Search Results for: life as a pastry student


By Lauren Katz—Student, School of Pastry & Baking Arts

One of the first things people ask when I tell them I’ve started the Pastry & Baking Arts program at ICE is, “So, are you still working?” I was surprised the first time I was asked this question, because, to me, the answer was so obvious. I currently work as the web editor at Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine, and on Mondays and Tuesdays I leave about an hour early to rush down to Battery Park for class.

At first I was terrified to juggle work and school—scared that the trains would be delayed, that I wouldn’t have time to eat dinner and, most of all, that I would be exhausted and unable to pay attention after an eight-hour day at the office. But what I quickly discovered is that my passion for baking overrides all of the above.

My most vivid memories of growing up are those of helping my mom cook and bake. From sitting on the counter to perching on my tippy toes, to eventually standing right by her side, my appreciation for culinary education starts with her. My grandma was also a phenomenal cook and baker, and it has become very apparent how much of her talent has been passed down through two generations. Yet it wasn’t until I was old enough to prepare entire meals for my family and friends that I fell in love with cooking. It was so gratifying to see something go from a collection of ingredients to a beautifully composed dish, all due to my diligence and hard work.

When thoughts of working in the real world began to populate my brain, I started focusing on perfecting my two passions: cooking and writing. It only took about a semester in college to realize my dream job: editor-in-chief of a major food magazine. At 24, I’m so lucky to already work at a food magazine, but I knew that to further my career, the hands-on part of my professional education still needed to be fulfilled. So after more than a decade of watching the Food Network, attending recreational cooking classes and hosting dozens of dinner parties, I knew that it was time to pursue my passion for pastry and baking.Lauren Katz Food Media Culinary School

It took watching just one episode of the Netflix series Chef’s Table for me to pull the trigger and submit my application for Pastry & Baking Arts at ICE. Seeing the drive and devotion of such chefs as Massimo Bottura and Dan Barber was one of the most inspirational things I’ve ever witnessed. I could relate on so many levels, and I realized that, at one point, these chefs had the same dreams that I do now.

Lauren Katz Everyday with Rachel Ray Culinary School

Now that I’ve enrolled in culinary school, those dreams are closer to being realized than ever before. Being away from my apartment for more than 13 hours a day, eating dinner on the subway and getting significantly less sleep is far from an ideal lifestyle, but the gratification I have received in just four weeks has been worth it. What’s more, my fellow evening class students share my drive to succeed. They too are juggling unusual schedules, and their commitment is proof that they genuinely care about making it in this industry, just like me. They make excellent taste testers, too!

In just the first few weeks of class, I’ve had so many different experiences, and one of the best pieces of advice I’ve received was from Alice’s Teacup owner Michael Eisenberg. He spoke to our class about the trials, tribulations, risks and rewards of owning a restaurant and to use this time to fail as much as we can. Those words alone have made me infinitely more excited to learn, experiment, fail and—eventually—succeed. So bring on the soufflés, flambés, pâte à choux, fondant, ganache and sugar sculpting. I’ll be waiting at ICE with open arms.

To learn more about ICE’s Pastry & Baking program, click here.


By Lauren Katz—Student, School of Pastry & Baking Arts

Throughout my life, I’ve learned to appreciate high quality ingredients—both in the food I’m cooking and dishes prepared by others. One of my biggest revelations on the road to pastry school was the first time I tasted the difference between a cake made from a boxed mix and one made from scratch. Ultimately, I feel infinitely happier consuming something when I know exactly what went into it to make it taste so good. However, it wasn’t until pastry school that I truly understood the impact the best ingredients make in the final product.

ICE - Bread Program - Sim Cass - Pastry School - Baking School - Baking Student

In our first unit, I was exposed to two ingredients that will change the way I bake for good: Trablit coffee extract and Italian pistachio paste. Trablit is a concentrated extract that tastes like the best cappuccino you’ve ever had. Once I discovered its potential, I tried featuring it in every dessert possible, from ice cream and crème brûlée to buttercream and doughnut glaze. It imparts a warm, rich and authentic coffee flavor that cannot be achieved with espresso powder or other coffee flavorings.

Pistachio paste from Italy has a similar effect. Its concentrated, earthy pistachio flavor is what takes desserts from being somewhat nutty to intensely flavorful. It often contains a touch of sugar or almond meal, but the majority of the product is simply ground pistachios. The creamy olive green color is also far more beautiful than the fluorescent green of lesser quality pistachio paste.

pistachios in shell

Beyond these flavoring agents, I’ve gained an appreciation for quality in the day-to-day ingredients we take for granted. In our bread unit, I have noticed there is a distinct difference between the flavor of breads made with white flour and breads made with wheat. Of course, I already knew that whole wheat bread is healthier, but it wasn’t really until I baked bread myself that I truly realized how ingredient selection impacts the flavor, texture and nutritional aspects of artisanal products.

Another example? Whether we’re whipping up a batch of brioche or just looking for the perfect complement to our freshly baked breads, ICE students have the benefit of working with President butter, made from high-quality cream in Normandy, France. It’s rich, creamy and perfectly salty, and enhances the flavor of bread, rather than taking away from it.

Brioche Before Baking President Butter

So will I refuse to eat anything made with products of lesser quality now? Of course not. But if I’m the cook responsible for a dish, I know I can give myself an edge on the competition by opting for these premium ingredients. Moreover, as a student, I feel very lucky to have access to these incredible tools during such a pivotal time in my culinary education.

Experience the finest ingredients when you enroll in ICE’s professional Pastry & Baking Arts program.


By Lauren Katz—Student, School of Pastry & Baking Arts

I didn’t think field trips could get any better than grade school visits to the zoo, the science center or the monuments in Washington, D.C. But when Chef Jenny McCoy announced our class would be visiting Mast Brothers Chocolate Makers and OddFellows Ice Cream Co. in Brooklyn, I had a feeling this field trip would top them all. What I didn’t realize, however, was that this particular field trip would inspire a possible focus for my career path in pastry.

After a long workday, it was comforting to walk into the Mast Brothers factory to be greeted by the warm aroma of chocolate. (By the way–did you know Rick Mast is an ICE Culinary Management alum?) Unlike some store/factory hybrids, almost all of the production at Mast can be seen from the entrance, as glass windows reveal a large aging and tempering room. What’s most impressive about this small company is that they produce all of their chocolate from bean-to-bar on-site.

Mast Brothers Chocolate

Photo Credit: Filip Wolak

In other words, the Mast brothers are creating their product entirely from scratch. They receive beans from all over the world—with unique flavors highlighted in their single origin bar series, made with only two ingredients: cocoa and organic cane sugar. I was surprised to notice the flavor difference between bars from Tanzania and Peru, just like you might find with wine or coffee. The factory also produces bars in unusual flavors, including black truffle and even goat milk chocolate! The brothers are also brewing their version of a nonalcoholic “beer,” which has an impeccable, chocolatey resemblance to stout. About one hundred tastings later, our class left Mast Brothers in high spirits.

Leaving Mast’s sleek, modern, innovative space, we headed to OddFellows, where the aesthetic is just the opposite. At this seemingly old-school ice cream parlor, the menu is anything but, featuring flavors like miso-cherry, “ants on a log” (celery sorbet!) and cornbread. These zany ideas spring from the creative mind of OddFellows owner Sam Mason. Best known as the former pastry chef at the molecular gastronomy restaurant wd~50, Mason is exploring the boundaries of taste, texture and technology at his new venture.

OddFellows Sam Mason Ice Cream

Photo Credit: OddFellows Ice Cream Co.

Ice cream has always been near and dear to my heart—I’m from Ohio, home of Graeter’s and Jeni’s, after all—but after this visit, I’ve realized my passion for this frozen treat goes way beyond a cone and some sprinkles. Experiencing such unique flavor combinations in a classic dessert was an eye opener. Mason’s small team is always brainstorming new ideas and flavoring methods, and our brief tour of the kitchen was enough to convince me that ice cream is a career path I would be interested in pursuing.

I’m starting to imagine creating ice creams at home—from innovative ways to incorporate unique and savory ingredients to researching the benefits of different ice cream machines. Like most great ideas, all it takes is one “aha!” moment to realize something feels right. OddFellows may just have been mine.

Click here to learn more about the Pastry & Baking program at ICE.


By Lauren Katz—Student, School of Pastry & Baking Arts

One of the first things people ask when I tell them I’ve started the Pastry & Baking Arts program at ICE is, “So, are you still working?” I was surprised the first time I was asked this question, because, to me, the answer was so obvious. I currently work as the web editor at Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine, and on Mondays and Tuesdays, I leave about an hour early to rush down to Battery Park for class.

At first I was terrified to juggle work and school—scared that the trains would be delayed, that I wouldn’t have time to eat dinner and, most of all, that I would be exhausted and unable to pay attention after an eight-hour day at the office. But what I quickly discovered is that my passion for baking overrides all of the above.

Lauren Katz Food Media Culinary School

My most vivid memories of growing up are those of helping my mom cook and bake. From sitting on the counter to perching on my tippy toes, to eventually standing right by her side, my appreciation for culinary education starts with her. My grandma was also a phenomenal cook and baker, and it has become very apparent how much of her talent has been passed down through two generations. Yet it wasn’t until I was old enough to prepare entire meals for my family and friends that I fell in love with cooking. It was so gratifying to see something go from a collection of ingredients to a beautifully composed dish, all due to my diligence and hard work.

When thoughts of working in the real world began to populate my brain, I started focusing on perfecting my two passions: cooking and writing. It only took about a semester in college to realize my dream job: editor-in-chief of a major food magazine. At 24, I’m so lucky to already work at a food magazine, but I knew that to further my career, the hands-on part of my professional education still needed to be fulfilled. So after more than a decade of watching the Food Network, attending recreational cooking classes and hosting dozens of dinner parties, I knew that it was time to pursue my passion for pastry and baking.

It took watching just one episode of the Netflix series Chef’s Table for me to pull the trigger and submit my application for Pastry & Baking Arts at ICE. Seeing the drive and devotion of such chefs as Massimo Bottura and Dan Barber was one of the most inspirational things I’ve ever witnessed. I could relate on so many levels, and I realized that, at one point, these chefs had the same dreams that I do now.

Lauren Katz Everyday with Rachel Ray Culinary School

Now that I’ve enrolled in culinary school, those dreams are closer to being realized than ever before. Being away from my apartment for more than 13 hours a day, eating dinner on the subway and getting significantly less sleep is far from an ideal lifestyle, but the gratification I have received in just four weeks has been worth it. What’s more, my fellow evening class students share my drive to succeed. They too are juggling unusual schedules, and their commitment is proof that they genuinely care about making it in this industry, just like me. (They make excellent taste testers, too!).

In just the first few weeks of class, I’ve had so many different experiences, and one of the best pieces of advice I’ve received was from Alice’s Teacup owner Michael Eisenberg. He spoke to our class about the trials, tribulations, risks and rewards of owning a restaurant, and to use this time to fail as much as we can. Those words alone have made me infinitely more excited to learn, experiment, fail and—eventually—succeed. So bring on the soufflés, flambés, pâte à choux, fondant, ganache and sugar sculpting. I’ll be waiting at ICE with open arms.

To learn more about ICE’s Pastry & Baking program, click here.

 

By Alison Mahoney—Student, School of Pastry & Baking Arts

For as long as I can remember, my father, a native Bostonian, has had a serious love affair with the Boston cream pie. So much so that after my parents got married, they went straight to the Omni Parker House—which invented this confection—for a little slice of heaven. I’ve always wanted to make this dessert for dear old dad, but a whole Boston cream pie is much too large for just the three of us. So I wondered, what would be an alternative way to make it? Of course! Single-serving éclairs.

The inside of eclair shells made by ICE Creative Director Michael Laiskonis

The inside of éclair shells made by ICE Creative Director Michael Laiskonis

Lucky me, lucky me! In class last week we learned how to make pâte à choux—the dough used for éclair shells. And since I’ve already mastered the art of pastry cream, I’m already halfway to crafting a Boston cream éclair recipe.

Choux pastry is awesome for a number of reasons—mostly because it’s everywhere. For example, I was in Paris just six months ago, and I tried my first Paris-Brest, which I learned is also made with choux pastry! It’s the base for so many beloved desserts: cream puffs, profiteroles…you name it.

pate a choux paris brest

Paris-Brest crafted by ICE students

What’s the trick to making choux? Essentially, you start with a roux. From there, you add eggs: delicious, forgiving, wonderful eggs. In fact, making pâte à choux isn’t all that hard—you just have to pay attention and move fast. As long as you follow the instructions your chef instructor provided, you’re golden.

Once you’ve made your dough, there are so many options, and each one is more delicious than the last. The batter is so easy to work with—silky and shiny and super forgiving. If you pipe something that looks a little wonky, all you have to do is wet your fingers and shape it the way you want. And, while I was a bit nervous about making pastry cream the first time, I felt confident making it again for this class. In short, my éclairs turned out to be quite the success.

Pate a Choux Eclairs

The true test? My dad. My parents came into town for Father’s Day, and I was in my pâte à choux glory. I mean my dad was certainly grateful for just one delightful Boston cream éclair, but add on a Paris-Brest, cream puffs and profiteroles? I think I just earned the daughter of the year award.

Click here to learn more about ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program.

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By Alison Mahoney—Student, School of Pastry & Baking Arts

Following rules isn’t something that comes naturally to me as a baker. Despite the stereotype that successful pastry chefs use relatively scientific methods, my more off-the-cuff approach has gotten me fairly far in the kitchen. That said, there’s only so far that one can go without structure, which is why I decided to enroll at ICE: to leash the puppy, so to speak.

With that in mind, it probably wouldn’t surprise you that I’ve had my fair share of baking disasters. I am the queen of trying a new recipe the day of a really important dinner—and tearing my hair out as I try to troubleshoot the saggy buttercream, or feverishly dumping cornstarch into my lemon curd to get it to thicken, or cursing the day the French macaron ever walked into my life.

I can recall, in vivid detail, every single baked good gone bad: the crater cake, the s’mores that tripped the fire alarm (and, in turn, the fire department) and the quicksand fruit tart. Since that last disaster—almost five years now—pastry cream and I have not been friends. Not even frenemies.

pastry school fruit tarts

Fresh and poached fruit tarts with pastry cream

So imagine my disstress when I walked into class to learn that we were making tarts: fruit tarts. I felt my knees weaken, my pulse race and I think I even broke into a cold sweat. But it was time to finally laugh in the face of danger and master the art of pastry cream.

In truth, I shouldn’t have been surprised that I would have to face this demon head on. I was in the midst of a course focused on classic pastry techniques, after all. As I watched our chef instructor walk us through the demo, I realized a couple of things. First and foremost, technique and knowledge—not to mention having an expert on hand to ask for help—are king. Additionally, I realized that when it comes to finicky techniques like pastry cream, my own ugly history of disasters could actually be to my benefit—at least I knew what I was up against.

Pastry student piping pastry cream

Practicing piping with pastry cream

With trepidation, I gathered my ingredients and went to the stove. I heated the milk and the sugar, I tempered the eggs and I added the cornstarch and flour. Then, the moment of truth: stirring until it became thick, glossy and doubled in size. What I didn’t know when I first attempted pastry cream is that it is truly all in the wrist. The more rigorously you stir, the faster your pastry cream comes together. From there, I pulled my pot off the heat and folded in the butter. As I poured the pastry cream into a bowl over an ice bath, I thought, “What if I was just destined to remain a pastry cream failure?”

There was only one way to find out. The moment of truth came when I filled my perfectly golden tart shell with my pastry cream and started to pile on the berries. Would this have the same fate as my quicksand tart? You be the judge…

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To learn how to make your own photo-ready fruit tart, click here.


By Alison MahoneyStudent, School of Pastry & Baking Arts

For as long as I can remember, I have had a love affair with bread. Growing up Italian, good bread was compulsory at every meal. Some days, my after school snack was a hunk of Italian bread and a Big Gulp of orange soda (don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it). Since those days, bread has been a mainstay in my diet. As a vegetarian, it’s sometimes the only item I can eat on the menu—and you won’t hear me complaining about it.

ICE - Bread Program - Sim Cass - Pastry School - Baking School - Baking Student

So why would a self-proclaimed “avid home baker” and bread lover never make bread? That’s right, this baker—who has laughed in the face of the French macaron and homemade puff pastry—has run away from bread-making like I was the only woman left in the zombie apocalypse. And the reason is yeast. Yeast has always scared the daylights out of me, because yeast is, after all, a fickle mistress.

So, just imagine my shock, awe and utter trepidation when I heard our first class at ICE was Bread 101. Not only would I have to use a scale for the first time and make sure that all of my measurements were perfectly accurate, but I would also have to face my greatest baking demon head on. (Secretly, I was hoping my first day of pastry school would be like the first episode of Top Chef where you make your signature dish and show your point of view. Ah, not so much.)

Bread Baking - Baking School - Pastry School - Bread Baking - Baking Student

Luckily for us, our chef calmly walked us through the process of making bread. It didn’t look that hard, and I was fascinated by what I was learning about my former foe; who knew that sugar feeds yeast, while salt slows it down? I was starting to feel slightly more excited. But first, I had to create the perfect temperature for my yeast in order for it to bloom (and figure out what an ounce is using the pesky scale).

At home, I’m pretty fast and loose in the kitchen, so the concept of exact measurements is a bit foreign to me. I need structure and technique to stay on task, which was part of the appeal of culinary school. As it happens, my scale is actually pretty cool and does all the thinking for me! So I follow the directions and I bloom the yeast, scald the milk, cube my butter and measure out a combination of bread flour and whole wheat flour, plus a little honey for sweetness. I give it a whirl in the mixer and out comes this gorgeous, warm pile of silky dough. Whoa, did I maybe actually do this right?! I set my dough aside to proof and while I wait for it to rise, I start dreaming of all the kinds of bread I can make now that I am a “master” bread maker. (One loaf of bread hardly makes one an expert, but a girl can dream.)

bread - shaping - bread baking - culinary school

When my bread comes out of the oven, it feels like life is in slow motion, and the song “We are the Champions” is playing in my head. It is golden, delicious, smells like a dream and the texture is in this magical place between spongy and dense. This, of course, opens the flood gates. Since then I have made white bread, wheat bread, cinnamon bread, focaccia bread, dinner rolls, rosemary bread, challah bread–which I made into banana foster french toast—and I am now a woman completely obsessed with bread in all the right ways. Despite all my worries, making bread never felt so right. The one challenge I haven’t faced? Sourdough. Anyone have a starter I can borrow?

Click here to learn more about ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program.

 

By Alison Mahoney—Student, School of Pastry & Baking ArtsThe Singing Baker - Alison Mahoney - pastry school - pastry student

I grew up with a mother who was the embodiment of a “hostess with the mostest.” Martha Stewart had nothing on this domestic goddess. She always made her creations look fashionable, gorgeous and delicious, and she did it all on a dime. Needless to say, assisting my mom in the kitchen during her fabulous parties was a must. My sister and I would dress up in our party outfits, don vintage aprons and pass the hors d’oeuvres. Looking back, I think that’s where my penchant for entertaining began.

Yet despite my deep appreciation for my mother’s entertaining style, I never expected to end up in the kitchen myself. For me, baking started innocently, as all hobbies do: a chocolate chip cookie here; a pizzelle there; a wedding cake for a gluten-free friend. People started to tell me (often) “You should open a bakery.” I laughed it off thinking, “Riiiiight…a musical theatre actor and night owl should definitely get up at 4 am to start baking bread.” Not in this lifetime. Baking was just a sublime obsession, a creative outlet outside of my day-to-day grind of auditions and rehearsals. It was also a great way to make new friends. Nothing says “be my BFF” like freshly baked muffins, cake or pie. (Seriously, just try it.)

Pistachio macarons - baking - pastry - Alison Mahoney - pastry school

Pistachio macarons

More and more, I found myself day-dreaming at auditions about what kind of baked good I would tackle that night. I would rush home with an hour or two between commitments to bake a cake, French macarons or cookies, and then go out for the night. It suddenly became my routine, and boy did I love the challenge. Suddenly, I found myself in the kitchen three or four times a week. Singing had always been my first love, but baking? Baking was quickly becoming the dark horse.

My baking addiction got so out of hand that I actually found myself competing for baking domination on a Food Network show where I was the only home chef. I clearly could not hang with the big boys on national television, but I so desperately wanted to. I am creative and fast and loose in the kitchen, but I quickly learned that, when it comes to baking, a strong foundation in technique is truly what gives a chef freedom. I started researching pastry programs, seeking a curriculum that felt serious but not confining—a course that would teach me how to create something classic, but then encourage me to color outside of the lines. I found that place in ICE.

With my reckless tendencies in the kitchen, I’ve found weighted measurements to be a challenge (and I’m certainly keeping my fellow classmates on their toes). That said, I’ve discovered that I love having to follow direction. It is so fascinating to find out why ingredients are incorporated at different points in the process and about the different chemical reactions behind seemingly basic sweets. I love watching my classmates’ eyes light up, triumphant when their bread comes out of the oven, or when my instructor explains to me why my pastry cream has never, ever, ever set-up correctly. (It’s ALL in the wrist.) I feel all abuzz with knowledge and confidence when I leave class each day, and immediately go back to my home kitchen to practice what I’ve learned.

I invite you to follow me as I embark on this wild new adventure, attempting to transform into the master baker that I feel I was always destined to become.

Click here to learn more about ICE’s career program in Pastry & Baking Arts.

By Girika Mahajan, Pastry & Baking Arts Student

I recently chanced upon the work of artist Kara Walker, titled “A Subtlety Or the Marvelous Sugar Baby”. The mammoth sphinx structure, installed in the old Domino Sugar Refinery in Williamsburg, was 35 feet high and took about four tons of sugar to create. She described it as a “homage to the unpaid and overworked artisans who have refined our sweet tastes from the cane fields to the kitchens of the new world.”

Kara Walker’s - A Subtlety-1

The use of sugar sculptures as a form of creative expression and political dialogue ages back many centuries. Sidney Mintz, in Sweetness and Power, describes the medieval fashioning of sugar, called subtleties. These sugar sculptures depicted political or religious scenes and commonly appeared on the tables of the wealthy. Though there may be little that is “subtle” about them—then as now—sugar sculptures still hold a prized place among the pastry arts, decorating luxurious banquet halls and being featured in culinary competitions.

Today, artistic showpieces consisting of sugar and its derivatives are constructed using a variety of mechanical methods. These methods include—but are not limited to—casting, blowing, pulling, pressing and spinning. And while this post is titled “The Art of Sugar Sculpting,” let me assure you that sugar sculpting is as much a science as it is an art.

Sugar Sculpting 2

In one of our recent classes with Chef Kathryn Gordon, we were introduced to the basics of casting—the tip of the sugar sculpting iceberg. The idea is pretty simple: cook sugar to the hard crack stage (about 320 degrees Fahrenheit), color it, cast it in silicone molds of desired shapes and assemble the structure together. Yet despite these straightforward instructions, there are plenty of tiny problems that can occur over the course of this transformation.

For starters, sugar has a tendency to crystallize. If your pots and equipment aren’t perfectly cleaned, chances are the sugar will crystallize before you reach the hard crack stage. It is also easy to overcook or burn sugar, and thus it is critical to use accurate and well-calibrated thermometers. Visual cues such as the size and frequency of popping bubbles will also help determine when the sugar is ready, as well as conducting “water tests.”

Sugar Sculpting 1

In our class, we used isomalt, a sugar derivative, instead of sucrose (what we imagine when we think of “sugar”) for the sculptures. Isomalt, while more expensive than sugar, is readily available in any pastry supply store. It is the preferred choice for professional sugar sculptors because it naturally resists crystallization and is less hygroscopic (does not absorb moisture as readily) than sucrose. It also does not exhibit the typical yellow/caramel color of cooked sucrose which allows it to be colored more easily and accurately. No matter what sugar derivative you choose, it is an essential first step in the sculpting process, one that will dramatically influence your plans to create a visually appealing and structurally stable design.

sugar sculptures

Once we got to work on designing our sugar sculptures, it was exciting to see how a group that started with the same ingredients ended with such a diverse mix of colors, shapes and designs. It was a project that urged us to explore our creative side as pastry cooks, as opposed to following recipes and baking by the book. In a sense, the process was a perfect metaphor for the life of a pastry chef—educating our inner scientists in order to reveal our inner artists.

For more behind-the-scenes posts on life as a pastry student, click here.

By Orlando Soto, Pastry & Baking Arts Student

On our first day of class in Kitchen 501, Chef Gerri Sarnataro shared several indispensable truths about the food industry. One of them really struck me as odd: “There’s always a back door.” Meaning, there’s always more than one way of doing things, especially in cooking. I thought this was ironic, given my initial perception of pastry: we follow recipes to the gram in an effort to deliver consistent results. But of course, Chef Gerri’s words rang true throughout the program, and never more so than in cake decorating.

floralcake2

Professional cake decorating elevates the common, spongy dessert from ordinary to memorable. It’s an opportunity for the pastry chef to tune directly into the desires and expectations of a client. A cake is a canvas to delight the sense of sight, as much as the sense of taste. Not surprisingly, it’s the details make or break a cake. If you want to create flowers, for example, you aim to make all the petals, leaves and buds look like nature intended. Subtle color gradients and textures bring to life what was once plain, pliable fondant.

cakeduo

But before you can begin to decorate your cake, you need a plan. A simple scheme for the tiers, colors and the placement or distribution of ornaments is essential. This plan is not only a powerful tool to help keep the decorator on point, but will also provide a preview of sorts, for the client. In the classroom, we presented our cake diagrams and planned the preparation of the decorating elements accordingly.

cakediagram

With a plan in mind, we proceeded to design our cakes. This was when Chef Gerri’s words echoed through the classroom. Yes, there is the way that we were taught to create a rose, but if you looked around the room, everyone was doing their petals just a bit differently. The diverse results would prove that there’s more than one way to translate an idea into a consistently beautiful product.

fondantflowers2

In truth, cake decorating has been most challenging part of our program for me. I can’t sit still for very long, even if I’m working on a beautiful sugar flower. However, the words of Chef Chad stick with me: “I understand, Orlando, but a true Pastry Chef must be able to tackle any project.” As if he were predicting the future, one of my family members was so excited about the cake I was making, she and her fiancé signed me up to make their wedding cake a year from now (no pressure!).

floralcake1

Several days later, we arrived at the end of our classes. We decorated our cakes and showed them in our final ceremony. As my class heads out to our externships with many skills at hand and lessons in mind, I can see that we have, individually, begun to find our culinary voice. Of course, bearing in thought that “there’s always a back door.”

floralcake3

Click here to read more stories about Life as a Pastry Student.