Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Underpants Gnomes

Lately I have begun to feel like the baking world is full of Underpants Gnomes; you know the ones, from South Park. Step one, steal underpants, step two..., step three PROFIT! Only in this case step one is open a bakery and step three is profit. Don't get me wrong profit is the purpose of business but none of these places seem to have a step two that I can get behind. Case in point, we are apparently the only bakery in all of Birmingham AL that doesn't use cake mix. We don't use ingredients we can't pronounce, so no soy-lethwasamarigger, or hyrdochemical oil, etc. Eggs, flour, butter...those are our base ingredients, we buy them every week.

We have been very busy with plans for a wedding show this weekend. I've been tackling brush embroidery which is so flipping easy it should be criminal J On top of that we have all our regular orders, and new orders coming it, but to be honest we aren't doing so well business wise. I am still working for free. Don't get me wrong, I love my boss, I love the shop, I am exhausted but happy, happier than I have ever been in my life. Every day is a new way to express my creativity and passion; I just wish it would pay the bills. I could see myself investing the next 25 years to this business, I could grow old and die happy with it. But that the age old dilemma isn't it? To get paid well for doing something we love.

In other news go here www.threadcakes.com . I'm entering this competition, or think I am, I'll keep you posted as to what design I pick.


 

And now, my sleepy butt is going to bed, because I am going in extra early tomorrow and sleepy chefs are accidents waiting to happen.


 

Much <3

Monday, June 14, 2010

Beginnings and Endings

Today is my exit interview at the college, I'm not sure what it entails but I do know that I never managed to get my paperwork back from the chef at the restaurant. I hope that doesn't jeopardize my GPA, I really want to graduate with my 4.0. (If you are reading this Kay then please give me at least a ninety!)

Things at the bakery are going really well, the chef/owner and I are two peas in a pod and so it is a really great environment to learn and grow in. She has offered to hire me when her revenue gets up and so I'm going to keep working there after my externship ends today. We have a TON of cakes due this week: two wedding cakes, three grooms cakes, a castle birthday cake, plus whatever orders we pick up this week, PLUS all our cupcakes! It's wonderful, I'm learning so much about cake.

We are toying with some different cupcakes ideas, right now we are perfecting a peach. This is my baby and I want it to taste like a ripe peach when you eat it, so far we've tried a peach cake (which was too nutmeg ridden) and a white cake with peach nectar and fresh peaches folded in. Neither gave me the peach flavor I wanted and so now I'm thinking maybe if we pureed the peaches and reduced them into a syrup maybe that would work. We have also been tossing around ideas for a line of Seven Deadly Cupcakes (ie/ cupcakes based on the seven deadly sins) and a line of Happy Hour Cupcakes based on cocktails. The latter has been done by a few places but to be honest I think we can do better. I mean that is the point right? To try and be better.

We are also working on marketing to try and bring in business because business means revenue and revenue means I get a paycheck. I'm thinking we take some cupcakes to the local bridal boutiques in an attempt to bribe the dress clerks, and also to the local FOX station to bribe the producers :) The more we get our name out the better our chances of success.

It has been a bumpy road from never been in a kitchen until here, and I hope that even though this blog isn't a requirement anymore you will continue to read it. I'm going to continue writing about my journey towards becoming a chef, I don't think I am there yet and to be honest I don't think I'll be there for at least nine more years. :) But it will be an interesting journey and who knows, maybe I won't be the only one to learn something along the way.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Look at the the time!

It has been a week or so since I've updated I know but I've been busy! I've been working you see, at the local cake shop and boy oh boy am I learning a lot! It is amazing how different things can be from one business to the other. At the restaurant we had a dishwasher and a dish-washing machine, here we have me and my dishrag. But I don't mind, because my boss is wonderful. She asks my opinion on thing, we even had an entire conversation about why I was in culinary school. It is fantastic to be so engaged, even her criticism isn't really criticism so much as a challenge to why I am doing something one way over another. And ya know what...I can darn well bake a cake so :P .

Can you tell I am happy? Is my joy infecting you over the internet? It should be...I practically float to work.

Today I went to a demonstration by Nicholas Lodge. It was pretty informative even if there were times I felt like he was reviewing things I learned at school. If only I had the cash to go to Atlanta and take classes at his school ~le sigh~

But that is where I am and what I'm doing. Aside from some minor home emergencies (grandfather having heart surgery, hot water heater exploding) everything is peachy keen. I found out I am on the Presidents List, which means I have a perfect 4.0 GPA.

Go me!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Pith and Vinegar

Like an orange or a lemon working in a restaurant kitchen is equal parts bitter and sweet. Bad days both demonstrate the sometimes seediness of it all and the acidity of tongues that are more often than not turned on each other ; good days are refreshing, they stand out crisp in the mind and light in the heart. But enough metaphor, time to get to the meat of things (okay maybe one more metaphor). Saturday was my last night at the restaurant, they've hired someone far more qualified to take the position left vacant on the line. I really wish them the best of luck; I think I learned a number of things about myself and about the industry while I was there.

It occurred to me while I was helping out at garde manger that 'staging (pronounced stah-ging) is a lot like being a surgical nurse. You have to anticipate the moves of the person you are helping and be there utensil or ingredient in hand before they think to ask for it. It is an elaborate dance of movements and if you are good at your job the whole thing moves like a ballet. Unfortunately 'staging is always done for free, which is something about the industry I understand but don't really approve of for extended periods of time. With as much work as needs to be done in a kitchen, the long hours and hectic pace of things, the least you can do is pay someone a reasonable wage for the time they are there, even if it is only a night (to be honest I'm sure most onetime 'stages would settle for being paid in booze or food).

Lately I've been reading "Devil in the Kitchen" by Marco Pierre White. He is one of those chefs famous for being horrible to work for with a tendency for hurling things at his staff or yelling at his patrons. It really comes as little surprise that he trained Gordon Ramsey, but he also worked with Mario Battali and that chef is famous for his kindness in the kitchen. Reading his autobiography has given me some insight into the whole "I scream at my staff because I want them to be better" ideology practiced by pastry chef at the restaurant but I can't say I subscribe to it. It goes back to the old adage "is it better to be feared or loved". I've always been a proponent of love myself and I think the main reason that the pastry chef and I didn't click is simply because he failed to understand the one thing all my instructors at school learned very quickly; I am always and will always be my own worst critic.

It's a bit of famous fact amongst my friends that I am never happy with what I've made. I'll bake something and then pick it a part wondering how I could do it better. Last Christmas I baked four coconut cakes and discarded the first three because they didn't rise the way I wanted. The week we made petite fours in class mine weren't the perfectly coated and decorated morsels I had envisioned and so I came home, made them that weekend and took them to class to show chef that Monday. My last day of class I asked Chef Danks what piece of advice he would give me and he told me that I needed to stop doubting myself. It's been a hard piece of advice to follow but I'm trying the first step to overcoming is admitting and all.

Looking back at my eight weeks in the kitchen of the restaurant I gained quite a bit of knowledge. I learned to move more quickly than I had thought possible, how to juggle multiple plates and tickets at a time, how to make bread (though I'm still not great at it), the proper way to plate a salad, and most importantly how to work under great amounts of stress. I also learned that while some may view culinary school as a waste of time and money it in the end is worth it, especially if you are passionate about food and want to learn to do it well. There are things you learn as a pastry student that you won't learn in most restaurant kitchens, how to properly temper chocolate for instance, or why you meringue won't whip up when it appears you've done everything correctly. You'll learn the proper name for techniques that are used and the proper way to complete them. An example of this is Paté Bomb, which is how mousses can be stabilized without gelatine. The process is relatively simple, heat your sugar syrup to 248F and temper it into egg yolks that have been whipped until pale and frothy. You continue to whip the mixture until it is cool. At the restaurant when we made mousse I noticed that the pastry chef wasn't letting the mixture cool completely before adding it to the whipped cream. Even though I would never correct him that was why the mousse he made came out loose. When making the mousse became my task it was something I self corrected.

The remaining weeks of my externship (since I have to make it 11) will hopefully be spent at a cake bakery closer to home. I'll be 'staging but given that I have little to know knowledge in how to decorate a cake I don't mind working for free because it is a heck of a skill to have. There will also be no more forty-two hour weeks which doesn't hurt, and the hours will be more conducive to having a part time job somewhere to help with bills. I guess the most important piece of advice I can give to anyone it the one that has seen me through these past eight weeks, there is no crying in pastry.


 


 

Friday, May 21, 2010

Banana (not a)Pound Cake

This post has nothing to do with my internships but this cake is so good I just had to share the recipe. On a recent trip to an unnamed food warehouse (shameful on my part I know), I came across a southern dessert cookbook by the editors of Southern Living. I had tried so hard to get an internship with them despite their massive layoffs that I just couldn't resist picking it up and adding it to my cart. Last Sunday with it raining so hard and my banana's turning brown at a rapid rate I decided to try one of the recipes. Man oh man; I am so glad that I did. I've been nibbling on this delicious cake all week and it is still just as moist as it was Sunday night!

The recipe is posted below and although this cake is incredible tasty don't let the title fool you, it isn't a pound cake. A pound cake is so named because of its ingredient ratio, a 1:1:1:1 ratio of flour, butter, eggs, and sugar Traditionally this was a pound of each of those ingredients however as long as the ratio is preserved, the resulting cake will generally be very similar to that using the traditional quantities. My lack of a tube pan caused me to substitute a Bundt pan instead and the result was just as great. Don't worry if the batter takes up most of the pan, this cake doesn't rise very much.


 

Banana (not a) Pound Cake

(Courtesy of Classic Southern Desserts by the editors of Southern Living)

Makes 10 to 12 servings if you feel like sharing

Preheat your oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 10" tube pan or Bundt pan

In a mixing bowl cream 1 ½ cups of softened butter at a medium speed for 2 minutes or until creamy; gradually add 3cups of granulated sugar and continue beating for 5 to 7 minutes until light and fluffy. Add 5 eggs, one at a time, adding each egg after the yellow of the previous has just disappeared. Beat 2 minutes or until it looks like one mixture (not bits of fat mixed with egg), be careful not to over beat or you will have air pockets (tunnelling) in your finished cake.

In a second bowl combine 3 ripe bananas (mashed) with 3Tbsp of milk and 2tsp of vanilla, combining.

Sift together 3cups of all purpose flour, 1tsp baking powder, 1/2tsp salt in a third bowl.

Starting with the dry, add 1/3 of dry mix into the butter/egg mixture and combine, then 1/2 of your wet mixture. Repeat ending with the last third of flour and mix well between additions; do this at low speed as you just want things to get combined.

Pour the batter into your pan and sprinkle the top with 1/4cup of chopped pecans. Bake for 1hour and 20 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Let it cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes before removing it and finish cooling on a wire rack. (It takes about one hour to cool completely)


 

Bon Appetite!


 

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Winner Is...

The test results are in, I have a B12 deficiency. The Dr isn't sure if it is because I just haven't been eating enough foods that contain B12 (meat, dairy, eggs) or if something is stopping my body for absorbing the B12 I do eat but either way I'm on a super supplement for 30 days and blood work for the next three months. Of course this also means I have to eat more animal products, to make up for the B12 my body may not being absorbing, but at this point I'll do anything not to feel so dang tired, absentminded and achy all the time.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Well this kind of bites.

I'm home sick, second day in a row, and feeling horribly guilty. Yesterday I went to work and managed to screw up the bread TWICE before excusing myself to go to the Dr. I'm really lightheaded, and sore, and horribly forgetful. I went to the fridge last night to get something and couldn't remember what it was by the time I arrived. The Dr. I saw is checking my thyroid, my B12 and some other things but to be honest I have this feeling that all my symptoms are actually the work of an old friend.

Oh Lyme Disease, Virginia's parting gift to me before I moved and started school. I was on my but for six weeks with it last fall and was sincerely hoping that the antibiotics had killed it completely, I'll know in a few days either way I suppose but in the meantime the Dr recommended I stay at home and not do anything involving knives, fire, or driving. Yah me!(not)

I wish I had more exciting things to report, when I do I assure you I will. In the mean time this is going to be it for me today, I foresee another nap in my future.