Don’t Be a Hero

15 Oct

I think if anyone were to ask me if they should become a chef/work in a kitchen I would tell them they have definitely lost it. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, but if your heart is not in it you will not survive. At least not happily. Having had a bunch of different occupations, I can say with certainty that this has been my favorite workplace out of them all. It’s the chaos, the loudness, the speed, the smells, the rush of rush hour, the satisfaction of being able to master a recipe that I could not execute for the life of me when I first started. But it takes up your whole time. It’s long hours and physical strain. Say goodbye to your friends and social life. Sure, you can hang out with them but depending on what that entails and how late you stay out, it will be tough to be up at 5 AM for work the next day. Oh and no drinking, you have to be at your physical peak for the morning rush, lest you want the chef to send you home for being hungover (or still drunk). I mean you still can do both, everyone does it, I have. But it’s definitely harder to be the party animal I once was because I’ve given my life to the chef I hope to be!

Also, look forward to lots of these, (at least in the beginning):

 

Kitchen Burn

Burns. That is one of several on my arms. Of course with care and experience you won’t get as many, but even the most seasoned chefs get them from time to time. In a buzzing kitchen, a mere moment’s distraction is all that it takes to get one of these.

Most days I come home, shower, and pass out. I try and get as much done on my one day off until the next week just because I know how tired I am on my work days. Also, no holidays off because that’s our busiest times of the year!

And yet, I have never been happier. At least as far as my career and work is related. I’ve met the best people here, some of who are as passionate as I am about what we do, and in the end that’s all that matters. For all the seemingly negative things about a bakery life or kitchen life is just what makes it that much more enjoyable. For all the long hours, messes, back pains, sweating, foot pains, burns, yelling from your peers and your chef when you mess up and you feel like you could cry and throw in the towel, there is the other side of it where you show that you can survive through it. You keep going, keep pushing because at the end of it, after several hundred fails,  you get to the point where you can finally produce something great with your own hands. And you see the smile on the face of the customers enjoying that which you made. And then come the compliments and respect from everyone, best of all your chef.

It’s the most rewarding experience I’ve had thus far. I love every day.

 
Love & Sweets,
Melissa

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100 Lemons

10 May

Lemons

[ source: wikipedia.org ]

When I walked into the hustle and bustle of the patisserie I work at now, many months ago, I could feel the eyes of all the cooks in that kitchen staring at me. Some of them were diligently slicing apples with the swiftness of a cat, while others were piping out cookies in perfect little rows. A large Hobart mixer was whirring away, mixing about 20 quarts of whipped cream to soft peaks. The loud sound of the large standup oven alarm alerting that the spongecakes were finished made me tense, as did everyone’s gaze while I walked to my station.

I was definitely nervous, up until that point I had only worked in one other kitchen, the one I externed at in the city and which was way smaller than this one. Of course, having endured one of the craziest chefs I hope I’ll ever have to work for (think the female Gordon Ramsey), I felt that this kitchen, though the production would be in higher quantities, could only be better.

The first task Chef gave me was to zest, slice and juice lemons. One hundred of them. Let me tell you, zesting is one of the more tedious things a cook can do, like potato peeling, you never seem to see the end of it. Every time I looked up as I began to zest each and every lemon, I caught another cook looking at me before averting their eyes and grinning as they returned to their business. Chef would come over every once in a while and ask if I was okay and I responded with, “Yes, Chef,” though I could hear the snickering of the cooks around me. I couldn’t tell if Chef was being sympathetic or trying to poke fun at me. Maybe it was both. Truthfully, my arm hurt, but I was not about to give up and prove to them what they were all thinking, that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with them. A new cook in a room full of seasoned ones, I had my work cut out for me. When I finally finished, I walked over to the garbage bin and another cook asked me if I was tired with a grin on his face. I looked up at the clock, with 8 more hours left to go, sweat on my face, and an exhausted arm, I said, “Not even a little bit,” and grinned right back.

Most of those first couple of weeks were spent doing such things. Coring apples, zesting, peeling, slicing. Knowing that I did not have too much experience, they had me start at the bottom of the totem pole. Most chefs do this with any new cook because, much like a new pair of jeans you just bought, they have to be broken in. You have to show that you can complete these annoying but necessary little tasks so they see you can be efficient every time. I’ve come a long way since then, actually entrusted with certain recipes. I make their killer hot chocolate, for instance. And no matter how far I go or how much more responsibility I am given, I’ll always remember that first day.

 
Love & Sweets,
Melissa

New Year, New Me

2 May

I have become a slave to the kitchen. Seriously, I work 7 days a week, over 40 hours a week. The reason being twofold: 1) having moved out on my own for the first time, I need the money to make ends meet; and 2) I am insane.

It’s a difficult life to lead and sometimes I love it and sometimes not, but I chose it. This has only been my first bakery job so… I imagine it will only get harder.

Image

Not that I’m complaining, but this life I’ve been cultivating for myself leaves me little time to do anything else. Work, eat, sleep, repeat. I haven’t even been baking at home that much. Someday I hope to figure out how to juggle it all, for now I am pleased with the dent I’ve made in this pastry chef dream of mine.

I created this blog to share my recipes but even more so as an outlet for the writer inside me: She never stays quiet for long. Limited as my time is for recipe testing, expect more posts about life in the kitchen, with a recipe every now and then to shake things up. Whether you’re a culinary student, thinking about being a chef, or simply curious about the non-glamorous albeit rewarding reality of working in a professional kitchen, I will bare all for you. Believe me, it is nothing like the Food Network paints it. Only on TV can someone like Giada de Laurentiis (and I love her!) cook a meal and not break a sweat. Waking up at the crack of dawn and baking for the morning rush in a hot kitchen, most of us are actually the complete opposite – very sweaty, cranky, and definitely not that pretty.

But I love it.

Stay tuned.

 
Love & Sweets,
Melissa

Back in Action! Giant Pumpkin Muffins & More

27 Nov

GIant Pumpkin Muffins 3

 
It’s been about 5 months since my last blog post and while I’d love to get into all the reasons why, I’ll save that for a more personal blog – or my memoir. Suffice to say that I did finish my externship and graduated from culinary school in October! To borrow from Mr. Dickens, it has been the best of times and worst of times.. but I’m back and hopefully to stay for longer :) .

If I learned anything at my externship it’s this: the food world is rough and unless you’re really committed you will not make it through. Aside from the obvious physical demands of being in a kitchen, there are people who will break you down, be it peers or chefs, just as there are those who will build you up – all of it to build skills but mostly character and you have to hold your own. You may enjoy cooking/baking, but it’s a different world out there than in your home kitchen. Not to discourage anyone, do it if you’re serious about it, I’m just being honest. I’m in it for the long haul, but a piece of cake – it ain’t!

Two more things to mention before I get into the recipe, I finally moved out of my house for the first time ever and am living in beautiful Astoria, NY! In December it will be 8 weeks since I moved and it has been quite liberating albeit a tad scary to be on my own. I’ve had lots more time to bake though (and my roommate sure doesn’t mind being the taste-tester!) and get back into blogging. Also, I finally secured my first actual job in a kitchen at a french bakery in Queens. My start date is two weeks away – right in the middle of Christmas holiday rush. I can’t wait to be bone-tired and learn all I can, and I am not being sarcastic. Onto pumpkins!

Pumpkin is probably my favorite of all the fall staples, so I often try to incorporate it as much into different recipes for the season. For those of you with a hearty appetite, or for people you know who have one, these pumpkin muffins are a GIANT treat! Being that the base is made using the creaming method, they come out with the soft consistency of little cakes that are tasty. Giant muffins, little pumpkin cakes.. either way you think of them they are delish!

Giant Pumpkin Muffins
Yield: 6 Giant Muffins

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
4 lrg eggs
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 pound pure canned pumpkin (I use Libby’s)
1 tbsp salt
Streusel Topping (optional, as needed)

Streusel Topping
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 sticks very cold unsalted butter

Method
Make streusel: Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut the butter in cubes and cut into the dry ingredients using two knives or a pastry cutter until mixture is crumbly. Set aside in fridge until using. (This recipe will make more than you need, so wrap remainder tight in plastic wrap and it will hold in freezer for about a month!)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.

Sifting Pumpkin DryFor muffins: Grease a large 6-muffin tin pan and set aside. Alternatively, you may use liners. Sift all the dry ingredients together in a medium bowl, except for the salt.

 
Creaming Butter for Pumpkin MuffinsUsing the creaming method, put the unsalted butter in a mixer with the sugar and beat on medium speed for about 3-4 minutes. If your butter is softened it won’t take as long, just be sure not to over mix.

 
Pumpkin Muffin MixureAdd the eggs one at a time, beating until well incorporated after each addition. Add the salt and pumpkin and beat for another minute until mixed in. On low speed, slowly add the dry mixture to the pumpkin mixture until they are combined.

 
Giant Pumpkin Muffin mixture in panFill your muffin tin all the way to the top with the mix. Make sure you greased the top of the pan too because they will overflow. Normally a recipe tells you to stop 3/4 of the way – but we don’t want that here! We want gorgeous giant muffins, so to the top! Of course if you absolutely must you can use smaller pans and get more muffins out of this, but I’m telling you – giant is the way to go. If using the streusel topping, add it also.

 
GIant Pumpkin Muffins 2Bake for 35-40 minutes for the giant muffins, testing with toothpick for doneness.

 
Giant Pumpkin Muffins 1Look at them in all their giant glory!

Hope you enjoy these, it sure feels good to be blogging again. Oh and happy Thanksgiving everyone!

 
Love & Sweets,
Melissa

Turn the Page

23 Jun

This last month of school has been a blur of baking, fretting, and more baking. Every week in the month of June we had to work swiftly, preparing to feed the school, our own families, and ace our last practical exam. I’ve been tied up with all these events and securing my externship for the summer (which I’m super excited about!)

June began with a week of learning to make ice cream. Super fun, but also a lot of waiting around for the ice cream to churn in the machine. We made vanilla, chocolate, pistachio, and my favorite dulce de leche. It’s not difficult, but you really need to invest in an ice cream machine for the cream to come out as hard as it’s supposed to be. I did try to make it and just freeze it straightaway – but that came out more like soft-serve. We spent all week preparing to feed the school on Thursday with an all-out ice cream bar. It was complete with a brownie station, cookie station, waffle station, pie station, and baked alaska station. The combination of the desserts with our ice creams – nothing better!

The following week each of us had to create our own dessert menus to feed our family members. It had to include a main component (such as cake or pie), a sauce, a frozen element, and a handmade garnish. From Monday to Thursday we prepared our desserts and put it all together the last day. This project made me appreciate how much faster and chaotic it would be to work in a restaurant where you have to make and plate all desserts within a limited time. Honing in on my latin roots, I chose to make a tres leches cake with a dulce de leche sauce, topped with creme chantilly, next to a scoop of coconut ice cream and a nougatine shard. Our hollywood-themed night was a success, everyone loved our decorations as well as our sweets.

Tres Leches Plated Dessert

A great plated dessert, if I do say so myself :).

Chef really packed it in this month! This past week was our final practical and to make the test (and my life) harder, Chef Gina decided to just give us the ingredients with no methods. Did we panic, cry, or complain? Of course we did. But in the end I think we surprised ourselves how well we actually knew these recipes. We had three days instead of the usual four to make spritz cookies, pate a choux, chocolate mousse, pastry cream, and puff pastries from scratch. I’m glad she made us do the practical this way because although I burned myself twice and sweated like a monsoon in the worst way, it made me confident and I worked a lot quicker. Since I didn’t have the recipe in front of me, I couldn’t go back to re-check what the next step was – you just keep going because there’s no room to doubt yourself. I was the first one to finish and I didn’t have to re-bake anything! I’m proud of all of us really, we were able to finish and none of us failed miserably.

Tomorrow night is our final written exam as well as the last day of school. There are a mix of emotions when I think about it. I am sad that it’s ending yet relieved that I’ll have my nights back – working and going to school can stress out anyone. I’ll miss some of my classmates more than others, and plan to keep in contact with those that I can. I am nervous about having to go out in the “real world”, it wasn’t so easy the last time I had to. But I’m excited about what the future holds and starting my externship. This summer I will be in beautiful New York City in downtown Tribeca at a wonderful little patisserie, so expect many more posts on this new adventure. I’m ready to learn more and eager to start the next chapter in my baking life. Onward to futures sunny and stray.

 
Love & Sweets,
Melissa

Bake it Yourself: Grilled Flatbread

27 May

Grilled Flatbread
All I wanted to do this Memorial Day was barbecue. Once Friday at 5PM hit and I was out of work and could actually bask in the glory of my 3-day weekend, all I thought about were hot dogs and veggies on a stick. Happy thoughts that were disturbed when I woke up to Saturday morning rain here on Long Island, NY – and for a moment doubted whether I would be able to enjoy the first barbecue of my summer. But THANK GOODNESS sunshine was on my side come Sunday and here we are with a sunny yet cool Monday. It is almost autumn-like weather, perfect for some shades and a light hooded sweatshirt. In my excitement for this wonderful day spent with my family, I decided to grill some delicious flatbread and show you all how! Honestly they are so simple and great for those hotdogs and sausages, or split them down the middle and stick a burger in between. Or pizza – oh the possibilities. Whip ‘em up at all your barbecues this summer!

Adapted from a Food Network recipe.

Grilled Flatbread
Yield: 10 small flatbreads

Ingredients
1 .25 oz package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
2 tsp salt
3 cups bread flour
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
Small bowl of salt (as needed)

Method
Dissolved YeastWarm the water in a microwave to 110 degrees and dissolve the yeast in it. Let stand for about 10 minutes until frothy.

 
Flatbread MixturePut the flour in a large bowl or your mixer and add the dissolved yeast, stirring with a wooden spoon to combine. Then add the granulated sugar and salt. Keep stirring with the spoon until the dough comes together. Being that flour is one of those temperamental things, if the dough still seems dry add a teaspoon of water at a time. (I only state this because I did that here, but I’ve also made these where one cup of water was enough. It’s just tricky that way.)

 
Kneading Dough with HandsKnead the dough with your hands for 8 minutes right in your bowl if large enough, or on a lightly floured surface. Alternatively you can do all this with your mixer and the dough hook, but I like getting my hands dirty ;). Lightly oil or use cooking spray to grease a bowl and place dough in it, covered with plastic wrap. Let stand in a warm area to ferment (rise) for one hour or until dough has doubled in volume.

 
Cutting off Balls of DoughOnce dough has doubled, punch down the dough with your hands. Then cut off small uniform rounds of dough with a knife or dough cutter on a floured surface. You can weigh them all out if you have a scale so they are equal portions or just eyeball like I did.

 
Rolling Out Flatbread DoughRoll each out with a floured rolling pin to about 1/4 inch thick and line them up on a parchment lined tray.

 
Flatbread RisingAllow them to rest on the tray, uncovered for another half hour to an hour, until they rise again like so. While this is happening you can preheat your grill.

 
Grilling Flatbread ToolsWhen ready, bring your pan of dough along with a pastry brush, the melted butter, small bowl of salt, and tongs or a metal spatula outside to your grill. Also bring another parchment lined sheet to place the finished breads if you need.

 
Grilling Flatbread 1Brush some of the butter onto the grates of your grill and place down as many pieces of dough as you can, without overcrowding, the grill and put the top down. The doughs that are closer to the direct heat will clearly cook quicker than the others, so be aware of this. It should not take more than 5-10 minutes per side depending on how hot your grill is.

 Puffed Up Grilled FlatbreadOpen the grill after about 5 minutes and check, the first side is done once the top starts to puff up and bubble as in this picture. You can also lift up each piece and check the underside for browning.

 
Brushing Flatbread Dough with ButterRight before you are ready to flip them, brush each dough with the melted butter, then flip.

 
Brushing Flatbread Dough with Butter 2Once flipped, brush the browned side with butter also and close the top down again. After 5 minutes open the grill and check the underside, once browned they are done.

 
Salting FlatbreadAs soon as you take each flatbread off the grill sprinkle with salt – this is so the salt adheres to the moisture on the bread. This is optional of course, you can also add other spices like garlic powder. But I like the salt :). Repeat for the remaining dough. Happy grilling!

 
Love & Sweets,
Melissa

Just Do It

13 May

Cupcake Kitchen Timer

[ source: collectionsetc.com ]

 
Time moves so fast. You don’t realize it when you are actually in the day to day moments, it’s not until you sit and think about the passage of time that you see how quickly it goes. This time last year I was getting ready to leave for Europe, still on the fence about whether or not to go to culinary school. Needless to say, Europe was amazing, and essential to my decision to pursue what I enjoy the most. Seeing all these picturesque sights, hiking mountains, eating exotic foods for the first time, meeting incredible people, and literally getting lost in a strange but beautiful new place can have that kind of effect on you. A positive one, wherein you realize that the world is so much bigger than your little bubble, and you have to take life like a bull by the horns in order to really appreciate anything. For me, I knew once I came back from Europe that if I didn’t go the culinary school route, I might hate myself later. I’d never be satisfied with my life if I didn’t at least try to pursue it. And now here I am a whole year later, with this blog in tow and only a month or so left until I finish up school. It’s nuts! My road does not end there though, I then start my externship – which I have yet to decide upon. But the adventure will continue!

When I think about my class, it interests me how different we all are as people, though we are united in our love of baking. Some work super quickly, able to frost and decorate an entire cake in 10 minutes or less, as if the piping bag were an extension of their arm. Some are so bright and catch on quickly, they are able to accurately calculate measurement inversions and make bread baking seem like child’s play. Some are so creative, coming up with the craziest but most delicious flavor combinations and wonderful dessert presentations. A few of us work clean, others don’t – they work amidst such a cluttered work space and are still able to bang out the goods. Some of us are driven by the desire to succeed and will keep trying no matter how many times we burn our pate a choux or curdle our pastry cream. I feel bad for those that are so hard on themselves, sometimes myself included, who at the first sign of something going wrong give up altogether. Some of us are so nice and helpful, they can always be counted on for an extra set of hands once they’re done with their project or to lend you their spatula when you forget yours. Some are loud, funny, obnoxious. Some are natural leaders and take to being chef of the week easier than say me, who would rather go around helping clean up at the end of the night than standing around barking orders. Some really understand the concept of there’s no “i” in team while others, I guess, missed that Sesame Street episode and curiously disappear every night when it comes time to clean the floors. But the thing is to learn to work with everyone, because you’ll encounter similar personality types out in the food business. You don’t see how different we all are or get to know people like when working in a tight kitchen.

What I mean to say by all this is that my class is crazy, much like people in general. But also, time is like sand in the hourglass. You can either watch it slip away or fly along with it by pursuing your goals. It’s not easy and even a bit risky, but then again it wouldn’t be worth it if it wasn’t. So whatever it is you want to do, just do it.

Tonight we are testing out our individual cupcake recipes for this competition we have coming up June. Tomorrow we get judged by the school and whoever’s cupcakes win gets to represent the school in the competition! Wish me luck :).

 
Love & Sweets,
Melissa

The Little Wedding Cake That Could

28 Apr

Class Wedding Cakes
What is one of the most beautiful moments in a person’s life is also one of the most stressful, nerve-racking, and sleep-deprivating moments in their life – as well as for the person baking the glorious cake commemorating that day! Wedding cakes, as I have learned from this past week, albeit stunning and delicious, are a colossal amount of work right from the tiers to the tiniest of decorations. Sure, any cake you are producing for a customer has to be done well, but wedding cakes have that added pressure of being a non-negotiable and very necessary asset to an important affair. And I learned all this merely from having to design and create one in my class, imagine having to deal with a neurotic crazed bridezilla! (I’ll take a moment here to say much love to all past, current and future bridezillas, as I am sure if I were to ever get married, in my quest to make everything perfect I’d likely be one too :-).)

Cherry Blossom Fondant Flower

Wedding cake week went like this: four days, 12 different wedding cakes and 12 ambitious and tense chefs-to-be. Each of us had to pick out of a hat the type of cake and frosting we were to create, and design an entire 3-tiered confection. Some got chocolate cake with ganache, others were lucky enough to get a spongecake with fondant, I got yellow cake with white buttercream. Easy enough, except I cannot smooth the sides of a buttercreamed cake for the life of me. I had to work around that. After days of worrying about how the heck I was going to smooth the sides presentably enough, I decided to comb my cake. Solution acquired. Then I was able to focus on my design, which was a classic Japanese-themed cherry blossom cake, using fondant for the flowers and branches, as accents. Excited and eager, I went into the week assuming I would be able to finish by day 3, leaving day 4 for assembly and the finishing touches. Not exactly what happened.

On Monday most of us baked off our cakes and started on either our frostings or fondant decorations, if using. Unfortunately, some of us, myself included, only made one batch of our recipes, so instead of moving onto something else on Tuesday, we had to bake another batch of cake so that we had enough for our tiers. A minor setback. Still cool as a cucumber, I continued to work on my flowers and painted most of them. Wednesday came and the first thing I had to do was make my buttercream, which I made twice, thinking it should be enough. Wrong. As I torted and crumb-coated (a light layer of frosting to coat) my cakes, I realized by the middle tier that I was not going to have enough. I began to panic a little, by this time Chef G had changed the deadline on Thursday to 8PM instead of 9PM, which left little time for anything on the last day. I still had to finish filling and crumb-coating my top tier, and frost another clean layer of buttercream on all 3 tiers! Rushing to make 2 more batches of buttercream, I finished with just enough time to frost my bottom tier, which was huge by the way. That meant that the next day, the last day, I had to frost my top two tiers, comb the sides, stack the cakes, finish painting my flowers, make my branches that I did not start, and any other last minute touches in an hour and a half. At this point about half the class had already stacked their cakes and were just working on their decorations, so I left with a feeling of dread and lump in my stomach that I was not going to finish on time.

Cherry Blossom Wedding Cake Topper

Judgment day came, and I, lump still in stomach, arrived at school ready for the worst. As soon as we were able to get into our kitchen, the class made a mad dash for all their supplies, each of us rushing to finish by the required time. I have never heard the kitchen so silent or seen everyone so concentrated in their work as on that last day, and I don’t think I’ve ever worked faster. Within a half hour I was all finished frosting – much less than the time it took me in the first place! Ready to comb my cake, I called Chef G over to help me do so and as she began to comb the bottom tier, it was too hard to. Realizing I had left my bottom tier in the freezer when I shouldn’t have if I wanted to comb the sides – I began to panic. Practically cry. I had no time left to play around. Working quickly, I slabbed on another layer of fresh frosting so I could actually comb it, but it still would not come out right because it was so frozen underneath. If it were not for my Chef, I don’t know what I would do, because she kept me calm and showed me a few different combing techniques, until we decided to simply comb the cake vertically. With a half hour left, I combed all the tiers and stacked my cakes. Then we made my fondant branches and finished up my flowers with the help of a classmate who was done with hers. Most of us were still working on our cakes by 8, so Chef extended the deadline to 8:30 – giving me enough time to complete the cake and add finishing touches. Once 8:30 hit, I lugged my behemoth of a 20 pound cake (it weighed so much!) to the doughboy, whereupon Chef had us each take a picture with our respective cakes. I then dragged my giant masterpiece to the dining tables, set it down, and collapsed on a nearby chair. Tired but pleased, I took pictures and watched as the rest of the school came in groups to vote on which cake they liked best. We will find out the winner this week.

Cherry Blossom Wedding Cake

Things I learned: planning is key! Plan every day down to the last minute. Another thing, if you think you might not have enough, you are probably right. Go with your gut and double or triple your recipes – after all, it’s better to have too much than not enough and then have to waste more time making another batch. Lastly, stay calm! Easier said than done, especially when there’s a deadline, but if you cloud your mind with worry, you won’t be able to clearly think of solutions. Things happen, like me putting my bottom tier in the freezer because there was no more room in the fridge, it didn’t even occur to me that it would make it quite difficult to comb through a frozen cake. But I worked my way around it, with help, of course :-). All in all I survived to tell the tale, and am looking forward to my next grandiose project!

 
Love & Sweets,
Melissa

Make Way for Cake

11 Apr

Peach Buttercream Flowers

 
We have finally made it to cakes in class and my oh my has it ever been a humbling experience. In general, I’m a humble person, but even so, trying to level out a cake and smooth on icing and make perfect little decorations? Not my forte. At least that is what I am learning as we are going through this unit. Mind you, I’ve decorated a few cakes over the years, and I thought they always came out rather nice – but some of the people in my class are geniuses with piping bags and have such steady hands, the decorations they come up with are beautiful. It doesn’t come as easy to me, but I am good with covering up any little mistakes I make.

 
Sliced Frosted Carrot CakeHalf devoured carrot cake, not the prettiest picture but still delicious and look at the layers!

 
As our Chef says, the key to succeeding in this industry is knowing that you are not the best – that there will always be people out there better than you. Know your strengths, and let this push you to work harder to improve in the areas you need to. (And I definitely could use cake decorating practice!)

 
Cupcake with Fondant FlowerWe started small with cupcakes. Check out my not so perfect fondant flower, my first time making them.

 
Cakes are so versatile, which I think is what makes them so popular. You can produce tons of different kinds of cake with just your basic butter cake recipe. Using different extracts, fillings, frostings, the possibilities really are endless – and all using the same standard base. Fortunately for me, I can bake a cake with no problem, it’s when it comes time to tier the cakes and decorate where I run into bumps in the pastry road.

 
Baking as a giftSomething totally unrelated: it was my good friend’s birthday this week and I had to share the cute gift box of treats I made for him. Left mysteriously on his doorstep – who doesn’t love surprises?

 
In class, what we do is bake a cake a few days in advance and refrigerate or freeze it, making it a lot easier when it comes time to cut into it and frost. At the beginning I was not even able to make an even layer, but with practice I have become better at it. We’ve practiced different borders like shell borders, the basket weave, and this week we started on flowers (my favorite).

 
High Ratio Cake with Buttercream Frosting and Chocolate GanacheHigh Ratio Cake with a buttercream basket weave sides, chocolate ganache on top, and buttercream flowers. Still not 100% satisfied but I am progressing.

 
We have another competition coming up in June, but it’s more like an iron chef competition. That’s nerve-racking! All of us are pretty excited, except we all have to battle it out to see which one is actually representing our school and going to the competition. The contest is on cupcakes, so I am scheming up a few different recipes because I really want to win :). Cross your fingers for me!

 
Love & Sweets,
Melissa

Bake it Yourself: Citrus Carrot Cupcakes

1 Apr

Carrots

Hope everyone had a wonderful Easter yesterday! And a merry April Fool’s day for those of you pranksters that celebrate! I know I know, another carrot cupcake recipe? But these are delicious with the orange juice I add in them and they are what I made yesterday as an obvious Easter staple. Quick and easy, no mixer needed (except if you’re making the frosting) – a perfect addition to the cupcake family.

Citrus Carrot Cupcakes
Yield: 12 cupcakes

Ingredients
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 1/3 cup finely grated carrots
1 tsp orange zest

Frosting Ingredients
2 1/4 cups sifted confectioners sugar
1/2 cup cream cheese
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Method
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners and spray top of pan with nonstick cooking spray.

 
Grated CarrotsGrate your carrots and orange. One large orange should suffice for the juice and zest in this recipe. Also, I like using a zester for the carrots instead of a grater because I don’t like big chunks of carrot in my cupcakes.

 
Citrus Carrot Cupcake Dry IngredientsIn a medium sized bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

 
Citrus Carrot Cupcake Wet IngredientsIn a large bowl, whisk the two large eggs together. Add the sugar, oil, vanilla extract, orange juice, and mix well.

 
Adding Carrots to Wet IngredientsAdd your carrots and orange zest to the wet ingredients and combine.

 
Combining Wet and Dry Carrot Cupcake IngredientsFold your dry ingredients into your wet until fully incorporated.

 
Citrus Carrot Cupcake PanUsing an ice cream scooper, because it’s easiest, fill your cupcake pan about 2/3 of the way up. Make sure you fill them all the same so they bake evenly. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

 
Citrus Carrot Cupcake Cream Cheese FrostingWhile you’re waiting for those to bake you can make the frosting. In a large bowl mix the butter and cream cheese together well. Then add vanilla extract and gradually mix in the sifted confectioners sugar. You don’t want to add the sugar in all at once unless you want an explosion of confectioners sugar dust to hit you in the face! Cover and set aside or refrigerate if you’d like, but if you make it far ahead in advance, make sure you let it sit and come to room temperature for easier application.

 
Frosted Citrus Carrot Cupcakes 1Once the cupcakes are done, let them cool down in the pan for 5-10 minutes. Then de-pan the cupcakes and let them completely cool off before frosting. Spread or pipe frosting on cupcakes and decorate with the crushed walnuts if desired.

 
Frosted Citrus Carrot Cupcakes 2And enjoy! Take a bite of the cake without the frosting first, I’m telling you the orange adds just a nice bit of acidity that really make these ol’ carrot cupcakes pop!

 
Love & Sweets,
Melissa

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