Reflections on Laminated Doughs

You may be thinking it is strange I am writing about laminated doughs only in the end of my pastry program. Back in September I took time away from school and went to Brasil to teach at the São Paulo Sugarcraft Show and because of that I missed two weeks of classes when we covered the topic of Lamination. After finishing the regular schedule of the program I was inserted into a new class for two weeks, to have the opportunity to learn about puff pastry, croissant and Danish doughs.

I was inserted into a ESL class, which reminded me so much of when I came to Canada for the first time. Most of my classmates were Chinese; there was a woman from the Philippines, me representing Brazil and the instructor from Austria. Back in my original class, I would make people laugh every time I referred to the pastry sheeter because of the way I pronounced sheeter. I could swear I sounded just like everyone else but apparently not. In a way, this class was the most accommodating for everyone’s accent. It was fun for me to see the dynamics of a new class, and learn with them. The only downside was taking classes in the afternoon. Funny because I have complained about having to be in school at 7am for most of the past year, but taking classes in the morning still allowed me to have lots accomplish in the afternoon.

As for lamination, I had seen my other classmates making croissants every time they were given the choice of products to make. Because I had not covered the same topic with them, the process of making croissants for me looked so complicated. I also tried using puff pastry in one of my plated desserts and I could not understand why it didn’t rise properly. Now I know that I probably let the egg wash drip on the edges and didn’t pay enough attention on how I was cutting and handling the dough, so the reason my puff pastry didn’t puff was lack of knowledge.

During the first week of lamination, we made puff pastry croissant and Danish dough, and used them to shape various products. Despite knowing that it would be easier to handle the dough, not only until the made all the doughs again and left them refrigerated overnight we actually saw the difference. It became easier to produce more and better products, since the dough was firmer to handle.

During the course we also had adjusted the croissant recipe to incorporated 10% of flour into the butter to be enclosed, as the butter in North America contains too much water in comparison with the European butter. It was nice to see the difference it made in creating flakier and drier croissants.

Differently than puff pastry, croissant and Danish doughs contain yeast and therefore need proofing. The temperature in the proofer need to be colder than if we were proofing bread, otherwise the butter layers enclosed in the dough would melt, and the products would lake flakiness and would be greasy after baking. We all had our share of failed products in the first week. But during the second week our production increased, as did the quality of our products.

When we were not able to finish baking the production on the same day we would freeze the products for the next day. Puff pastry products can go in the oven almost right away from the freezer, while the yeast laminated dough products need to be thawed and proofed before baking. And for any laminated dough products, the temperature of the oven should be high, around 200°C. In that way the water in the dough can be transformed into steam before the butter totally melts, and then also contributing for the rising of the dough.

Reflections Catering and Special Orders Course

The last 4 weeks were spent on catering and special orders, in my opinion the closest to a real-life bakery setting so far in this program.

In the first week we didn’t have many special orders from clients, so we worked on our own planned schedule. It was nice to see, when given the opportunity, what products from the whole program students would go back to making. Some people went back to the things they liked most, some other went back to trying things they didn’t have a change to before, and I took the opportunity to explore choux paste as it is the topic of my final assignment.

I guess that because of the freedom to choose the products to make, it didn’t seemed like a catering and special orders course to me, however it totally change from the second week on. Not only we were given large amounts of products to make we were let to take charge in organizing the production and fulfillment of the orders.

Besides the special orders we received we had skill drill exercises, which even though not so many of us (me included) excel at, it was so beneficial in terms of skill set and time management. Like having to make marzipan roses and leaves within a time frame starting from a set amount of marzipan without any waste, meaning all marzipan had to be used. I got to say the flower making was not the difficult part per se, but when you add the time constrain and specially the no-waste specification things got really challenging. And fun, believe it or not I enjoyed the skill drill exercises most of anything in the past course. I don’t doubt my ability to make things, but I hardly have the time constrains determined by someone else other than myself. Great exercise!

We also had a 2-day practical exam. It was more challenging than I anticipated but I was not surprised when most of us could not complete all the assignments within the given time. During the whole pastry program we never had a practical exam, nor our skills were test along time management, like this test or the skill drills so in the end, while not a great result for most of us, many students suggested tests like this to be included in the previous parts of the program, in a way of preparing us for working in the industry.

The best past for me during the whole course was at the same time the most challenging time, working with chocolate. I do know the theory about chocolate, crystals, tempering, temperature but so many times I had such disconnect from theory to practical exercises, it forced me to work with different chocolate types and tempering methods to a point I got so frustrated that forced me to keep trying to get it all right from the start. And I did. Surprisingly I got better marks at chocolate mould making than cake during the practical test. Go figure.

Wedding Cakes and Marzipan Course

I’ve been making wedding and specialty cakes for almost 7 years now, and during this time I have researched and have been fascinated the history behind cakes worldwide. Traditions in North America can be very different than back home in Brazil, but the cake being a central part of the wedding celebration is true both here and there.

Wedding cakes as we now them today have been around for about 150 years, but there having baked goods in weddings go over back to the Greek and Roman civilizations. The meaning of wedding cakes, how they are shaped, the recipes used for both cake and icing, the way it’s presented to guests have been evolving through he years. One the first traditions I came across after moving to North America and started making wedding cakes was the fact that some couples would asked me about freezing cakes for their first anniversary. Keeping portion of the cake, usually the top tier for the couple’s first child’s christening, not their anniversary. Apparently one year was enough for both events. Fruitcake didn’t need to be frozen as the fruit is heavily soaked in brandy acting as a preservative. But then again tradition evolved as we know now, once cakes became more contemporary, and couples straying from fruit cakes it became necessary to freeze cakes in order to keep the tradition of saving the cake for one year.

Back in 2011 I was approached by a local blogger to provide advice on how to freeze cakes and my tips were featured at Vancity Bride Blog.

For this assignment I was asked to answers some questions, being the first about naming local wedding cake designers and critique their cakes. Well the first cake designer I’d name is yours truly. But while I certainly have positive things to say about other local cake designers, I feel funny talking about elaborating on a topic so close to home. Instead, I’ve chosen Canadian designers that have wowed me over and over with their ideas and designs. My first mention goes to Allyson Bobbitt and Sarah Bell from Bobbette & Belle in Toronto. Second mention goes to Luisa Galuppo from Luisa Galuppo Cakes in Montreal.

I am constantly wowed by their romantic yet modern approach to wedding cake designs, Luisa actually did an internship Bobette & Belle’s cake designer Allyson Meredith.

In the international stage, I would like to mention the king of wedding cakes Ron Ben-Israel from New York.  and my dear-to-heart Marcela Sanchez. An Argentinean-born cake designer who has adopted Brazil as her home and have been amazing worldwide audiences with her talent and was the designer who inspired me and taught me the first steps into cake decorating.  Marcela is also responsible for hosting the international cake show in São Paulo, The São Paulo Sugrarcraft Show, where I debut my teaching career last September.

During this weeks course Wedding cakes and Marzipan, I had the opportunity to explore royal icing covered cakes and piped designs. Nowadays royal icing covered cakes are not so common, especially in North America, but it was fun to try. I don’t work with royal icing a lot, so I definitely took the time to practice. Piping intricate designs is a lot more complicated than it looks and I take the hat off to designers who master at this art.

royal icing piped on wooden cake dummy

royal icing piped on wooden cake dummy

 

I also made a 3-tier wedding cake in class incorporating the piping skills plus flower making. I’ve chosen this design because piping straight lines requires some skill, specially when they are side by side, which can enhance any flaws.

wedding cakes made in class, mine in blue with sugar hydrangeas

wedding cakes made in class, mine in blue with sugar hydrangeas

In class we explored the steps of making and assembling cakes, and I narrowed the steps to assemble a pillared cake to:

  1. Bake the cakes, making filling
  2. Assemble cake tiers, alternating cake and filling (onto a cake board, see note on step 10)
  3. Mask the cakes with chosen icing, most commonly buttercream or chocolate ganache
  4. Enrobe the cake with a thin layer of marzipan, if using
  5. Roll rolled fondant evenly, roll it over the rolling pin, and unrolled it over the cake to enrobe it
  6. Using your hands secure the rolled fondant on the edges and smooth it over the cake
  7. Smooth fondant using fondant smoothers for a clean look
  8. Trim the fondant at the bottom edges of the cake
  9. Repeat steps 1 to 9 for all the cake tiers
  10. Place each tier into a cake board (note: when making my cakes I take this step all the was to number 2)
  11. Place each cake o a proper separator plate, with the ‘feet’ to secure the pillars, securing it with icing
  12. Push pillars down straight into the cake, making sire the pillars touch the cake board
  13. Place the next tier making sure that the separator plate’s ‘feet’ are inserted into the pillar openings
  14. Repeat until top tier is assembled
  15. Place the cake into a sturdy cardboard box, seal the edges to protect from moisture and refrigerate the cake. (Note: there is a huge debate over refrigerating or not fondant-covered cakes, but I have been doing it for a long time successfully. It is a lot safer to transport cold cakes than room temperature cakes.)
  16. Depending on the final design, how many tiers are pillared and the overall size of the cake it can be transported assembled or each tier boxed separately and the whole cake assembled at the venue. Either way, transport cake box(es) into the car’s trunk, the flattest surface of the car, over a non-slid mat. Believe me it is safe. Drive carefully to the venue, avoiding sudden stops.

After working with wedding cakes we turn to marzipan, modelling fruits and vegetables. I simply used the basics of sugarpaste modelling to working with marzipan and I loved it. But then it was time to airbrush the modelled marzipan.

marzipan roses and fruits

marzipan roses and fruits

Despite how many times I translated Mike Elder’s airbrushing classes in Brazil and having gone over his instructions both in Portuguese and in English I have to say that I still don’t think I have a grip of it. As with piping intricate designs on cakes all one’s need is practicing over and over again.  The whole class had a mist of food colouring in the air and my classmates were introduced to rainbow snot, so well know by my fellow cakes. Kind of gross but funny.

Some classmates mentioned I wouldn’t learn much from this course, but the truth is I not only had time to practice skills I don’t have time to in my business, as I have a chance to learn how other people’s approach to wedding cakes.

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Reflections on Chocolate

Once upon a time, as a teenager I made chocolates, bonbons and Easter eggs and sold them to my classmates at school. At that time the only instructions I was given was to add a third of chopped chocolate into a bowl of melted chocolate and stir it until fully melted, in order to have the chocolate ready to fill the molds. I was not told however what would happen if such procedure was not followed, nor the terms tempering, fat and sugar bloom, good snap, and shine were ever mentioned let alone the concepts behind those words ever explained.

Not until after I had started my career in cake making I started looking into chocolate making and them came across all of could happen when using a not properly tempered chocolate. And while the explanations of how to successfully temper chocolate were available, for some reason I got stuck with all the bad possible outcome and started to fear using chocolate as a medium. ??Fast forward to 2013 when the chocolate portion of my pastry program was schedule to start and I notices I was having mixed feelings about it. At one hand I was really excited to finally learn the dos and don’ts I was also hesitant about my chocolate making abilities. I got so tied up on how bad things could go, that it was not even funny. Three weeks have passed and I can see clearly how my hesitance made things so much more complicate for me in class.

Luckily for me this course’s instructor has a very interesting teaching approach. While teaching the whole class all things about chocolate, she assisted everyone individually, in an way she could detect my concerns and hesitance right in the beginning of the course, guiding me through these three weeks we started covering theory from the farming, harvesting, processing of cocoa, reminding me again of my teen years, more specifically of a soup opera called Renascer aired in Brasil back in 1993. Over 200 episodes with cacao farming in the northeast of Brasil as a background for the drama.

Then we spent time in the lab, starting with chocolate tempering. Tempering is the process of preparing couverture chocolate for dipping, coating, molding, etc, by manipulating temperature (melting-cooling- re-warming) with the purpose of creating a very fine fat-crystal structure in the chocolate. When properly tempered, chocolate sets quickly, has a good texture and shine and a crisp, clean snap when you break it into pieces. The methods of tempering include tablage also known as marbling, where the melted chocolate is quickly cooled by being spread and moved around a clean slate of marble or granite.

tablage or marbling method

tablage or marbling method

Seeding or injection where finely chopped chocolate put added into a bowl of melted chocolate (remember what I used to do in my early years of chocolate making?). Using a tempering machine or even simply using the direct method where one only melts the chocolate, either over bain-marie or in the microwave, to its working temperature and never allow it to come out of temper.

To my surprise we were taught how to temper chocolate, despite the method, without using a thermometer. By taking samples of the chocolate along the way and visually determining when the proper tempérage is achieved.

Another important aspect of chocolate making to understand is called chocolate bloom. There are two types of chocolate bloom, sugar bloom and fat bloom. Sugar bloom is normally a result of moisture, which causes the sugar in the chocolate to dissolve and once the moisture evaporates, sugar crystals remain on the surface. Sugar bloom is most often the result of improper storage in places with high humidity. We tried to produce the bloom in class by placing a sample in the fridge sooner and for longer time than it should be, but we could not get a visual bloom, noticeable only by touch. Fat bloom is similar to sugar bloom, except that it is the cocoa butter that is separating from the chocolate and is commonly a result of quick temperature changes and improper storage in warm temperature. Luckily both blooms can be fixed by re-tempering the chocolate, however as sugar and fat bloom only appear some time the chocolate is set, the chocolate may be already in store, properly manipulating chocolate and storage are crucial for a quality product.

We also made several types of ganaches. We had covered ganaches earlier in the course, so we knew ganache is an fat (of the chocolate) in water (of the cream) emulsion, but in the current course we learned there are other types of ganache, besides the most known chocolate and cream, the butter-based and the egg-based ganaches.

While different recipes will call for ingredients different ratios and require different methods of preparation, temperature is crucial for a proper emulsified, smooth and shiny ganache. When heating cream, at least 64°C should be achieved to kill harmful bacteria, but one could bring cream to a boil. Before pouring it over the chocolate it is important to let cream cool to 70°C- 80°C (depending on the type of chocolate). Once chocolate starts to softened the mixture is then stirred gently until it becomes homogeneous and without lumps, taking care to not over mix or mix it within the danger zone of 23° – 29·.  When filling molds or truffles ganache should be at a maximum of 33°C.

truffle making

truffle making

In several moments during this course I got to understand the reasons of success or failure in my current cake making business, especially with ganache making. But my a-ha moment was during tempering a bowl of chocolate, that despite proceeding as I should, I still didn’t have enough of the good crystals. Then instead of feeling that I had failed, I was oriented to create more of the good crystals but placing a little of the chocolate on the marble, in a small version of the tablage method.

partial chocolate production

partial chocolate production

After the initial hesitation, I quite enjoyed the course. The topic of chocolate is so vast that I wished we this part of the program were longer. And since I enjoy so much the science behind baking, the specifics of crystal forming and how chocolate behaves depending on temperature, mixing methods, storage, among other particularities made me enjoy researching and understanding more about it.

Reflections on Design

Part 1: Birthday Cake Design

I knew we would get to a point during the pastry arts program I had to design a cake. Not so bad, since I have been doing this for a while, but it was not as easy as one may think. My classmates keep joking about how I know (or should know) so much about cakes I could skip this part of the program, but when you are asked to make a cake that you never liked to make things can get complicated.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I know too much about anything, but my cake journey started I had strayed from regular looking cakes. There are many talented people that can create a simple yet beautiful cake using only icing and piping tips, but since I always wanted to work with cake that don’t look like cakes, I never really went down that path, so now it was my turn to design and create a birthday cake using only cake, icing and few simple tools. On paper things look simple and really easy. All I had to do was to use the basic principles of design and decorate the cake with a couple of decorative borders, three roses and a birthday message.

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Cake design class exercise

Group discussion after the cake design exercise.

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I decided to work with a chocolate layer cake and chocolate buttercream. I didn’t want to mess with many colours, so I decided to use the brown from the chocolate be the canvas for white roses and pale green leaves. All planned and good to go until I found out I had to make the cake happen under a certain weight limit. And since my chocolate cake base was already on the heavier side, I need to work well with not so much extra icing to cover imperfections. Despite having covered cakes for so many years, having that weight limit was really difficult. But with all things considered I manage to finish my task under the maximum weight allowed. I added all the elements I was asked to include, and the cake looked ok. Did I like the cake? Of course not, but I sure enjoyed the exercise. While the design on paper was pretty well transformed into reality, I concluded that it’s really hard for me to deliver a product that I particularly do not like. But the whole exercise, besides the intended goal of having us use the design lessons and decorative elements learned in class, reminded me of how getting out of the comfort zone can be liberating.

Next time I will definitely use more colour. While the earthy palette of this cake was nice, I will sure explore other colour combinations. And I will practice more piping roses and other flowers. No point in being able to create gravity-defying cakes if I cannot pipe a simple buttercream rose to perfection.

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Part 2: Design Principles

I have worked with design in many different stages of my life. From my marketing background I bring the valuable lessons of how a logo design can be at the same time pleasing to the eye but also convey a corporate image. Having worked with photography I bring the value of creating a good composition. The importance of white and negative spaces, rule of thirds, light, and again colour. From my passion for interior design I bring the use of colours and how to make appropriate choices depending on the room to decorate. In cake decorating I can relate with many of the other disciplines where design is important. Composition in a cake is as important as in photography. Colour of the icing, and how the choice of colour should relate to the season or occasion the cake is make as important in cake decorating as in interior design. Also, with season I can even thing of flowers and nature, how it relates back to how florists will arrange their bouquets, or even how the window displays will change according t the time of the year.

Funny how even though back home in Brazil the transitions between seasons is not as visual as in north America, as there we have pretty warn or cold weather, and the trees and leaves do not change colour as gradually as here, fall cakes there as still decorated with a palette of earthy tones including orange, brown, and green. Christmas is full of green and red elements in décor and in cake decorating, including white to bring a sense of the very dreamed white Christmas, even though Christmas in Brazil is celebrated during summer instead of winter.

Recently I helped a friend arranging picture frames in her living room. Having so many frames in very different sizes and shapes was a complicated task for her and she was getting frustrated. For me, it was easy to let go of the absence of symmetry and create a composition using exactly the difference of the shapes and sized to enhance the whole display. Just as I make happen when I am working on cakes. Symmetry is always safe, but not always necessary.

So many times I come across clients trying to incorporate so many ideas into their cake design that my job becomes guiding them through a process where we can tell a story with their cake design, to fit an occasion or to be given to a special person, without having to clutter the design with every single element initially mentioned it was too important to not be on the cake. But more than an eye for design, trying to convey a client’s message into a cake requires knowledge of the design principles and practice. A good dose of good taste won’t hurt either.

Angel Food Cake Reflections

In today’s installment of the reflections of a pastry chef, let me tell you about Angel Food Cake.

One of the many different cakes we covered in the first’s week of Aeration & Emulsification course, it was for me the truly only one I had not have any prior experience in making.

Of course I knew what an Angel food cake was, or should look like, but I had never made or eaten one. Partially because a prejudice I had towards Pudim de Claras, a dessert we have in Brazil translated freely as Egg White pudding. Pudim de Claras is simply a stiff meringue (a foam of egg whites and sugar), placed in a caramelized tube pan and baked in bain-marie that I particularly never liked, but I digress.

Due to the visual similarity to a dessert I never appreciated, I never gave Angel Food Cake much of a thought after I moved to Canada. At times I even wondered about its popularity in North America.

Angel Food Cake belongs among the egg-foam type cakes, consisting of egg whites, sugar and cake flour and no fat. Air, trapped into the air cells formed in the egg white foam is the only leavening agent in this cake.

There is also a particular method of making it called angel food method. In this method the egg whites should be whipped to a soft peak stage, making sure that half of the sugar in the recipe is added gradually, allowing for the sugar crystals to dissolve before the addition of more sugar. It is also important to add the sugar after the foam has started to form, because even though sugar helps to stabilize meringue, if added in all at once or in the initial stages the whites will not foam properly as sugar weighs down meringue, weakening it. The addition of a small amount of cream of tartar helps stabilize the egg whites by lowering the mixture’s pH, making them more elastic, yielding better volume , it also whitens the mixture. This should also be done after the egg whites had started to foam, but still in the initial stages of whipping. The other half of the sugar is sifted with the cake flour, helping the flour to mix more evenly mix with the meringue. The flour-sugar mixture is then folded gently into the meringue, only until absorbed but no longer than that.

The batter should then be gently placed into a tube pan, completely free of traces of fat (plastic containers should be avoided to transfer the batter into the pan) and baked immediately.

This straightforward method and fairly simple cake recipe has a long list of instructions that should be followed to the letter, or one should be prepared for poor results, just like we had in class at the first time of making it.

My team had initially chosen the wrong size of mixing bowl and in the attempt of transferring the egg white foam to a larger mixing bowl after it had started to form peaks, we missed the crucial point and probably one of the most important rules of angel food cake making. Egg whites should be whipped to soft peaks. Not medium not stiff, but S-O-F-T!

Both underwhipped and overwhipped egg whites are unstable. The proteins in underwhipped egg whites are not fully aggregated, but as we experienced while making angel food cake, overwhipped egg whites are worst. When whipped too quickly of for too long, egg whites become too stretched and rigid. The whites may eventually collapse; the flour-sugar mixture cannot be folded evenly without braking out the air cells so important in the baking process. Our first attempt of making Angel Food Cake resulted in a very sad looking cake.

Luckily while these types of mistakes can be preventable by understanding the whys and why nots in every recipe, particular mixing method or ingredient they also promote a deeper learning experience, so we choose to remember that by making mistakes we are helping ourselves and our classmates, rather than feeling frustrated.

My team chose to make Angel Food Cake the very next day, knowing the particulars about this cake we then achieve successful results. Our second attempt to making Angel Food Cake was indeed worth of angels and I realized how delicious Angel Food Cake is, finally understanding its popularity.

Fermentation Questions & Answers

a.            What defines fermentation? What is fermentation all about?

  • Fermentation is the process by which yeast acts on the sugars and starches in the dough producing carbon dioxide gas and alcohol.

b.            What factors contribute to the rate of fermentation in any given product?

  • Controlling Fermentation requires a balance of time, temperature, and yeast quality and quantity.
  • The temperature of the dough is affected by bakery temperature, flour temperature, machine friction and water temperature, being water temperature is the easiest to control.
  • High percentages of fat and sugar inhibit yeast growth, so sponge method is used, allowing for most of the fermentation can take place before fat and sugar are added.
  • Fermentation can be retarded by refrigeration, or speeded in the proofer, where the temperature and humidity can be controlled and are set higher that room temperature.

c.            Describe any scenarios that you have encountered where you had to actively manage the fermentation rate of your dough or sour.

  • In two occasions I placed the dough I was working on in the fridge to control fermentation. The first time, I placed the challah bread dough in the fridge as I was running late for proofer the cut off. The second time I placed sweet bun dough in the fridge, as I was preparing the dough one day in advance. I should have used half of the yeast amount, but even leaving the yeast amount as in the original recipe the fermentation was slowed by the fridge temperature and I was able to use the dough for the following day’s production.
  • In the previous course, while I was in the bread station I made several loaves of white pan bread, but the team taking care of the proofer, didn’t realize they had forgotten about my bread until it was too late. In that occasion, we used the ovenproofed dough as part of a new recipe. While it seemed we were simply re-purposing the dough, we actually learned that dough was acting in the country loaf recipe similarly as a natural sour in artisan bread recipes.

Reflections: Professionalism, organization… and donuts

This week we had a lot more time in classroom than in the kitchen-lab, what came in handy since this was one of the busiest weeks at Berliosca Cake Boutique. The course was Professionalism & Organization.  We covered since conflict resolution to planning a bakery schedule. We had lots of role-playing opportunities to develop conflict-resolution skills, also tons of discussion time about the dos & don’ts of real life work.

Organization

Usually when writing these reflections, we are asked to write about new things we learned and how we are going to use that knowledge, but having worked for the past 21 years there is not really much than can be new in terms of professionalism.

It was however an opportunity for me to reflect on those 21 years. I thought of every job I had, every boss, and every company. It also made think of when I moved to Canada and all the fears and doubts about my new career path. As a new immigrant I had the opportunity to go through a similar courses sponsored by the government, covering the Canadian work environment, how to write a resume and cover letter, network and mock interviews. I also had access to a career counselour and I still remember her expression when, after going through my resume, she heard my plan was to change gears and start a new career as a cake maker. Funny to remember how surprised people would get about it, some were supportive even if doubtful, most just thought I was plain crazy. And here I am being crazy and happy as the days go by. Only being a little crazy to endure the long hours in this one-woman show I call my cake boutique, but I think my success is just possible because I am passionate about what I do.. But I digress. Back to this week’s course, I find that it was very useful to have it inserted in the early stages of our program.

Since most of my classmates have work experience, especially in the food industry, the topics were covered and the discussions got redundant pretty quickly., so with the extra time we went back to the kitchen-lab to learn how to make donuts, as a preview of next course on fermentation.

It was the first time back in the kitchen in 3 weeks, since last week we were taking care of retail operations at the school’s bakeshop. Funny to see how rusty we got, trying to figure out how to do things.

I have eaten many donuts in my life, but making them was a complete new thing for me. After a quick demo, we had the opportunity to make our own. Then it was time to fry, glaze and eat them. Fresh donuts are really good, especially when you are allowed to get creative and adding chocolate glaze and almonds to your apple fritters 🙂

Donuts Demo

Glazed donuts

We ended up the week with a field trip to one of the largest food industries suppliers in Canada, located here in BC. I had been there several times purchasing items, but it was the very first time in the warehouse.

Field trip

Corridors and corridors of products later, It was time to leave. While for my classmates it was the end of the week and the beginning of the weekend fun, for me it was just the beginning of another workday. Much like the scenarios we were discussing in the beginning of the week.

Retail Operations and The Joke of Being Average

The current course focus on retail operations, having half of the class taking care of the school’s bake shop for two weeks and the other half taking care of the catering and production. Today I’m going to talk about the catering and production, where I spent the past two weeks.

It was a good experience, the closest to a real-life bakery experience one can get while in school. Apparently during summer there is a decrease on the number of special orders, but we still had plenty of work to do. Some days were just so repetitive in terms of recipes and products that it was a good training on how to get better and faster doing the same thing.

I had the opportunity to take care of the production list for a couple of days, and it was harder then I thought. Not only I had to review the orders, and make sure we were producing the right items, I also had to forecast what we would need in the days ahead. But I’m glad I took on the task.

Within the production list, there were orders from the other half of the class, for the merchandising project they were doing. More on that next week, as it’ll be my turn to do this project. But just to give you an idea, students are divided in teams and are asked to develop a merchandising theme, including a special product to sell.

The two initial groups took our regular recipes to a new level, with added flavours and special packaging. It was all good until the end of the week when we got a special order of 12 dozen of sugar cookies decorated as soccer balls. The “soccer ball cookies experience” was so far probably the toughest time for me in school.

On Friday, when we got the order I was responsible for the production list for Monday, it also coincided with a change in instructors and since no one in class, other than myself, had any experience decorating intricate cookies, the project became my responsibility.

Not sure it was lack of planning or lack of directions, but the team responsible for selling the soccer cookies didn’t end up bringing us a template, a picture or even a sample of the cookie they wanted.  And that was when I started stressing about it. During the weekend I sent some emails to the classmates enlisted to help with the cookies, with video tutorials on cookie decoration, I printed a template of the ball and hoped for the best.

To make the story short because of the lack of experience and other administrative problems, it took us a good 2 hours to be able to start decorating the cookies. And by then, everyone involved in the process was feeling overwhelmed. It was not only tough on the cookie decorators, but the rest of the classmates that end up having to take care of all the production of the regular products.

We kept saying it was a learning experience, and it sure was, but when you are stressed about something it is hard to see the big picture.

The whole experience helped us with the planning and execution of the next special products (cookies decorated like the facebook logo for example); helped with our piping skills, to the point I want to start making more decorated cookies, but the best outcome in my opinion is that it united the team. We still worked hard after that, but after the soccer ball cookies were done we spent the next days, joking around and laughing, as we never had before.

Now thinking back of what I could have done differently, I could have waited for the team responsible for selling the cookies to come up with directions or a template, should they want the product done in time. I could also have chosen a simpler soccer ball template, I could have enlisted more people to work with me, but in the end going through the whole experience as a group was definitely one of the best learning experiences we had so far.

And as in “What happen in Vegas stays in Vegas” I will refrain from telling you about the dough sheeter dance and the joke of being average, but after these two weeks we became a tighter group.  And that by itself was worth the trouble.