Reflections – First week of Pastry School

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.

Tiffany looking puzzled at our messed up biscuits.

Tiffany looking puzzled at our messed up biscuits.

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?

How changes in ingredients and method affected biscuits.

How changes in ingredients and method affected biscuits.

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.

playing with food for educational purposes.

Don’t play with your food, unless it is for educational purposes.

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.

Back to school

bcb_back_to_school

I didn’t really think at this point in my life I would be back at school, but I am. I’m going to pastry school.

You may be thinking that after running Berliosca Cake Boutique for six years, I wouldn’t really need it, right?

Well actually I put my name on the waiting list for this course over three years ago (yes that long!), when Berliosca Cake Boutique was still a part-time gig and my personal life was going through some hardcore changes. At that time, there were a lot of uncertainties and I thought that if everything else failed I could go work for someone else. But who hires a self-taught baker?

Right now it is easy to be proud of being self-taught, but the truth is everything I know has been hard to learn on my own. To my benefit I do like the science behind baking so I research a lot, but from reading to learning new techniques, to finding new ingredients to trying recipes, and finding what flavours will be a success among you was not that easy.

Now Berliosca Cake Boutique is established and I am recognized by my work. So why go to pastry school right now, you ask? First because I never had a know-it-all attitude and I love learning new things. Second and more important is that Berliosca Cake Boutique and my career as a cake artist are far beyond of even the wildest dreams of that girl who was leaving everything known behind to come and live in Canada, so why not keep dreaming and open an actual cake boutique?

I’m not going to school just to learn new recipes or techniques; I’m going to learn about retail operations and much more, so the transition from a “by appointment only” to a storefront is smooth. I am also excited to meet other people in the industry.

Today was my first day and it was quite exciting. Not really learning about the never-ending code of conduct and all the school rules, but about this new step in my life. There are 16 of us in the class, most of whom half of my age. I’m not exaggerating. Knowing that I have left high school over 20 years ago, and there is been at least 15 years since I graduated from university you can do the math. Luckily most of the ones I talked to today have thought I was on my late twenties, which was quite flattering, and even thought we have different backgrounds and baking experience, we are all in the same adventure.

As part of the curriculum I am suppose to do some reflective journaling. Today I was asked to share things about me, so here you have it.

My name is Chris and I am a Brazilian-born Canadian. I’ve been baking since I was nine years old and according to my mom, becoming a cake lady was part of my plans since I was four. The very young version of me used to think one is supposed to be old in order to be a proper cake lady, so that is why I took a 15-year detour in Marketing and Events having even getting an MBA. The 30-year–old version of me, faced with the fear of a new life in Canada realized that she didn’t need to wait until retirement. And that is how my life in Canada is completely merged to my career as a cake artist. While I have baked a lot before, I never sold a cake in Brazil.

I have a weak spot for Nutella and am I addicted to TV shows, specially the crime ones. I have two cats: Taco, a big orange tabby 2-year-old boy and Olive, a little tuxedo 8-month girl. I am no longer in the crazy-cat-lady denial, so I am proud to say that they are a huge part of my life, and I am crazy about them.

Taco and Olive

So thanks to this assignment this very-neglected blog is back in action and that is also why I am leaving the professional-toned “we” behind and I’ll be writing as Chris. I may lose points, because I was supposed to keep this journaling short, but there is so much I want to talk about. So I hope you enjoy embarking with me in my new journey.

Chris