Well it’s been another few crazy weeks and things have been so hectic with a myriad of new techniques, exams, weekend trips and friends in town that I’ve barely had a spare moment to reflect!
Sugar, Sugar and more Sugar…
Sugar flowers and pulled, blown and poured sugar were the themes of Unit 3 of the course with over a week dedicated to the art of sugar flowers and another week on pulled, blown and poured sugar techniques. This was where the really fun, interesting stuff happened as I’ve never used these techniques before and working with highly technical materials and methods definitely pushed me into my “learning zone”.
We began with sugar flowers and learned the Chef Ron’s methods of how to make our own gumpaste and made a whole host of flower centres and petals. We covered a variety of flowers including the classic rose, the peony, tulips, stargazer lilies, calla lilies, orchids and whole host of different filler flowers and buds including the sweet pea and hydrangea.
Sugar flowers are hugely painstaking and extremely time consuming but the results are so worth the work. We spent well over a week on this unit and for me the greatest learning point was how to properly wire the flowers and then the artistry of dusting the petals to really bring them to life. It was my first time dusting and it’s amazing how much time it can take to really layer the colour onto each petal to get the flowers as realistic as possible.
Ron Ben-Israel style roses before dusting
What a difference a little dust makes!
For me, there are so many things about sugar flowers that will takes years of practice to really perfect and get efficient at including small details like how to cut every petal perfectly without furry edges or having just the right thickness of petal so that you achieve the realism of a ruffled edge and delicate beauty of a real petal. The beauty of this section of the course was also how we were taught to use 1 set of cutters to create all the flowers. Being able to improvise and economise is essential in any business and the business of sugar flowers is the same – cutters are expensive and there is a cutter for nearly every type of flower there is. When you think of how many flowers there are in existence, it makes you realise that sugar flowers is a whole other world of cake decorating in itself and you could literally spend years just doing flowers. Some of the best sugar flower artists in the world make their sole living off teaching others and travel the world to do it. What an incredible job!
My first ever sugar flower posy in a pressed sugar vase
Suffice to say that I now look at flowers, flower beds, bushes, gardens and any other type of flora differently when I walk down the street. Sometimes I stop to inspect them closer and I have to confess I’m usually looking at them thinking “now how could I make that out of sugar?”. To a whole new extreme, my Chef instructor even recommended dissecting flowers to really understand their anatomy and composition!
Here’s the posy I made for our final flower exam where we had to make at least 1 full rose, 1 half rose and 2 buds plus any filler flowers we chose.
I decided to go with purple blue moon roses and love how they turned out!
Our exam flowers lined up for grading
My favourite flower by far was the large open peony followed very closely by classic rose. Giant flowers are trending hugely at the moment and they seem to be on every wedding cake I see. I also really enjoyed learning how to make the filler flowers which only require manual dexterity and a very very sharp pointy pair of scissors – the fillers with the yellow centres above were created this way. So amazing how a small ball of sugar can be turned into something beautiful! Blows my mind!
Silicon Moulding (non-cakies feel free to scroll ahead!)
I’ve written briefly before about silicon moulding when Chef Ron Ben-Israel came to school to give a demo on the technique. Whilst it was great to watch a demo actually getting to try the technique and create our own moulds was even better. Using a variety of objects such as beads, brooches and other ornaments that could be moulded into fondant or sugar decorations, we were stepped through the process of mixing and pouring our own food grade silicon and creating our own moulds on plexiglass using clay.
We also learned about how important it is to pour the silicon very slowly to remove air bubbles and painstakingly poked every single air bubbles out of our moulds. The best part of this was unmoulding the next day – so fabulously rewarding to see the interesting shapes pop out of our very own moulds and then to immediately use them to make sugar decorations.
Pastillage castle with poured sugar base and flowers
Feeling hot, hot, hot…
After we wrapped up sugar flowers we moved quickly onto poured, pulled and blown sugar. I absolutely loved this unit – not only because of the amazing things we were able to create but also because it was a whole new medium that I have never dealt with before and in fact feared a little. Often seen as the realm of talented pastry chefs, pulling and blowing sugar is again a whole world of artistry in itself. We learned how to make poured sugar first and also worked with isomalt which is type of sugar from beets invented in Germany for diabetics.
Check out this photo diary on my Facebook page for a more photos behind the scenes!
Blown sugar using a hand pump – incredibly hard!
In between all these great new techniques I managed to also do some sightseeing around New York. We covered the Hamptons, Connecticut and Coney Island over the last three weekends – all poles apart and very interesting places! Recently I also caught a Yankees game with one of my very best friends, Bec, who was in town from London, it was surprisingly enjoyable and I’ll be taking my parents there in July!
Jumping with glee at Ocean Road Beach, Southampton
Bec and I outside Yankee Stadium
*drumroll..* Carlo’s Bakery Visit!
My last post left off with the long-awaited trip to Carlo’s Bakery of Cake Boss fame so for those who have been waiting to read about this, here’s my own two pennies’ worth on the famed bakery.
My friend Marcia and I ventured out across state lines to Hoboken in New Jersey on the New York Metro to check this place out.
Getting into my “Hoboken Baby!” mode
We decided a Friday afternoon after class finished would be best as there probably wouldn’t be any lines and luckily there weren’t!
Carlo’s famous shop front
After about 5 minutes in the queue outside, it was still a good 20 minute wait for service however once inside so we had ample opportunity to take lots of photos as the ticketing system meant no waiting in line.
Here are some of the pics I took of the interior which you might recognise from the show if you watch it:
The infamous consultation corner where Buddy used to meet a lot of his clients
The family portrait on the wall of the Valastros
It was interesting to read the articles on the wall and see the pastries on offer in the big glass counters however we found that a lot of the display cakes were quite dusty and tired looking. I felt that an overhaul of these with some new designs would have been great given the foot traffic they get through the doors from visitors near and far means most people come in with high expectations.
This one was a pretty cool design though:
The pastries were by far the highlight of the trip and this for me was the major saving grace. I bought some cannolis, the famed lobster tails and a variety of cupcakes to try and all were very, very good. I even indulged in a little early birthday present and bought a copy of the Cake Boss Season 5 DVD autographed by the whole family for a pretty cheap $20 which I felt was pretty good value! The pastries we ordered came in cute little white boxes and some traditional baker’s twine which was a nice touch.
Marcia and I plonked ourselves on a bench outside the shop on “Carlo’s Bakery Way” and immediately dove into the giant and very rich lobster tails and I had polished off a chocolate cannoli before I even got home. Filled with a smooth creamy custard with a crisp outer shell with layers of buttery pastry, the lobster tail-shaped pastries were by far my favourite. The cannoli was also very good with a very crisp shell and more-ish ricotta filling that wasn’t too sweet.
Carrot, Red velvet and Peanut Butter cupcakes
Out of the cupcakes my favourite by far was the chocolate peanut butter – amazing frosting and very flavoursome cupcake without being at all dry or too rich. I found the red velvet and carrot cupcakes both quite disappointing and a little dry. Then again, I’m not a huge red velvet person in general and haven’t yet been able to understand what all the fuss is about with this type of cake.
Now I must confess that one of the things on my NY bucket list was to eat Carlo’s pastries whilst watching Cake Boss on the giant projector screen in our apartment. Sounds a little tragic but it’s true. Good news is I ticked that one off the list the very next morning after my Carlo’s Bakery visit with Mr Cakespeare! It was such a great way to kick off a weekend. For the more health-concious out there, you’ll be pleased to know that we went for a jog in Central Park afterwards in an attempt to burn off some of the calories!
With less than a month to go the journey so far has been incredible – exhausting but incredible. Our graduation is fast approaching and there are 4 big cakes on the cards in the next 3 weeks with 1 big final exam cake where external judges will be coming in to grade our work on the day of graduation. Scary but true!! I’ve learned so much already and the experience has certainly had it’s highs and lows but pushing myself outside my comfort zone time and again, learning how to work with greater discipline and making new connections have really been the best parts of all.
Can’t wait to share my next few cakes with you all…. we have a topsy turvy, carved doll, handbag and wedding dress cake coming up – all in the next 2 weeks! Stay tuned!