Saturday, October 8, 2016

Baking School

I did the craziest thing this week. I signed up for a 4-day boot camp to learn to make cakes at a baking school. Originally I had signed up to do the 4-day bake bread course but due to my having to recover from gallbladder surgery, I had to withdraw. Since then, there hasn't been another bake bread course so I did the next best thing (in my mind) and opted for cakes instead.

I have baked maybe 2, 3 cakes in my whole life and they turned out really bad. I did not attend Home Economics in school and well, you get the picture. Before I attended the course, I was a little nervous but I had no idea how hard the next 5 days would be.

This is chef James. He was our teacher for the first 2 days. On the first day only 4 students showed up so it was a really small class. We went through the orientation, safety stuff and a bit of theory. The theory bit, I really blanked out at first. I don't know if it's because I haven't been to school for a long time but if I listen to someone speak, I fall asleep. If I watch a Craftsy class, the same thing happens. I get sleepy. Youtube videos are easier because they are shorter.

I tried my best to pay attention because this is a Workforce Skills Qualification (WSQ) course and for my age group, 90% of the course fees is funded by WDA(Workforce Development Agency). In order to get this funding, you need to attain 75% attendance and pass the practical and oral test on the 5th day.  I didn't want to fork over $540, so I worked really hard to keep up. The remaining 10% of the course fee ($102), I paid using my Skillsfuture credit account which the government had topped up with $500. So I got to learn to bake cakes for free!

This is the baking room we used on the first 2 days. Getting used to the baking room took me a while. You have to learn how to use the mixer, the oven and weighing scale.

What we wear in the baking room is a white shirt with sleeves and collar, black pants and covered shoes. Of course we wear a kind of netting over our hair (see chef Jame's photo) and a plastic apron. No jewellery is allowed but I forgot and wore my fitbit on the first day.

Baking my first cake was the most frightening and exhilarating experience of my life. I felt like I was standing still most of the time (not knowing what to do), yet at the same time I had to keep treading water to stay afloat. You know that kind of feeling? After a briefing, the chef said to start and everyone scrambled. I barely knew what to do.

When I finally got to the stage where I could use the mixer, it was a relief. You have to gather all your ingredients first (mise en place) and that took a while!

The first cake we baked was pound cake and we used the creaming method. If you don't do the creaming method correctly, your cake can go very wrong! We made one plain cake and one marble cake. I think they turned out not too bad!!! Hey, I never knew pound cake had a 1:1:1:1 ratio for eggs, fat, sugar and flour.

Chef James was very particular about scraping down your batter and he insisted we remove the paddle each time we scraped down. I really struggled with the mixer! Removing the paddle, putting it back, putting the mixer bin back, it's extremely tedious. This is not a machine you use in your home kitchen.

We also made another batter cake using the All-in method. This is an easier method compared to the creaming method. What we used to help the process was milk and glycerine. Apparently, glycerine is the magical ingredient. But I don't like the taste of the cake. It's too soft for me compared to the cake made using the creaming method which tasted more natural.

Day 2 We baked cheesecake. It's a real pain I tell you. First you have to build the support for the metal ring using cling wrap and foil. Next the biscuits and butter as the base of the cake which need to be chilled. Lastly, the mixing which had to be done in a particular order. Finally it had to be baked using a water bath method which means you put the cheesecake on top of a tray of water. The trick to cheesecake apparently is to use warm water and to add ice cubes to the water to prevent it from getting hot.

I don't know how my cheesecake turned out because I can't eat cheese. My girl said it's "normal" but she's not a cheesecake fan.

We also baked a sponge cake using the foaming method. For this cake, we made it with a partner so to be honest, I don't have a good memory of how it's baked. I do remember we had to use a hot water bath (put your batter bowl over another bowl of hot water) and stir and whip the crap out of it. Finally the machine did the rest of the work. A very tedious method if you ask me.

I want to be honest with you about the first 2 days. I did not burst into tears but I wanted to. The chef criticized me a number of times. It was good really because it helped me become better. However, when he asked me how I was possibly going to pass my test on Friday, my heart sank. It didn't help that the other 3 students had way more experience than me so I looked really bad next to them. I told hubs how bad things looked and he said he would pay the course fees if I failed. That took a bit of the pressure off but I still wanted to try as hard as I could.

Day 3. OMG, I wanted to walk out of the course. We had a new chef instructor, chef Gan and he was more comfortable with Mandarin. I made him speak English which was heavily accented and I barely understood him. But that was not why I wanted to walk out. The language thing, I slowly got used to and sometimes I spoke to him in Mandarin because I do have some Mandarin listening skills! I don't have much memory of Day 3. I think I blanked out sometime before lunch. We baked and baked and baked. Non-stop. We also used a new kitchen. The oven was different. The chef was scary.

I know we baked a sponge cake again because the chef wanted to compare it with the sponge cake we made on day 2. This time we used the All-in method which as you remember uses emulsifier and produces a finer (more unnatural) texture.

Here's chef Gan doing the critique. My foaming method sponge cake is on the right. See the air pockets? The other cake made using emulsifier looks smoother. (I think mine is better)

We made swiss roll. Not once but twice.

This is my swiss roll. It tastes better than it looks. It has emulsifier which makes it very soft. The second time we made the swiss roll, the chef jazzed it up a little by teaching us how to use piping to create patterns. I forgot to take pics because I had no energy or time to remember.

The last cake we baked was marble cake again using the creaming method. Chef Gan taught us another method to pipe in the chocolate.

On Day 3, I felt baking 4 cakes was a bit too much for my brain. I felt completely drained and in the middle of baking the 2nd swiss roll, I toyed briefly with the idea of walking out. What made the day very hard was I lost my mixing bowl. It turned out the chef had lent it to someone and I ended up having to use the bread mixer which was very heavy and the machine was different from the one I had used previously. So something new to learn again while I was already so freaking tired. Also the oven was confusing. And the chef was angry a lot. This guy scolds. He did not really scold me. Well, maybe once I thought he was gonna lunge at me. He did yell at someone else. I happened to be near him and felt the sting of his anger. Anyway, did I mention I attended this course with an old friend? I think having her around really helped me and in the end because I had her to talk to I just kept hanging on.

Looking back, Day 3 was really important because chef Gan trained us to bake 4 cakes in a day. Because on Day 5 we had a practical test where we had to bake 4 cakes.

Day 4 was chiffon cake day. It's a difficult cake because failure is obvious. Your cake does not rise. This cake is very sensitive. So many things can go wrong. We baked a pandan chiffon cake and later we baked an orange flavoured chiffon cake. I'm quite amazed myself both my cakes turn out okay. Either the chef is a very good teacher or I'm not a bad baker after all. By the way, the cakes are freaking delicious. So soft and fluffy.

In the afternoon on day 4 we baked another cheese cake. We learnt a couple new tricks. The rest of the day we went through theory preparing for our test on Day 5.

On Thursday night, I realised I was terrible with the theory. There's some notes given to us and we had to learn them because the theory (oral) questions would come from the notes. I went through the notes a few times yet I couldn't really remember much. Finally I decided to go to bed. On Day 5, it rained very heavily. Of course. On the train, I quickly went through my notes again and this time, I felt I could remember better. Anyway, the practical test came first and I had to get through that.

It was freaking nerve wrecking. Our tester brought us to the bread kitchen. Thank god we had been using that kitchen the past 2 days so I was familiar with it. We were given our test paper and we had to bake 4 cakes - batter cake, sponge cake, chiffon cake and cheesecake. The test paper only includes the ingredients and very basic instructions like "Prepare to bake batter cake." There are no temp, timing instructions given.

I don't know how I did it but I managed to bake all 4 cakes. We also had to prepare one more batter but we only had to show the tester the batter.  So amazing! The other 3 women were super fast. I was so slow. But I decided I must not rush because I did not want to make any mistakes. Finally, the nerve wrecking part. After de-moulding our cakes, we brought them to the tester. She went through my cakes and gave her critique. She was really nice and wanted it to be a learning journey for us. While she critique, she also taught. All my cakes had no problems. I only had two execution issues. I did not cut my swiss roll evenly. And my cheesecake had a crack on the surface. The tester blamed it on the method we were taught and gave us tips to achieve a better surface. (use ice-cubes!!!) Then the oral test. That was crazy. I managed to answer all the questions correctly but was stumped on 1 question. She asked me to look at my batter cake to find the answer and amazingly by looking at the cake, I was able to give the right answer! I don't know how. The Universe willed the answer to me! So I passed! I passed! Do you know you can't fail a single question? If you do, you have to retake the test all over again or fork over the course fees.

Honestly, this course is ridiculously hard. How I managed to go through it, bake all the cakes during the test and answer the questions correctly is beyond me. I felt like I was a person running for my life while a tiger was behind me.

The tester said for someone like me without much baking experience, this course was a bit hard. I should have started with something easier like cookies. Ah so.

Here's me, my old friend in the middle and a new friend. Despite all the hardship, I enjoyed myself. I learnt so much in one week. But I won't be making cakes for a while because you know, I don't think I can stand the sight of another cake. Also, I realise how important the mixer is. I have a kiddy plastic mixer at home and I doubt if it will achieve the same result. So until I get a real mixer, I'm not going to try baking cakes at home. I also feel sorry for my family who had to eat a lot of cake this week.


Bethany said...

Everything look super delicious!!! Like that Swiss roll. I want that.

Anonymous said...

I love you Jane!
You should quit baking and be a writer.
Take a writing class!

Christel said...

Hi Jane. Congrats on passing the course! :) It sure seemed tough, with all the equipments looking real intimidating, and not-so-encouraging instructors. Glad that you managed to bake different types of cake successfully. Hope that when you try to bake them at home, you'll get similar results ;)

Jane McLellan said...

Wow, well done to you for doing the course and passing it!

Projects By Jane said...

Hi Christel, I think the instructors felt a lot of pressure too esp getting a student like me. Chef James said I believe you have never baked before! But both chefs managed to make me bake so I'm grateful for that. The criticisms were hard to take but I'm a big girl.


Projects By Jane said...

Hi Jane, thanks. You know what? I might go back for more lessons!!!

Sandra :) said...

Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaay you passed ... and everyone got cake - that's a win/win :D I would love to know how to make Swiss rolls, but I would get stressed out in a class that I had to "pass" - I'd probably end up making bricks and the teachers would break their teeth!

Tammy said...

Jane, great job! That sounds really hard and intense, I wouldn't eat cake for a long time, either if I were you. I'll bet this was easier than the bread baking though - you'd have to knead and have sore arms and shoulders if they made you do it by hand (and yeast is fickle).

Everything looks so, so, good. I haven't had chiffon cake since I was little and I really would like some now! Sponge cake, either .. so maybe I will have to bake one of these days. But only if I am having company, Mr. & I are trying to stay off of sugar & flour because we need to lose a lot of weight, this temptation is killing me.

Chris H said...

WOW! How wonderful that you learnt all that and make excellent cakes and PASSED the course. So glad you didn't have to pay for the course after all that.

Phyllis N said...

I thoroughly congratulate you on your baking school success and your skill as a blog writer as well!
I ran across an old zippered project pouch tutorial of yours on ETSY this week and following your clearly laid out instructions I made a pouch for my daughter.(Now she expects one for every cross stitch project!)
Your writing kept me smiling from beginning to end! I really encourage you to take the bread baking class whenever it becomes available again because once you learn, you won't want want store bought bread ever again!. And though the baking class wasn't any fun, once you are free to create in your own kitchen for the family who loves you, nothing will hold you back and your cakes will be totally awesome!!

Projects By Jane said...

Hi Phyllis,

Guess what? I went back for another baking course last week.
My family has begged me to stop baking for a while!


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