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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.

From Trash to Treasure

Today’s assignment is about waste management in a bakery.

When researching about food waste and waste management, I came across several definitions of what is considered food waste. In fact, food waste definitions can vary so greatly that for purposes of this assignment I will consider a broader definition of food waste as food that has expired, does not meet desired food specifications for human consumption, process foods or foods that you would normally throw in the trash.

But the truth is that even without a proper definition, everybody has (or should have) an idea of what food waste is and that wasting food when there are so many hungry people in the world and more so that natural resources are finite, is a very bad idea, but how can we deal with the problem?

We may not be able to solve the world’s problem, but we can certainly start in our homes. And as business, how can one deal with waste?

In a business sense, we have to understand that not only that stale bread that get thrown away or that jug of milk that expired in the back of the fridge is waste, also the time of producing a product that gets over baked or is simply not sold is waste.

In my opinion the first step is avoiding unnecessary production. And in order to do that, good record keeping of sales and inventory, also proper food handling and making sure the refrigeration temperatures are correct at all times, are indispensable.

Adopting a “First In, First Out”  (FIFO) approach to inventory handling can prevent ingredients to expiry, but not by itself, as without the proper training employees could ignore the system in favor of grabbing the most convenient box.

Keeping track of sales can help the bakery manager in many ways, but for purposes of waste management it reflects what products are most popular, and when they are sold, aiding in the production schedule. Which leads to best ordering practices avoiding the bakery not being able to use all of the product received before it goes bad.

But even when all of the good practices are observed, products may not be sold, cookies can get over baked, the what?

We can sell day-old products at a discounted price. Or donate items to shelters and food banks. Also getting creative in recycling leftovers, transforming what could become waste in new recipes.

That is not as bad as it sounds; raise your hand if you don’t have several recipes for left over Thanksgiving turkey?

Take a trifle for example, much tastier when made with leftover cake. Rum balls… hum rum balls, are just so good that one may even be happy in having left over cake.

I just learned in school that we can use over proofed or simply poorly made bread dough as a base for new bread dough. It sounded awful at first, but if you think that so many people give sourdough starters as a gift things start to make sense. And the bread made using leftovers was simply delicious.

Another product that had me roll my eyes was fruit bars. Imagine a “gone wrong” bucket filled with all sorts of cake and cookies scraps and leftovers transformed into a bar cookie. I never thought it could be tasty, and just tried because it’s part of the learning process, but it was surprisingly tasty. And if I was not aware of its origins, I would just think it was a spiced bar cookie.

Such a clever way of repurposing waste product, especially in a learning environment where things not always turn out as planned.

Reflections – Working on Stations

After a small hiatus, we are back on the reflections assignment. Meaning write on this blog my thoughts about of what is happening at Pastry School. The funny thing is, so much has happened that if I had time I would have content to write every single day. But I don’t.

We have been making a lot of different recipes and it’s been fun (and exhausting, but mostly fun) to work with tarts, breads, biscuits and other items I don’t offer here at Berliosca Cake Boutique. And I take lots of pictures.  Despite being teased about it by my classmates, without the pictures I think I would loose a lot of what happens in the kitchen-classroom.

So, to recap, first we worked in groups of 4, then in pairs, and now we are on our own. They call it stations, and they are separated by the method of baking learned previously. There is a list of products for each station and we are required to make at least 3 recipes every day. At the end of the day all products are packaged and sold at the school store. All culinary programs supply the store, and items are sold at a very reasonable price. I believe it’s just the cost of the ingredients but I can’t be sure. Anyway it’s very cheap. Students can set aside products they want to buy, which is great, because once we arrive at the store there is a huge crowd that barely waits until the items are put on the shelves and things goes fast.

At the Creaming Method/One Stage & Muffin Method Station I made muffins, loaves, and cookies. Then I moved to the Biscuits and Pie Dough Station, where I made blueberry, pecan, cherry, apple and pumpkin pies. I also made quiche and brought them home. It was nice to have dinner cooked during school time, multi-tasking! I am currently at the Yeast Dough Station making tons of bread. We do not have a tons of different recipes of bread, so we end up repeating some throughout the week. Next I’ll be at the last station, honing my knife skills and taking care of the proofer, ovens and packaging.

The funny thing is I had four different instructors in the past 3 weeks. While they are all very knowledgeable they have very different style of teaching which is great considering that we never know what type of boss you will get after school. Wait a minute I know; I will still be my own boss! So for me it’s a great way of getting exposed to different pastry chefs without having to work in different pastry shops.

We have at ton of mishaps, which are great learning opportunities. Like when I forget to add sugar to the carrot and zucchini muffins. No sugar at all. And one could assume by now, running a cake boutique it was not my first time baking muffins… Well, I do not know how it happened, but in the end we all have a good laugh of the newly invented sugar-free muffins.

It’s late now and I have a test tomorrow, so I got to go. But I’ll be posting more pictures, so you all can see what is going on there.

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.