Saturday, September 17, 2011

Roulade Torte

In this week's Advanced Cake Decorating class, we made a Roulade Torte. Roulade implies a roll of a thin sponge cake and a filling. In this case, we had a thin vanilla sponge cake with chocolate buttercream.

To build this cake, we placed a vanilla chiffon genoise layer down first and then spread a thin layer of chocolate buttercream. We then cut strips of the vanilla sponge cake and layered on chocolate buttercream. We rolled this and placed it in the center, then continued to place strips around to continue to form the roulade to the outer edge.

After completing the roulade layer, we spread a thin layer of chocolate buttercream and then placed another layer of vanilla chiffon genoise on top. We covered the entire torte in chocolate buttercream. I must say, I rebounded well from last week. With some pointers from my friend Anna who is a great cake decorator, I was finally able to do a better job on smoothing out the sides and the top of my cake. We then marked the cake into 16 slices and piped spirals on each slice.

We finished the cake by placing almonds around the bottom edge and placing a slice of marzipan covered in chocolate on each of the 16 slices. I didn't do a great job overall with making my chocolate-covered marzipan slices, and I'm generally not crazy about how large they are, but it does make for an interesting and different garnish.

Chef cut into his cake so we could see how the inside looks when sliced.

I really like the look of the inside of this cake, and I think it could have lots and lots of applications in terms of flavor combinations of cakes and buttercreams.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Retail Baking

Retail Baking is a lab class that has two main objectives. The first is that as a class, we mass produce a variety of products and hold bake sales for the public three times a month. The second objective is that we work with a partner or a group to develop a legitimate business plan. I really feel this is the course in my program in which I will gain the most real-world experience, and I'm really excited about the course overall.

My friend, Gilly, and I are working together on a business plan, which we actually hope to enact in 2012. There will be lots of information on that in the next few months, but for now, I want to share with you what our class is like on a weekly basis.

We split up into four groups, and are responsible for a category of items to be sold at the bake sales. The categories are pies/cakes, cookies/pastries, breakfast items, and breads/special events. We spend two weeks at a time on each category, and rotate through twice. My group of four spent the first two bake sales responsible for breakfast items.

In the breakfast category, we are responsible to produce cinnamon twists, cinnamon rolls, muffins or scones, croissants, and quick breads. Sometimes, we're able to use product made in other courses; for example, over the past two weeks, we were able to sell zucchini bread and banana nut bread from the introductory courses. These are popular items. Last week, Gilly and I worked together to produce the croissants - turkey/cheese, ham/cheese, and pain au chocolate - and lemon blueberry muffins, while our two additional group members made cinnamon rolls and cinnamon twists. This week, we swapped tasks, and Gilly and I made chocolate chip scones as well.

Some of the other items sold this past week included sugar cookies, brownies, cream cheese brownies, assorted quiche, chocolate cream pies, beer cheddar bacon cupcakes, dinner rolls, and danishes.

We've had two pretty successful bake sales, and it's really fun to set up these for the public, and to see how excited people are about the products we make. Like I said, I'm really excited for this class, and looking forward to future weekly sales and working on our business plan.

Fuerst Pueckler Torte

The third week of Advanced Cake Decorating required the production of the Fuerst Pueckler Torte. Why it's called that, I have no idea, but it's basically a neapolitan of three different colored/flavored mousse. On the bottom is a chocolate cake layer, and then a dome is built on top of it with the three different flavored/colored mousse. Chocolate ganache is poured over top and then it is decorated with chantilly cream.

So, going in to class, I know that this isn't a layer cake in the traditional sense. I knew I wouldn't have to slice three or four even cake layers and build a flat cake to cover the sides evenly and the top flatly with buttercream. So, I thought, this would be a nice break from that typical process and I may actually do better with something a bit different.

I go into class with this great attitude. I watch the demo and think, "Well, it doesn't look too bad. I think I can handle this." So off I go.

I don't have to slice a chocolate cake layer because we are using ones saved from the previous week. There's a freebie. I prepare my chantilly cream, and flavor some of it with pineapple to build my first layer, in a small dome shape in the center of the cake. Not too bad to start. Things seem ok so far.

I then flavor some of the chantilly cream with raspberry and I put it over the pineapple cream dome. I think I'm getting the shape correctly, so it seems ok so far here as well.

Onto the chocolate chantilly cream. This requires the proper temperature in the melted chocolate, so the chocolate doesn't chip up when it gets added to the cream. Mine wasn't the right temperature - it only chipped very minimally, but I of course overwhipped it - I used to do this a lot in my other cakes class, so I'm not really surprised, but since it's on the inside of the cake, I'm not too worried about it. I get the chocolate on there, Chef agrees that the dome is "good enough" so I put the torte in the cooler to set up.

At this point, I'm generally feeling fine about my progress. It's not the best it can be, but I generally strive for mediocre in this sense so I feel like I'm right on point.

Chef continues his demo. He takes his cake and covers it with chocolate ganache. And then demonstrates the proper decoration. A ring of chantilly cream around the bottom edge, 16 equal slices, 16 rosettes, and 1/4 slices of candied cherries. I'm obviously not looking forward to rosettes because I still haven't managed to do them properly in the past, but I figure I'll get Chef to show me and it will be fine.

It's supposed to go something like this; these are from Chef's demo:

After setting up my ganache, Chef discovers that mine and my bench partners is thinner than the other students so he's concerned we screwed something up. We figure we probably mis-measured the chocolate but we can't remember for sure, so we go with it. The ganache covers evenly and sets up, so we're fine to complete the torte, but it's less shiny in color.

I begin to mark my cake with my knife into 16 equal slices. It's generally slightly difficult even though you don't think it will be. This time, it's even worse for me. On the first try, my knife goes too far into the ganache so it looks sloppy. Chef immediately points this out to me, as if I didn't notice or as if I did it on purpose. I kept moving along, and even being aware of this, continued to screw it up five more times, which Chef continued to point out to me. This is the biggest reason I currently have a strong dislike for cake decorating. My brain knows WHAT to do, and I'm fully aware of how it should look, but my body never cooperates. It's not like I purposely try to screw it up. I purposely try NOT to. It just always happens.

So at this point, I'm pretty irritated. But I keep progressing. I get my piping bag and I start piping the bottom border, and it's a complete disaster. It looks easy to do. For a lot of people, it probably is really easy to do. For me, well, again, not so much. And of course, Chef immediately points out how bad it is, which I'm already aware of. But once you start, there are no do-overs, so I continue the process and it generally doesn't get any better.

Now, at this point, I'm really irritated and I haven't even started on the rosettes. I ask Chef for a demo because I'm not convinced I have ever done these correctly in the past. He shows me, I practice. I get to the torte and make my first one, which I realize is too small and too far up in the slice. So that's not obviously good, but it's there, and I can't remove it, so I have to move forward with the other 15 rosettes in the same wrong place and of the same wrong size. Chef immediately points this out to me, again, as if I didn't already know it was problematic. I get the candied cherries on there, and call it quits.

I'm obviously extremely irritated at this point. Chef knows it too. I'm obviously not pleased with the downward progression of my attitude during the course of the class. I really hate the person I become in the cake decorating process. I like to tell myself over and over and over that I just need to do my best and be fine with it. But it's so damn frustrating. Like I said, my brain knows WHAT to do and HOW to do it, but my body fails me repeatedly. It's such a vicious cycle.

As I'm writing this, part of me thinks it's probably not in the greatest light to share these frustrations and these moments in which I'm not proud of myself. People may read it and think less of me. But the truth is, I think it's important for people who keep up with me to know that pastry school is a great overall experience, but like anything else, it has its bumps in the road and its obstacles and its frustrations. I like to think that I rise every time I feel that I fall. I'm aware of my shortcomings and I'm aware of where I need improvement, both in terms of skill and attitude. At the end of the day, I think it's important to be honest with myself, and push myself to do better. Putting this out there for people to read and see, I guess, is my way of holding myself accountable and trying to do better and be better.

Introduction to Wine

As I mentioned a few posts back, my semester is a little different than last year's due to the courses I am taking. Since I only have two baking lab classes, I decided to sign up for Introduction to Wine. I have an interest in wine, and I've always wanted to be more educated as a consumer, so I felt this would be a necessary course for my personal and professional growth.

The class meets Tuesday nights from 6-9pm. We've had three classes so far. During the first week of classes, we discussed the basics of wine history, including things like Prohibition. We also discussed the process for tasting wine, including examining a wine's appearance, smelling a wine, tasting a wine, and making conclusions. Each week, we use this process and taste a few wines. Our homework each week always include tasting a new wine as well.

During the second week, we discussed viticulture - the process for cultivating grapes - and viniculture - the process of making wine. We talked about climate, harvesting, trellising, terroir, and the differences between making white wine and making red wine.

During the third week of class, we had a component tasting. The instructor set up various cups of ingredients, like different fruits, vegetables, spices, etc, and we smelled each during that part of the wine tasting experience. We did this with four different wines.

I am not the greatest at identifying components based on smell, so this process was really helpful for me. We've also tasted some wines I have really liked, so my exposure to different wines has already grown in just three short weeks. We're beginning to look at different countries and their governing bodies, laws, regions, grapes, and market trends, and we're starting with France. I imagine it will begin to seem like information overload, but for now, I am enjoying the exposure and new knowledge.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Upside Down Cake & Raspberry Checkerboard Torte

The fall semester started on Monday, August 22. This semester will be different from last year's journey through baking and pastry school as I am only taking two baking lab classes - Advanced Cake Decorating and Retail Baking. I'm also taking Introduction to Wine and two Small Business Management courses, but based on this course load, it's very different than my first two semesters of culinary school.

If you've been reading along with me since last fall, you're probably guessing that I'm not generally thrilled about Advanced Cake Decorating. You can recall that I struggled during the Fall 2010 semester in improving my cake decorating skills; it's one of those things where I know what to do, I'm just generally not able to execute. I'm also generally out of practice. I haven't made a layer cake since last November or December, whenever my final exam in my Introduction to Cakes class was. And since this is a process I've only really attempted about 20 times since starting school, I just don't have enough experience to really enjoy the process.

One of the barriers to my improvement in cake decorating is money. It's not cheap to make a layer cake covered in buttercream, and since I'm on a pretty strict budget these days, I try to save my grocery dollars for real food, rather than icing. The related problem is that while I could make layer cakes at home to practice, I don't like wasting food and there's no way I want to eat an entire cake by myself on a regular basis. I'm sure I could give them away to people, but I really wouldn't feel good about giving away cakes that I don't think are decorated well.

My other general barrier is that when you're training to improve this type of process, you're intimately aware of your imperfections. To the common observer, my cake decorating probably looks pretty good, but when you know what great cakes are supposed to look like, my own imperfections seem glaringly obvious. I worked really hard in my 20s to let go of my perfectionist tendencies so you can imagine that this process remains challenging for me on a psychological level.

The final struggle with cake decorating is that we execute one cake per week in class, and it feels like a final exam each and every week. It can be a bit stressful, and well, who wants to feel final-exam stressed on a weekly basis? Not me. I have enough stress to deal with on a daily basis.

But, this class is a good, positive challenge. It's required, and I want to take all of the baking lab classes offered at my school, so it's a necessary course on my path to growing, both professionally and personally. It's also a good test each week to try my best and be satisfied with the outcome, without feeling the ridiculous emotions I allowed myself to experience last fall. Not an easy mindset, but a necessary one at this point. So, off we go.

This course meets two days a week. On Mondays, we bake the cakes and prepare the icings and other elements needed for the cakes. On Wednesdays, Chef demos the cake from start to finish and then we have 75 minutes to execute the cake. You work until you're finished, however, so if you exceed the 75 minutes, your grade is negatively influenced.

Last week, during the first week of class, we executed the Upside Down Cake. This is a four-layer cake made of chocolate chiffon genoise, Italian buttercream, and rum flavored simple syrup. After building the four-layers, we used a paring knife to cut out part of the cake at a 45-degree angle. We turned this piece of cake over and gently pushed it into the remaining cake hole, thus creating the upside down feature of the cake. We then iced the cake and decorated the top with a specific pattern. The cake was finished with fig jam and crushed toasted almonds.

Chef cut his cake so we could see the inside and taste the cake, so this is what it is supposed to look like:

During this past week, we executed the Raspberry Checkerboard Torte. Using two chocolate chiffon cake layers and two vanilla chiffon cake layers, we cut out rings of cake to create the checkerboard effect inside the cake. Raspberry jam was added to the Italian buttercream to create the icing and a brandy-flavored simple syrup was used to complement the raspberry flavor. After building the cake, we decorated it with a specific design, and finished it off with raspberry jam and crushed toasted almonds.

Again, Chef cut into the cake so we could see the inside and taste it, so this is what it's supposed to look like when cut:

All in all, some fun new skills in the area of cake decorating. One cake at a time.