  And of course, after about an hour and a half into class, we ended up with no more oven space.  None!  We had used all the space in 4 conventional ovens and 2 convection ovens.  Amazing!  So we stopped to clean.

Once we had cleaned up a bit and took a peek to check on our cakes, we saw we were ready to come out.  So now that we had some space, we proceeded to make our next cake, which was a lemon-scented-white cake.  This is a fat based cake that was made by the creaming method.  I have made cakes like this before, so it wasn’t too hard.  Red velvet and pound cake are other examples of fat based cakes.  It’s fat based since we started with beating the butter until it was softened.  Then we added sugar and beat until it was light and fluffy.  Next we added  the flour and milk-egg mixture in alternating steps.  Once everything was nicely incorporated, we put the batter into two pans and then into the oven.  This method wasn’t very challenging and it resulted in a nicely colored cake.  However, when I went to decorate it and I split the layers, I noticed little tunnels in the cake.  I wasn’t sure what caused that but it still tasted lovely!

Our next cake was a pan di spagna.  This is a traditional Italian sponge cake that is made with the foam method.  Basically, we had to be sure to sift all our dry ingredients to incorporate air.  Then we had to beat our egg whites to soft peak, basically forming a meringue.  Once that was done, we gently fold our egg yolks into the whites.  We sift our dry ingredients again and then fold it all into the egg mixture.  Once this was ready we immediately got it into the oven as any time delay can just result in the meringue deflating.  After everything was all baked and cooled, we packed everything up and made some butter cream!

I have tried to make buttercream before, but it was never quite this rich.  Our procedure was fairly simple:  we combined egg whites, salt and sugar and whisked them over simmering water until it felt like the hottest bath water ever.  We then cooled the mixture down in a mixer and added a whopping 3 pounds of butter!!  Of course, this is why it’s so delicious, right? We continued to blend until it was all smooth, rich and creamy and then, we saved it all for our next class.

As if the chaos wasn’t bad enough on day 1 of cakes, day 2 was even worse.  According to our curriculum, we were supposed to decorate the pan di spagna in teams, and then do either the lemon or chocolate cakes individually.   We all thought we were doing a team project first.  We also all thought we were supposed to finish 3 cakes!  And we also had to flavor our buttercreams and whipped creams and make any other toppings our cakes required.  Once we realized that chef really just wanted us to focus on making one cake as nice as possible then things went a lot smoother.   My primary cake was the lemon-scented white cake with lemon buttercream as filling and icing and toasted coconut on the sides.

Once I had everything ready, I placed my cake on a board that was no larger than 1/8″ – 1/4″ bigger than the cake. I hadn’t realized I was not supposed to cut the cakes into layers, but I did, so I had a 4 layer lemon cake.   I then coated each layer of the cake with an even 1/4″ of the butter cream using my large palate knife.  And I put the coconut along the sides.  Then I piped shells along the edge and wrote “Happy Birthday Stacy” in chocolate on my cake.  The test was when chef cut the cake to look at the layers of the cake and buttercream as well as our piping and chocolate writing.  My writing was not as good as it should have been–it was not three dimensional enough and uneven on the cake.  However, the good news was that my layers and butter cream was very good.  If I had to do this on a test in the pastry program, chef said I would have gotten a 97!  Definitely much better than my other attemtps at cake.

Lemon Cake with Vanilla Buttercream

Lemon Cake with Vanilla Buttercream

Finished Lemon-Vanilla Buttercream Cake

Finished Lemon-Vanilla Buttercream Cake

Now that I finished my primary cake, I had a little bit of fun playing with another cake.  I decided to use up some of the leftover whipped cream, buttercream and cherries that were on my table to make a black forest cake.  I piped rosettes and topped the cake with cherries and shaved chocolate.  I didn’t write on it with chocolate since I didn’t have much time.  I still think it came out rather pretty though.

Black Forest Cake

Black Forest Cake

While I did not get to do a pan di spagna, I did learn how to decorate it since chef used that cake for her demo.  These were the only cakes that were supposed to be cut horizontally into layers.  This cake is also VERY dry and crumby, so to help that, we brushed each layer with a syrup.  Then we add the filling which could be jam with fruit or whipped cream.  To keep the filling from coming out from in between the layers, we use a piping bag to create a dam which is basically a ring of the icing piped along the circumference of the cake layer. We then topped with the next layer.  We continued in this fashion until we had a three layer cake and then we topped the cake with a lovely butter cream.

Overall, we tried to focus on the important points of finishing a cake:

  • The decor should be even and proportionate to each serving.
  • The decor should tell you something about what’s inside the cake.
  • The layers of the cake should be evenly horizontal.

It was a whirlwind 2-days of cakes but I still feel like there’s so much more to learn!  In the meantime, I savored my black forest cake and I froze my lemon cake for another day.