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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
We made swiss roll. Not once but twice.
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.