Cakespeare in the City: Episode 2 – Buttercream, Blowtorchin’ and more Baking

Maybe because I’ve never been exceptionally fond of washing up, I found the second week of C-school a little more challenging because of the amount of baking (and hence washing) we were doing. Don’t get me wrong, we are pretty spoiled as culinary students at the FCI as we have full time dishwashers for the big stuff but I’d like to now also state for the record that I do not, will not and never will enjoy washing up buttercream from mixers, spatulas mixing bowls, paddles, whisks or any other type of kitchen implement. It’s just plain gross. Give me royal icing which washes off without any grease any day! Probably means I am not cut out to work in a bakery or use a lot of buttercream in my cakes…hmm.

Anyway I digress.

First of all, let me apologise for the lateness of this post, it’s been a very hectic week with 3 exams (1 prac, 2 written) and our first grading on general skills in the kitchen. First time I have been graded on anything for about 6 years so it was a bit of an out of body experience getting my results. In case you are curious about how I did, I was very happy with the grade but didn’t place a huge amount of importance on doing super great, I just didn’t want to flunk out and kicked out of the school and the passing grade at the FCI is a minimum of 70%!

So what did I learn this week?

Whilst the first week was very much about perfecting the art of La Genoise cake and making every type of buttercream that exists, the last couple of weeks was more heavily focused on piping work, foundational decorating skills and a whole lot more baking.

Ready, set, mise en place!

My days usually start with a crazy “mise en place” of about 15-20 minutes bright and early at 8am. Mise en place refers to having everything (equipment and ingredients) prepared, in its place and ready to use on the Chef’s instructions. So this means studying the recipes the night before and ensuring I have little recipe cards ready to weigh all my ingredients and knowing which tools to lay out hand on large trays from our mammoth toolkit. I historically haven’t been great at this and part of the reason why I wanted formal training at the FCI was because of the discipline they instil in you. When I’m working on my cakes at home, I’m a mess, there’s usually tools, equipment and cake crumbs everywhere (especially when I’m carving a cake). So one great thing so far is that my discipline has definitely improved in the last couple of weeks.

Having said this, the class sets a frenetic pace with 4 pastry arts grads who have worked in restaurants and bakeries already so rapid mise en place is a piece of cake (pun intended) for them. It’s so easy in class to get caught up with being the fastest, the most prepared or the creating most perfectly finished product. On the first two counts, I have to say thank you to my good friend Marcia from Brazil for reminding me about the importance of living the moment and really enjoying the process – not getting caught up or worried about being left behind or slow. She sings in class to remind herself to enjoy the moment and when she does, it also reminds me to enjoy my moments! On the third count, I will not compromise the quality of what I do, even if it means taking a little extra time. I believe that this is what differentiates you as a decorator – yes you have to work fast to make money but you also have to produce a great product. Rushing to save a bit of time or money is not really worth it if you aren’t happy with the results. This training experience has been a great test for me in terms of catching myself every now and then in class to really stop and savour the moment or the experience. Sure I get annoyed and irritated at times with myself or am always wondering why I’m usually one of the last to finish up, but then I remember that I also take on extra tasks to help out the Chefs – this may be in part because I’m used to taking on more workload than is probably healthy for me and I always have a problem saying no when someone (usually at work) asks for help. Anyway, enough ranting from me and back to cakes.

“I can’t believe there’s so much butter!”

Having an exam this week meant we had to actually internalise some cake theory which was also tested in our practical exam. We got tested on genoise, buttercreams and numerous terms and temperatures for different recipes. I must admit I have struggled with this American Fahrenheit business. Makes zero sense to me!! Celsius is far more logical in my book…

We made every kind of buttercream under the sun this week. So much so I’m totally sick of the stuff… and I also pretty damn averse to butter now. There I said it. Now every French chef can spit on this blog! In a slight tongue-in-cheek tribute to how crazy the butter levels were this week, I even made some of my classmates do “I can’t believe there’s so much butter!” poses which was a bit of fun whist we waited for our mixers to whip away at the stuff…

Glove-ing up to prevent buttery hands

Marcia “I hate buttercream so much but I look slightly scared of it here” Junqueira

Marti “I can’t do non-angry buttercream faces” Nardo

On a slightly more serious note, there are 4 types of buttercream and they pretty much cover half of the European continent by name! The buttercreams are: Swiss Meringue, Italian Meringue, French (pate a bombe) and German Mousseline.

The Swiss method requires cooking of egg whites with sugar over a water bath whereas Italian meringue (as used for the italian macaron) is adding cooked sugar syrup at the “soft ball” stage to egg whites. The French buttercream is essentially french meringue (uncooked sugar and egg whites) beaten with butter and the German mousseline is as the name suggests, more ‘moussey’ in texture and more akin to a filling than a hard-setting buttercream as it begins with acreme patissier(a stirred custard pastry cream).

My personal favourite is the mousseline as it’s the least buttery of the four. I also like the swiss buttercream because the exclusion of yolks means you can achieve a snow white buttercream which is nearly impossible with all the other types of buttercream. I also learned that what we call buttercream in Australia is actually frosting (equal parts butter and icing sugar).. so all my previous misconceptions of frosting have now been corrected! 🙂

Burn baby burn!

We also learned all about custards last week…. this has been one of my favourite components by far because we got to bake a beautiful vanilla bean creme brulee following a great recipe from the famed Le Cirque restaurant – the smoothness of this custard was totally to die for.

One of the best part about creme brulees is getting to handle a giant blowtorch. The one I have at home is about 1/10th the size of this one and you do feel quite powerful and dangerous when you have one in your hands… The only upside of buttercreams is when you have to rework them from the fridge, you also get to wield the almighty blowtorch to heat up your mixer bowl… woot woot! I’m sure if I was  seasoned chef reading this, I would think that I am totally lame but please do indulge me in a couple of culinary newbie moments…

Can’t really beat the satisfying crack of a creme brulee crust!

More baking…

We made quite a few different cakes the last couple of weeks but I’m almost ashamed to admit one of my favourites was a plain white cake. We made a delicious passionfruit mousseline filling for it and the cake was apparently devoured very quickly when Mr Cakespeare took it to the office – 200 bankers + 1 2 tier cake = happy campers.

Assigned baker for the week Seraphina does a quick pose with our white cakes

We also did a lovely angel food cake which tasted very similar to a spongy meringue cake and decorated it in a traditional basketweave and topped with fresh fruits. Marzipan modelling was also covered with a fun fruit making session and lots of plaques to practice chocolate writing. I’ll post photos up on facebook soon!

Celebrities chefs galore…

One of the really brilliant, brilliant, money-can’t-buy sides of being in such a legendary school is the daily exposure you get to fantastic chefs of the highest calibre. Jacques Torres dropped into our class the other day to make marzipan flowers, Ron Ben Israel was in the theatre yesterday to do an amazing 2 hour detailed demo on silicon moulding and wedding cake basics and bumping into decorated chefs every day is so normal that everyone is super-nonchalant about it (except wide-eyed newbies like me).

In the next episode of Cakespeare in the City…

For those who follow my status updates on Facebook you’d already know that I found out a couple of days ago that I’ll be assisting Chef Jacques next week in a pastry demo (chocolate croissants and other yummy baked goods). I am so excited about this amazing opportunity!! I can’t wait to blog about this one and I’ll also be covering a visit to Dorothy Cann Hamilton’s home, even more exciting tips and tricks from  the Chef Ron demo and my first visit to Carlo’s Bakery! So much to blog about it’s overwhelming!

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