Student Diary: Advanced Pastry Arts, Day 2
But first, the other stuff! Even though it’s only Chef’s second class, he’s managed to put together the most effective and entertaining slide presentation I’ve ever seen. The cracked us up, gave us a lot of info (and he didn’t read his slides to us, which I’d always hated), delivered great visuals, and moved at an effective pace. Kudos!
Chef put us into teams, and I like mine. One’s a transfer from the MCC program (a fairly new culinary program), and I was relieved because I had to give her a tour of the kitchen and teach her how to use a beam scale, a bakery standard. All this relieved me because I wasn’t sure if the kitchen was still laid out the same way (it was) and because I use a digital scale at home and wasn’t sure if I remembered how to use a beam scale (I did!).
The task was to bake 9 cakes (three for each of us), 10.5 lbs of Italian buttercream, and 5 lbs of American buttercream (though a paranoid part of me thinks we were supposed to make 15, so I may mix up another 5 lbs at home). We charged through our cakes with little trouble (except for when we discovered we had no milk), and started in with our Italian buttercream. Italian buttercream is cooked sugar stirred into a meringue. We were doing fine until I discovered that, between the three of us, we hadn’t actually made a meringue; we had wonderfully whipped egg whites, but without sugar added, it was just meringue. We added our cooked sugar to our egg whites and made a sort of meringue, but … effectively, what we ended up making was marshmallow. The class loved us because, apparently, everyone had a hankering for marshmallows. Starting again, and with no clear sign of leadership, I decided to gently delegate tasks to put us back on track. I put one partner in charge of cooking the sugar and told her to crank it up; it has to heat up to 240, but can’t get hotter. I told the other to get the egg whites ready while I measured out the dry sugar we’d omitted the first time. Unfortunately, the only liquid egg whites we had was frozen, so we had to crack out egg whites from whole eggs. We cranked down our sugar, which was already quickly heating up, and started separating eggs (17 of them). Unfortunately, once sugar starts to heat up, it’s almost impossible to stop it, so we unintentionally made caramel and had to start our sugar again. Luckily, our classmates also wanted caramel. And no, we didn’t combine it with our marshmallows. So! We started the sugar again and cranked down our meringue. Finally, we got it all to come together, and we had a huge tray of Italian buttercream.
Finally, and behind the rest of the class, we started to crank our American buttercream—basically shortening with powdered sugar. I creamed the shortening with some salt and water, turned off the mixer, dumped in the powdered sugar, and turned the mixer back on. Now, when I say mixer, I mean one of our kitchen’s three 20-quart mixers. I dumped 10 pounds of powdered sugar in and turned it on. The moment I did that, I had an image in my head: “3”—high gear. The mixer was set to high gear.
Earlier in the night, I’d complimented a classmate’s snazzy uniform (we don’t have assigned uniforms—we just need to have a chef’s coat and closed-toed shoes). She had a red pastry chef’s coat and black pants. I joked with a teammate that if I wore that, it would be pink and gray by the end of the night, covered in flour. Note: when such an outfit is situated to close to an exploding sugar bomb, say, two feet away, it just really becomes a fully speckled red and black. Have any of you non-locals ever seen a dust storm roll over desert flatlands? Now imagine this in a wave of powdered sugar. Another note: I wear a white coat and khakis in baking classes. So much sugar was thrown up in the air, I was brushing clumps of it off my coat. A third note: Powdered sugar isn’t just fine sugar—it’s mixed with cornstarch to prevent clumping (unless it’s landing from a great height). Anyway, you can smell the cornstarch when the powdered sugar is airborne. I hate the smell of cornstarch. And I think I went over my ideal carb intake with how much I inhaled.
Finally, I got the American buttercream made. I asked my partners what they thought at the end of the night, and they thought it was all great! Hell—we got our tasks done and had fun, and that’s what matters! Now, our buttercreams and cakes are in the fridge and freezer, respectively, and next class, we’re to start building our first wedding cake! Hopefully, my story won’t be as tragic, or if it is, it will be just as amusing! =D