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.