One of the most surprising discoveries I've made in my culinary school adventure, and the resulting baking I get to do for my clients, is that I LOVE cake decorating (I really didn't think I would)(no really, I'm being honest here). I'm a lucky girl to know Sarah over at Lil Hoot, because she's as creative as she is fun, and often when we work together I get emails with pictures of GORGEOUS cakes- I'm talking real stunners.

"I like this- thoughts?"

Sarah, my thoughts are always "drooooooooool." followed quickly by "I'LL DO IT!" followed quickly by, "I have to figure out how to do this." I kid. I really love it when a client comes to me with some specific ideas, be it flavor, or color....the more I know about what a client really likes, the more fun I have because I know what I'm working on will be something they'll love (uh, hopefully).

I'm equally lucky that one of Sarah's go-to girls is Meredith, (of Meredith Nelson Photography), someone with a real talent for photography. Meredith is singlehandedly responsible for capturing some of my very favorite cake pictures. Behold:

(for Lil Hoot's Lil C)

(For Sugar on Top)

Yes, really. Thank you, THANK you, Meredith, for making my cakes look so pretty (and my macs...and my brioche cinnamon buns....).

I'm hard at work on the ultimate cake- this one is a long term project for school. We've been given free reign to create our own wedding cakes, and I've happened across an inspiration cake that I can't get off my mind. So? I'm going for it. I'll save THAT picture for when I've completed the cake, but I will share my progress so far.

Traditional wedding cake design includes a pastillage structure system (pastillage is a very strong sugar based paste that rolls out like dough and dries into a heavy, rigid product....sort of like porcelain), and our cakes are no exception.  Our cakes will be small wedding cakes, with the first tier consisting entirely of a pastillage support structure. On Friday I designed my support tier, measured and cut my templates, mixed my pastillage, and got to work.  

Here are my templates (and my sketch)(and my tea):

and HERE is my cut pastillage, drying on forms, or in molds (or flat, on the sheet pan):

The tubes you can see there will be support for the cake, the flat discs will be the base and the top of the support (that's what the rest of the cake will sit on directly). Oh, and those are trees. And the top of a house. There's MORE pastillage to complete, and then it will all be painted. And that's simply the bottom support layer of the cake.

You might be wondering how a house and some trees and a couple of tubes made of sugar come together to make a wedding cake, and what on EARTH it will look like. I'll give you a hint: the cake is an homage to a famous work of art that pays tribute to the stoic American pioneer spirit. And there's a pitchfork. 

Just trust me, it makes sense. I'll show more pictures along the way.


.....and then I survived midterms.

Well, HELLO. It's been a while, I know. There was Thanksgiving, and then right into Christmas, and you know how busy all that business is, we celebrated the new year and then I flung myself into midterm prep.

Culinary School exams: quite an experience. If you've seen Julie and Julia, you know maybe what culinary school exams involve. In the final exam scene, Julia pulls a card (for the life of me I cannot remember what was on the card, but suffice to say it was an impossible French recipe), and she's meant to write the ingredients, quantity and method for the dish, then presumably she'll execute the dish in the kitchen. Julia (JULIA CHILD) comes up blank. She cannot remember the dish. Horrified, she fails her exam. Cue recurring nightmare. Weep.

The midterm exam at my particular culinary school is very similar- but because it's the midterm it's an introduction to the process. On the pastry side, we were given 10 desserts to know, including all of the components (for instance: to make macaroons you'd need to know how to make a french meringue, how to incorporate that into the almond flour and confectioners' sugar, how to color the batter, cook the cookies, how to make three ganaches, how to assemble). The morning of our practicum exam, we came into the kitchen, pulled a folded paper at random, opened the paper to find the title and ingredients (on our final, we won't be given the ingredients)(yes, I'm already worrying about it)(I've been told to stop worrying, since the exam isn't until June, but obviously that person doesn't know me very well), and were asked to write the procedure for each component.

I pulled French Cookies and Ice Cream, so I sat down to furiously write out the procedure for four french cookies and the ice cream. I handed the completed procedures to my proctor, he checked the details (at this point, if there are any corrections to be made, the proctor gives you a chance to make the correction, if you can't, he takes a point off per error and makes the correction himself), I got the procedures approved and headed into the kitchen for a LONG day of making cookies, ice cream and considering plating.

We're evaluated in two parts: our recipe writing and kitchen work, and our presentation and execution. Once my cookies were completed, and my ice cream was chilled, I had to bring the whole thing together. Because cookies and ice cream are rather independent items, my biggest challenge was presenting something to the evaluation team that made sense relative to the components, was visually appealing, and that might have an element of technical difficulty (I didn't want to risk giving up points by throwing cookies on a plate, next to a bowl of ice cream). Our plating options are limited.....so what's a pastry girl to do? Duh, make a bowl for the ice cream out of chocolate.

(I'm joking and being cavalier here- those chocolate bowls almost undid me. I made TWELVE and three worked. Any guesses how many plates I needed to pull together? THREE. Talk about coming down to the wire, holy smokes)


When our plates were set, the proctor brought them in to the tasting and evaluation room. The tasting is purposely done blind, meaning the tasters do not know who prepared the dish- this prevents a bias. The proctor returns to the kitchen and reviews your performance throughout the day including feedback on kitchen work, and the impressions from the tasters.

It was nerve wracking, and exciting, and fun and terrifying all at the same time. I loved every minute. I'm still scared for my final in June.