By Chef Scott McMillen, Chef-Instructor, Pastry & Baking Arts

Our culinary and pastry students are faced with a number of challenges on a daily basis. First and foremost, they’re asked to learn recipes and techniques with foreign names and to reinforce that learning after class with homework and library assignments. While striving to produce professional quality work, they must also uphold the highest standard of efficiency and cleanliness. And as their lessons progress, students are expected to do additional fieldwork outside of ICE, which includes trailing (short term stints in commercial kitchens) to plan and prepare for their externships.

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Chef Scott using iPads in class with students

For a program that is relatively short in duration—a mere twelve weeks to nine months of in-class work—this is a rigorous course load. So the last thing our students needed to juggle on top of it is a stack of textbooks. That’s why ICE is proud to provide each of our professional students with their own iPad, preloaded with their course curriculum and textbooks. This technology offers our students and faculty a powerful tool that can help organize notes, record lectures and demonstrations and photograph dishes at every stage of preparation.

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The iPad allows students to keep a living record of their day-to-day work at ICE, providing them the clear advantage of documenting their education in real time. It also helps encourage collaboration in the kitchen, enabling students to share documents and notes instantly—or even to submit homework and assignments to their instructor for instant feedback. Not to mention that sharing the day’s accomplishments with friends and family through apps like Instagram and Twitter helps keep our students motivated and proud.

ICE is the only school of its kind to roll out tablet technology to such a wide extent. The process to identify apps and programs that aid our instruction was not without its own challenges, but the benefits have proven to justify the investment. Mostly recently, instructors have been able to add interactive and multimedia elements—such as quick quizzes and slide shows—to presentations that are streamed to overhead Apple TVs in our teaching kitchens or directly onto the students’ own iPads.

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Streaming content from Apple TV

The nature of technology is to evolve. With that in mind, ICE is committed to continuing to find new ways to use technology to enhance students’ learning experience. It is our goal to continue blending modern technological concepts with traditional, hands-on instruction in the culinary setting, making us an innovative leader among culinary institutions.

 
By Chef Scott McMillen
 

Whisk yeast into water, add flour and salt, then mix until smooth. That’s bread dough. Humble ingredients that—once combined, nurtured and baked—amount to much more than the sum of their parts.

 

Launching ICE’s new Techniques & Art of Professional Bread Baking program this spring, Chef Sim Cass explained to his students that creating bread is alchemy: the seemingly miraculous transformation of one thing into something better, like lead into gold or humble ingredients into crackling loaves.

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Yeast is the transformational ingredient in bread making. A living organism that requires food, moisture, comfort and time in order to thrive. The job of the baker/alchemist is to provide yeast with those conditions. In return, he or she will be rewarded with complexly flavored, wonderfully textured bread.

 

Each day Chef Sim, in his uniquely charming way, guides his students through the deceptively simple process of mixing dough. Temperature, as it turns out, is king. Water must be cooler than the 100°F that many baking books have been preaching for decades. The dough should be left to rise at a cool temperature as well, so that the yeast can develop slowly, creating a potent mixture of carbon dioxide and organic acids that allow the dough to rise and develop flavor.

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Throughout this process—known by its scientific name as “fermentation”—the students were shown how to fold the living dough into itself and turn it over several times. This gentle action evens out the dough’s temperature, strengthens its gluten structure and gives the students a sense of how the dough is developing. A baker can tell a lot about dough through the simple act of touching it. “Your body is your thermometer,” Chef Sim extols. If a dough feels too warm, he won’t hesitate to put it in a refrigerator for a half hour to get it right.

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Hands identify more than temperature. As a dough ferments, there are subtle changes occurring in its textures well. As it rises, its surface grows tense, the starches in the flour continue to absorb moisture, and that too changes the texture. No book or blog post can give credit to the tangible methods that the expert chef shows his students through looking, feeling and assessing. A baker/alchemist needs to experience these transformations in order to guide them.

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There are, of course, different techniques of mixing and maintaining dough, many of which Chef Sim will delve into as the program progresses. Students will use pre-ferments to further extend the yeast’s fermentation time, and they will learn how to create a natural ferment (or “sour starter”) in which no commercial yeast is used at all. But even when the bread making techniques become more challenging, it always comes back to four humble ingredients miraculously changing into something better: artisanal bread.

chef scottThis month, in honor of the holidays, we’ve asked our Culinary Arts and Pastry & Baking Arts instructors to share their favorite festive recipes. Last week, Chef Kathryn Gordon shared an Australian holiday treat: mince tartelettes. Today, Chef Scott McMillen, one of our core Pastry & Baking Arts instructors, gets nostalgic about a classic American cookie.

My mom would make snickerdoodles once, and only once, each year. Every Christmas Eve we would leave a plate of cookies and a glass of milk for Santa. The crisp outside and soft interior highlight the sweet holiday spiciness that sticks in my memory. She used the recipe from her Betty Crocker Cookbook – one of the old ones with the recipe pages in a kind of loose leaf binder. Here, I adapt that recipe, substituting light brown sugar for a third of the granulated sugar, which makes the cookie chewier. Unsalted butter replaces the butter/shortening combination from the original recipe, and I use baking powder instead of baking soda and cream of tartar. A touch of freshly ground nutmeg also adds some extra flavor.

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Ingredients:

  • 2 3/4 cups flour (345g)
  • 2 tsp baking powder (9g)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (3g)
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter (225g)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (200g)
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar (110g)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar (50 g)
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon (8g)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Beat the butter and sugars until light, airy and uniformly blended.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, waiting for each to be fully incorporated before the next addition. Scrape the bowl between additions.
  4. Combine the flour, salt, baking powder and nutmeg and stir it into the butter mixture until the dough just pulls together. Do not continue to mix past this point or the cookies will be tough. The dough can be refrigerated for up to a week at this point.
  5. Combine the additional 1/4 cup of sugar and tablespoon of cinnamon in a bowl.
  6. Form the dough into about 40 one inch round balls. Roll each ball in the cinnamon sugar until completely and thickly coated.
  7. Space them two inches apart on a greased or parchment lined cookie tray and bake for 8 minutes, or until the cookies’ surface starts to crack. (Bake for 10 minutes if you want a crisper cookie.)

By Carly DeFilippo

From rustic to sophisticated, savory to sweet, the students of ICE’s career division never fail to impress our taste buds. Here’s a sneak peek:

Chef Sabrina Sexton and her Culinary Arts students cooked their way through the foods of Italy. Carciofi (artichokes) with peas and pancetta are typical of Northern Italian cuisine.

This pancetta wrapped branzino was another stunning, rustic dish prepared by Chef Sabrina’s class.

Chef Erica Wides and her students have been cooking up seasonal meat dishes, like this venison with butternut squash puree, chestnuts and a red wine reduction.

Chef Gerri Sarnataro instructed students in the art of French pastries, like this blueberry frangipane tart.

The pastry floor filled with the scent of chocolate, as Chef Scott McMillen and students prepared beautiful chocolate génoise cakes.

Students! Did you know ICE is on Twitter and Instagram? Share your favorite photos from class by tagging @ICECulinary.

This is the part of the program where we are designers. Yes, we have had the experience of designing our chocolate showpieces, but individually making fonadant-covered cakes last week was our first experience designing solo. Well, it was actually an inedible foam cake, but it still gave us something to roll our fondant over, creating a clean palate for us to decorate. The only requirement was to include a chocolate rose somewhere on the cake.

If you recall, my introduction to modeling chocolate was certainly a challenge. I struggled with rolling it through a pasta machine to make my chocolate ribbon cake. This time, I used white chocolate, working it in my hands to improve its elasticity. I’m not sure if it had to do with the warmth of my hands or the differences between white and dark chocolate, but this was much more successful than using the pasta machine. Creating the rose petals and leaves out of this material was actually quite fun. I love the process of making parts that will become something bigger and then watching each of the petals comes together to produce a beautiful flower. More…

When both Chef Instructor Scott McMillen’s morning class and Chef Instructor Michelle Tampakis’s afternoon class in the Pastry & Baking Arts career program made a large display of a plethora of different cookies and bars last Friday, these gooey, rich brownies stood out. As Halloween is just around the corner, this appropriately titled recipe from Nick Malgieri may be the perfect, decadent treat on a night that celebrates ghouls and ghosts.

Ingredients
1 pound unsalted butter
1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
8 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound granulated sugar
1 pound dark brown sugar
1/2 fluid ounce vanilla extract
1/2 pound all-purpose flour More…

“This time is going to go fast, faster than you think.” I say this to almost every single class when I meet them as their Career Services Advisor at Lesson 3. And now that I am halfway through the classroom portion of my classes I find myself thinking, “Wow, it is going fast.” In the last few classes of Module 2, we focused more on puff pastry and were introduced to the two additional types of laminated dough — croissant and Danish. Laminated dough is composed of a dough portion (détrempe) and fat portion (beurrage) that is formed into a pâton. Through all of the pounding, rolling and turning of this dough, I have come to appreciate the effort it takes to make things like palmiers, chocolate croissants or Danish snails. I am still continually amazed at how much butter we use, making it quite difficult to prepare the dough. Difficult, but delicious.

At Lesson 47, we also met one-on-one with Amy Quazza, my colleague and now advisor, to discuss externship interests and career goals. This is the third of four times that we will officially meet with Career Services during the program; the next one-on-one meeting will be at Lesson 83 when I will inform Amy of my secured externship, a 210-hour program requirement once the classroom portion is complete. This opportunity to work in a real-world professional kitchen and put the skills learned from the classroom into practice is one of the things that makes ICE unique. What happens between now and then should be a whole lot of trailing and volunteering. What is the trail? For our purposes, it is essentially, a “kitchen interview” and an opportunity to be behind-the-scenes in a kitchen, meet the players and get a sense if it would be a good fit and learning experience. I have described this externship trailing process countless times to students, assuring them that the sooner they start and the more frequently they do it, the better. Trailing can ease the anxiety of walking into a professional kitchen with your whites on for the first time and it will better enable you to make a decision about what environment is right for you. More…

I’ve noticed bakers are a lot like musicians. They touch bread much like a musician touches an instrument to create a perfectly puffed pastry or a perfectly placed chord. A guitarist can play softly or strum with intensity. Bakers, similarly, know when to be gentle, when to be rough and when to be gently rough as they learn to see and feel the differences in texture and the ways in which they need to manipulate their dough to reach the desired end result. Whether it’s a song created or puff pastry baked, the importance of engaging all of one’s senses throughout the production phase is significant.

Our class has been getting loud. If you walked by the fifth floor pastry kitchens over the past week you would have heard the sound of thirteen rolling pins bangin’ on dough — it’s loud enough that you can hardly hear the person next to you when they ask you for some more bench flour. We’ve been making puff pastry, a laminated dough with layers of butter. More…

How do we define the creativity of chefs? This week over 1,000 savory and pastry chefs, restaurant managers, sommeliers and other industry professionals gathered at The Park Avenue Armory for the 3-day International Chefs Congress (ICC), organized by StarChefs.com. I had the opportunity to attend two of the many presentations that discussed this year’s theme, an exploration of the debate Craft vs. Art.

I attended a presentation by “Shock-o-latier” Dominique Persoone (The Chocolate Line) and gastronomical scientist Bernard Lahousse (Sense for Taste, FoodPairing) about how emotions and memories affect taste, as well as El Bulli’s Albert Adrià’s presentation taking us deeper into the contents of his books Natura and A Day at El Bulli. What did I take away from these two presentations? Both, at the core, focused on three things: Simplicity. Technique. Fun.

In terms of simplicity, what these chefs shared was completely in line with my lessons in the Pastry & Baking Arts program at ICE. Chef Nicole advised us to use only three flavors maximum in a dessert. “Keep it simple,” she said. Adrià also shared, “If I can only put three, I’m not going to put six.” Chef Scott reminded us how important it is to choose a color that makes sense for your dessert. Adrià agreed, “If it’s pistachio, and it’s not green, there’s something wrong.” When it is the same color as the product, the aroma and the taste to follow will be in line and good. More…

The one thing that always struck me when I started working at ICE in Career Services was the motivation and inspiration that brought the students to the Culinary Arts or Pastry & Baking Arts programs. I ask the question to students at the very start, “What inspired you to come to culinary school?” One after another, students share stories from their childhood, from watching their grandmother cook when they were only four years old to standing next to their father as they put together the secret recipe for that tomato sauce. Just today, I had one student share passionately how what she remembers from growing up was what happened around the dinner table — the stories, the laughter, the family and friends and the food. For her, coming to culinary school gave her the opportunity to create the food that was part of this wonderful childhood experience.

For me, growing up, the dinner table was also a very significant aspect of my family life. It was where we shared the stories of our days, as we shared in our meal, together. Looking back, there are quite a few staples that sat on that table — apple pie in autumn, pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, and those delicious premade Pillsbury Dough Boy biscuits on those oh so special nights. More…