I am barely done with the work but homework deadline is less than an hour away, so I better put my thoughts together, grab a spoonful of Nutella and tell you what happened during the first week of Pastry School.
Due to the holiday on Monday, our first week had only 4 very long days. I am fairly used to working long hours and burning the midnight oil as long as I can determine when to start (usually I’m not really myself until noon), so adapting to the new routine, which includes being in class before 7am was the tough. Let me clarify that students are only allowed inside class if wearing the proper attire and for me to be in class means I have to wake up, shower, feed the cats, eat something, get to school, run between two different floors, first to get my stuff from the locker, then go to the changing room downstairs, then run back upstairs to the kitchen-classroom. Maybe for most of you that is no biggie, but for me, not being late for classes this week was the ultimate proof I really want to be there. And I am happy I was.
The kitchen-classroom is just a large commercial kitchen, with tons of equipment. At first we were introduced to the surroundings and got familiar with the equipment. While I actually have operated most of that equipment, I am dying for the chance to use the rack oven. As the name says it is an oven that you can fit a full rack of pans and trays inside. It’s probably bigger than a den in most downtown apartments. Imagine how cool is to get inside an oven? Maybe not so much for the witch in Hansel & Gretel story…
We were separated in four groups of four including one team leader and we were told to experiment. This first week reminded me a lot of science fairs in elementary school. All groups performed different experiments and shared the results with the class. It was a unique opportunity to purposely make changes in recipes and evaluate the results. Imagine you are reading a cake recipe and it says “mix ingredients only until combined” and you decide to over mix them. Or it says ”cream butter and sugar for at least 5 minutes” and you decide to try only mixing them briefly because you don’t have 5 minutes to spare. Would the cake be the same as if the instructions were properly followed? Well, in real life I never had the chance to try or even when a recipe had gone wrong, it was always a puzzle to figure out what went wrong, except when – please don’t laugh – I used yeast instead of baking powder when baking my first cake in Canada. To my excuse yeast and baking powder both translate as fermento in Portuguese, just one is for bread – fermento fresco and the other for cakes – fermento em pó. But making mistakes in class it was so much fun.
Our fist experiment was making biscuits, but only one group was told to follow the recipe. Other groups were told to use hot water instead of cold or use baking soda instead of baking powder (yes, all of this matter). My group was told to double the amount of baking powder. And when we asked about baking the biscuits close together in such a large tray, we were encourage to experiment, so we baked half of the biscuits spread out on the tray and the others only half an inch apart, as specified in the recipe to see if results would vary. Did I say it was a lot of fun?
We are supposed to use all of our senses in the kitchen; so just looking at those poor messed-up biscuit was not enough, sadly we had to try them all. In another day we played worked with sponge cake, again messing things up.
In one of the coolest experiments we were offered some pink liquid in tiny paper cups and we had to guess what flavour was beverage we were drinking. Funny that so many of us got lemon-lime wrong just because it was pink. And so many others thought it was peach, when the same lemon-lime beverage was dyed light orange.
There was some time for theory and Math in an actual classroom too. Baking is a science were specific amounts of ingredients are to be mixed together by a particular method and baked in a certain temperature to yield proper results. I always love this order and certainty about baking. At least something in my life is very orderly, organized and proper results are expected if you follow the rules. Make sense to me.
Having a business background it always seem right to me that I keep my recipes in Excel. It so easy to use the worksheets, cells and formulas to my benefit when adapting or scaling (up or down) a recipe. Apparently bakers all over have to be familiar with Math, and what I have been doing all this time is called baker’s percentage.
We had a collaborative and open-book test on Friday, but one shouldn’t get fooled cause if you have not opened your book during the week, you don’t even know where to look for answers. I was glad my group had worked so well during the week, as the grades from the test are going to be shared among all the group members.
The most challenging thing for me this week was juggling between school and work. I had three large orders to fulfil this week and so many phone calls and emails to return after each day at school, that I went back on dreaming of hiring a manager. But no, things here at Berliosca Cake Boutique are quite personal and I like to deal with every single client to make their your dream-cake come to life, so I am not delegating this task to anyone else. I guess, I just need to give myself time to be mentally and physically adapted to the new order of things. Or just get some more hours of sleep whenever possible and I’ll be fine.
Next course is about budgeting and cost control. Something I learned the very hard way, but I’m still interested in learning about other ways to improve. Or maybe I will find out I have been very wrong on my way of calculating things. In anyway, it will always be an opportunity for improvement.