Saturday, February 21, 2009

Just Like 5th Grade

Snow and Substitutes. Remember how fun it was to have a sub? How you could get away with things? Today we had a substitute Chef and at the age of 40 I attempted to pull the wool over his eyes. Because of the snow some students didn't make it in so I innocently suggested we only have 2 groups today, it would just be so much easier. Substitute Chef agreed (sucker) and I volunteered to go over with my three friends creating a team with no weak links. Ha! Take that Judit and FB.

It was heaven, an entire day of not telling anyone what to do, correcting errors, or reading recipe's and explaining what a decimal point is. I didn't even mind doing their dishes, it was a small price to pay for one day of freedom. What a great snow day.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Pie Karma

It was inevitable. We planned, plotted, created charts and tried to tell people "that spot looks really nice, sit over there" but alas it did not work. Chef saw through us, mixed up the count and created new daily work groups for class. I was in group 3. Because of a poorly timed bathroom break I missed the under-the-table-black-market number exchange and was stuck... a permanent member of group 3 saddled with the one person in class who:
1. is allergic to 43 different food ingredients
2. has a bad back and must sit down every 5 minutes
3. doesn't like to do dishes, that's why she only uses paper at home
4. doesn't know the difference between 1 oz and .1 oz (the meaning of the decimal point has escaped her somehow)
5. stands next to a filthy table staring off into who knows where and never realizes she should actually wipe it down

It's fate, my own personal karma for secretly plotting to put all the dumb people in one group. Why me, lord? Why me? Wasn't Judit enough? Must I really wander alone for 40 more years? Well, he may have banished me to the desert (or is it dessert...) that is group 3 for six more weeks but at least he's sent me a little manna from heaven called pie week. And I have to say, I made the best looking mini lemon meringue pies in the room (because I made sure the other two were busy so I could quick make them on my own).

Behold my own personal golden calf, the lemon meringue pie

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Case of the Missing Croissant Dough

Today's practical exam was going along so nicely. D and I staked out our table, spread out sufficiently to ensure nobody else would even think of asking to share; and carefully started a very well planned day--don't you plan your day with a 15 minute increment schedule?

8:00 am: baguette dough punched down, rounded and resting, croissant dough fermenting, butter smashed into a square and coffee almost gone. Oh look, nobody's doing their dishes, just let it go.
9:45 am: baguette cooling, croissant dough first turn finished, labeled and in the retarder (that's fridge for you non-culinary-students), biscuits baked and graded and banana bread in the mixer. Dishes piling up - Ignore, ignore, ignore, just let it go. My day is going swimmingly, right on schedule.
11:15 am: Third turn of the croissant dough complete, sticky bun dough is labeled and in the retarder ready for tomorrow, Baguette and banana bread graded. Dishes, out of control but I'm biting my tongue and helping. Then came a certain someone I like to call Judit (pronounced Who-dit for those of you who don't chat with Jodi on a regular basis) who shot my day with one little sentence...
"Whoever just worked on their croissant dough (looking directly at me) took my dough, that was my dough."

Really? You're accusing me of taking your dough? You? The person who only got one item completed and graded ALL day? The same person who didn't do a dish and didn't know that when you roll out your butter into a thin square you put it between two sheets of plastic wrap; not make a butter snowball in your hand and then try to roll it out on the butcher block counter. Really? The some one who missed the midterm because of a panic attack? You, the most irritating little piece of crazy I've encountered at this learning institution, you're accusing ME of taking what I'm sure is crappy-not-square-goopy-butter-nuthouse-made dough? Done, I'm done being nice, game over. It's time for her to pack her knives and go.

(looking directly at her) "No, I did not take your dough, that was mine, it was labeled with my name and in a different retarder than yours. Are you sure you made the dough? Are you sure you put it in the retarder? Are you sure you labeled the dough? Hm, it's a mystery. This is my dough."

Amazingly everyone all of a sudden decided to do dishes. Was it to get out of my burning stare or just to do something so Judit didn't accuse them of taking her dough? What really happened to the dough? Personally I'm going for the St. Elsewhere angle - it's all in her head, and only she knows just how good that dough could be.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

More than you ever wanted to know about Cupcakes

I never thought I'd have to think about end notes or citing references ever again. I'm a designer, I don't need to know that silly grammer-paper-writing crap. Try again. Here's the first paper I've written since the 80s, I hope you enjoy the story of the cupcake as much as I did.

Cupcakes - a brief history of the all-American dessert

All I wanted for my 8th birthday was black joe cupcakes with seven-minute frosting. A classic from Pennsylvania, this was my all-time favorite dessert. It’s not just the moist, ultra-chocolaty cake I loved, it was the fact it was a cupcake. An individual portion that was all mine; no sharing with sisters required. A perfect portion wrapped in an accordion paper shell. The cupcake is the quintessential all-American dessert born from ingenuity and the drive to take things to the next level. It wasn’t cake we invented, just the way in which it was baked, presented and eaten. Simple, individual, no apologies—the cupcake.

The American way—do it faster, make it bigger and produce more all at the same time—was the drive that helped create the cupcake. During the 19th century the tradition of weighing ingredients on a balance scale was replaced with a much faster, easier method, measuring with cups. From this new system came the name “cup cake” or number cake, an easy name that explained exactly what you were making. Around the same time the baking process also evolved. Large cakes baked on a hearth would take a very long time and often result in uneven and burned products. Baking the cake in small cups sped up the process and yielded a more consistent baked good. Both adaptations contributed to the evolution that was first named “cupcake” in E. E. Leslie's Receipts, written in 1828. A star was born.

It was just a matter of time before someone decided to automate this little dessert. The first commercial cupcakes made their way into the marketplace in the early 1900s. An enterprising Philadelphia bakery started making individual desserts packaged to sell at local groceries, a convenience that is truly American. The Tasty Baking Company started making cupcakes around 1919 and by 1930 was baking $6 million worth of snack cakes a year, with the cupcake being their number two item. In 1950 a now famous classic came on the scene when D.R. “Doc” Rice added crème filling and seven white squiggles to a chocolate cupcake named Hostess. Between Hostess and Tasty Kakes there was an affordable and convenient way to put a cupcake in every child’s lunch when mom didn’t have time to make them herself.

By the 1950s the cupcake was a staple in the American kitchen. If they weren’t purchased pre-packaged in the grocery store then Betty Crocker (through General Mills) was there to help any homemaker bake a batch at home. Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook, published in 1950, had step-by-step instructions and ideas for any flavor of cupcakes. If mom was running short on time, the introduction of cake box mixes in 1947—where you just add water, stir and bake—became the easiest way for her to create “from scratch” treats. Cupcakes didn’t change much in the 60s, 70s and 80s. What could you do to improve on such a classic? Nobody could have predicted the stardom that came with the next evolution in the mid 90s.

Magnolia Bakery was founded in 1996 and started making cupcakes with leftover cake batter. The popularity was mostly localized in New York City until 40 seconds on Sex in the City in 2000 turned their humble little cupcake into a nationwide phenomenon worthy of praise from Oprah. This was the beginning of a new breed of cupcake. The ultra-luxury-fancy-pants-three-fifty-a-pop cupcakes served in the finest bakeries. These special treats were seen being eaten by the coolest, most trend-setting stars from coast to coast.

Hollywood and the power of marketing ingrained cupcakes into our pop culture. Every female in middle America wanted to eat the same dessert Carrie Bradshaw did when confessing she had a new crush. Lines began forming around the block at Magnolia Bakery. Even Saturday Night Live paid homage to Magnolia’s cupcakes in their famous digital short “Lazy Sunday.” This craze and successive demand for luxury cupcakes has spawned independent bakeries across the country including Sprinkles Cupcakes, a Los Angeles storefront that makes high-end treats as well as doggy cupcakes, t-shirts and mixes for Williams-Sonoma. They turned a high-quality product with simple, classic style into a well-branded empire.

The cupcake craze isn’t dying, it’s actually spreading to all forms of merchandise. Search “cupcake” on and you’ll find 23 items ranging in price from $105 for professional sized pans to $10.95 for three individual storage containers. You name it and someone makes it in a cupcake shape: jewelry, bandages, t-shirts, mints, full-sized cake pan, even dental floss. It’s more than just a dessert. Its become a cultural phenomenon—so American.

Why do we love these sweet treats so much? What is the power they hold over us? Is it the nostalgia from our childhood or the convenience of buying a single-serving treat? In a society where healthy eating is more and more important do cupcakes seem less guilty, not as big of a sin? Is it the Hollywood stamp of coolness? Is it the luxury we can afford to give ourselves in today’s economy or just the desire to have something fresh baked from scratch with quality ingredients? I think it’s a little of everything that makes this classic dessert an important part our culture today. That’s why I searched out Sprinkles; to see if any of their cupcakes could hold a candle to my Aunt Arlene’s black joe cupcakes—they don’t. Hers are still the best and still my favorite.

I say all hail the American dream; I’m proud that we developed this classic dessert. It’s the classic rags-to-riches story; a simple dessert with humble beginnings being marketed to luxury status by the machine that is free enterprise. The cupcake is truly worthy of its place in American history and pop culture—what other country could (or would) make a star out of a childhood treat.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Time to make the donuts

I have oil burns all over my hands. Put me by a fryer and I'll get burned. So I though glazing, that would be safe right? Nope, you have to pick up hot donuts, more burns. I couldn't even take sweet potato's out of the oven this week without branding my arm. Now that I look back, getting that second degree sunburn in the BWCA was just the beginning of my skin torture (and we won't get into curling irons and the 80's). I figured I better not even look at the tanning bed today or I'd end up in the hospital. But the donuts tasted really good! I can't believe I made donuts... neither can Gracie Pants which is why she's currently sleeping in a butter and sugar coma. I have a feeling I'll be checking her in after danishes tomorrow--if I don't burn myself again.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Cakes in the Desert

Time to escape the cold and run away to the desert--phoenix to be specific. I didn't just work on my tan, 3 of the 5 days were entirely dedicated to baking and decorating 2 cakes. Ethan put in his request 6 months ago for the batmobile and "bumpa tuffy" needed something fun for his 60th birthday. Since these two gentleman are more than special to me it was totally worth it.

The Batmobile for Ethan's 5th Birthday

Tuffy's 60th Birthday Cake

Even though it wasn't quite classroom experience I still learned a few lessons over those 3 days:
1. There is no such thing as too many dowels to support a cake (see Tuffy's cake)
2. Cream cheese filling is not solid - at any temperature (especially in the desert - see Tuffy's cake)
3. Gumpaste is fragile
4. I am the biggest clutz known to man (see #3, does this really surprise anyone?)

I guess it's time to get back to class, I think it's croissants next week - boy, do I need to get on that treadmill before I hit hawaii.