Play With Your Food: Simple the Hard Way

By Nick Wuest,
ICC Pastry Arts student
(read more about Nick)

Birthday cakes are cool but do you know what’s even cooler? A billion birthday cakes.

If you can’t already tell I have a penchant for complicating simple tasks.

Some friends had birthdays recently that I wanted to celebrate since I sold my soul to James Beard and haven’t seen them in a while. So being a student of Pastry Arts I volunteered to make dessert and that obviously had to be birthday cake. And since I’m still more child than adult I wanted to make something silly.

Silly, irreverent, hands on. These are the words you’ll get used to seeing around here. “Play With Your Food” doesn’t just apply to me having fun making things. Like I mentioned in my last post eating should be an experience for all of the senses. I cut my teeth in BBQ and grilling (yes, they are very different things we’ll talk about later) so I’m real big on eating with my hands. Seriously, pick up your food (wash your hands first!) and bite it like you’re the only person in the room. Of course I’m exaggerating here and understand that decorum should prevail through most plates.

This is not one of them.

This particular creation uses two recipes that are not my own so I must credit Thomas Keller’s Devils Food Cake from Bouchon Bakery and Christina Tosi’s (an ICC alum and recent James Beard Award winner) frosting from Momofuku Milk Bar.

*A quick note on how to read these posts. I list the recipes in the order they should be prepared. If there’s an overlap from a passive task like creaming butter and sugar there’s no reason you can’t start prepping another task.*

Special Equipment:

  • Metric Scale
  • Stand mixer with both whisk and paddle
  • 2 ½” round cookie cutter
  • Piping bags with #1/2 plain, #3/4 plain, and #3 star tips

Devils Food Cake

devils food cake

Ingredients: (this is a double batch – halve it to make a single sheet or ~12 cupcakes)

  • 202g all purpose (AP) flour
  • 62g unsweetened Dutch cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 112g eggs (should be 2 eggs – an egg weighs about 50g)
  • 252g sugar
  • 4g vanilla paste (this is actually vanilla seeds suspended in bourbon syrup – yeah.)
  • 172g mayonnaise
  • 210g water, room temperature

Preheat oven to 325F and set 2 racks around the middle of the oven.
Line 2 full sheet pans with parchment paper, spray them with non-stick spray and set aside.
Sift flour, cocoa, baking soda, and baking powder into a bowl, whisk in salt. Set aside.

Whisk egg, sugar, and vanilla paste in mixer at low to combine then increase to medium and whip for ~5min until thick and pale. Scrape bowl and whip another for ~5min until mixture falls from the whisk in a slow dissolving ribbon. Add mayo and whip to just combine. Fold the flour mix and water into the mixer bowl with a spatula in 2 batches to form a smooth batter.

Divide the batter between the two sheet pans and spread it into even layers about 1/4” thick. It probably won’t reach the edges of the pan, which is totally fine.

Bake each cake for 5min then rotate the pans and switch their shelves. Bake for another 5-7 min or until a toothpick comes out mostly clean with a little crumb on it. Cool the cakes in their pans on a rack. Once they are close to room temperature wrap them up and place them in the freezer (don’t stack them) for at least 3 hours or up to 3 weeks.

Frosting

This frosting is awesome. Depending on its temperature it can be used to spread, pipe large amounts, or even do fine designs. Mess around with it while you have some and you’ll see what I mean. I modified this from the original recipe in that I use vanilla paste instead of imitation vanilla, which I find to be too weirdly sweet. I also don’t measure my vanilla when I use it and go mostly by eye/smell/taste so what I’ve put below is a lowball guess to start you with.

Ingredients: (this is also a double batch since it’s used in every area of assembly)

  • 210g unsalted butter, room temp
  • 90g vegetable shortening
  • 116g cream cheese, room temp
  • 4 Tbsp light corn syrup
  • 1 ½ Tbsp vanilla paste
  • 310g powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

Beat the butter, shortening, and cream cheese in the mixer with a paddle at medium-high until smooth and fluffy ~3-4min.

Scrape bowl, turn the mixer to low and slowly stream in the corn syrup and vanilla paste then beat at medium-high until silky and glossy ~3min.

Scrape the bowl and add the sugar, baking powder, salt, and lemon juice to just combine. Taste it here and add more vanilla if you’d like (I like).

Once you’re happy with the flavor crank it to medium-high and beat until it’s very white and smooth ~4min. Store chilled in an air-tight container for up to 1 week.

Bourbon Sugar

bourbon sugar recipe

Make it, try it, and put it on everything.

Ingredients:

  • ½ C raw sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp bourbon

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Spread on a parchment lined pan and dry in a 150 degree oven for ~3 hours or until dried. Cool and break up back into its original form. Keep in an air-tight container at room temp for up to 2 months.

Assembly

birthday cakes recipe

Cut out shapes from frozen cake sheets, in this case 39 2 ½ inch rounds. Chill the cut rounds until they’re needed and save the scraps (seriously, if you throw them out that’s just messed up).

Remove the frosting from the fridge and work it over with a spoon or fork to make it more malleable. Remove ~1/3 of the frosting to a smaller bowl and mix it with food coloring to the desired hue. Place this bowl back in the fridge. Fill a #3 or #4 plain piping bag with ~1/2C of the white frosting and chill the rest.

Assemble the cakes by piping a layer of frosting on a round, placing another on top, piping a second layer, topping it with another round, and finishing with your best piped layer on top. Work fast, the icing will get slick as it warms and the cake rounds may begin to slide. If you feel you’re not working fast enough then take a break and chill everything for 20-30min before doing more.

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Once the cakes are assembled work the colored frosting until it’s malleable. Use 2/3 of it to fill a #3 star tip bag. Fill a #1 or #2 plain tip bag with the remaining 1/3. Using the plain tip letter the center of each cake with your message then pipe a border of stars around the top of the cake. Carefully sprinkle the star border with the bourbon sugar making sure to keep as much of it off of the white area as possible.

Keep the cakes chilled and serve them cold.

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These are a lot of fun to make and, since the components keep so well, they can be made over a pretty long time or in a few hours like I did. They’re great for practicing several piping techniques and the frosting is so cooperative you can really be mindful of the work you’re doing and adjust your form as you go along. Up close and in person it was clear that from “H” to the second “P” I was still figuring most of it out and by the time I got to the “B” things really clicked. You’ll probably notice that the “Y” is gross. That’s because I tried to frost them all around but decided against it. Like any mistake I make that little cake will haunt me forever.

So how do they taste? I’ve learned the best way to tell how well you’ve done with a dish is to listen to the room when you serve it. Do you know what you’re listening for? Nothing. Complete silence. You can probably guess what I heard when I handed these out. Find a reason to make these cakes and I promise you’ll start making them just to celebrate the day of the week.

Thanks for reading everyone. I’ll be back soon with something to beat the heat of a New York City summer.

Stay hungry,

Nick
Blog // Instagram

Italian Experience: The Blue Aprons Abroad

By Lauren Fuschillo, ICC Italian Culinary Arts student.

“Travel converters – check, passport – check , knives – check” I say as I’m packing up for my new journey. I leave in two days and I’m preparing to travel east for my next adventure.

My name is Lauren Fuschillo and I wear a blue apron…meaning I’m a current student in the Italian Culinary Program. Prior to attending the International Culinary Center, I was a publicist and marketing consultant that has thought about arriving at this moment ever since walking into the LVMH Tower, on the first day at my first job – over eight years ago. Although a long road to get here, the wait was well worth it. The Italian program is beyond what I ever imagined it to be.

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In the last two and a half months I’ve had the pleasure of meeting nine amazing individuals, each a major success story in their own right. Every one of them unique and courageous. They’ve put their lives on hold to follow their passion; a passion we share. Never for a moment do I dare to discredit the other programs at the esteemed ICC. However, passion is what I believe is centered at the heart of Italian Cuisine and our very program. Passion is what brought us here, it is what motivates us when we put our knives out on boards each morning and what guides us through each and every recipe and lesson we’ve completed thus far.

We’ve been so fortunate to study under and learn from two incredible masters of their crafts. Stefania Calabrese for Italian Language and Culture and Chef Guido Magnaguagno for Italian Culinary Arts. It is without doubt that I say they are the two most influential teachers I’ve ever had, two of the most influential people in my life. Their knowledge of culture and language; and cuisine and technique has greatly expanded all of our education. Their equally consistent passion has driven our minds and souls to the place we are now and prepared us for the journey we’re about to embark on.

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Gratitude fills my heart as I pack my knives, my passport and those travel converters. Excitement engulfs my thoughts as my mind races – thinking and daydreaming about all the adventures I’ll experience while spending the next six and a half months in Italy with the nine members of my new chosen family. We’re Chef Guido’s “soldiers” and here we go, we’re getting on the plane to cook our hearts out and own every second that this world can give.

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Stay tuned to the ICC blog and instagram account to follow our adventures in Italy. You can also visit my personal travel blog to read about all my crazy adventures, travel mishaps and what travel has done for me.

Welcome to the Library!

By Sara Medlicott,
ICC Librarian

Maybe you have heard a thing or two about the ICC Library, or perhaps you have passed me by and peeked into my aquarium. It’s a great space with a fantastic selection of resources and a knowledgeable librarian to assist you. The glass walls of the room give us a lot of light, so it’s a perfect place to study and meet up with classmates or relax after class. If you’re wondering, yes, food is allowed in the culinary library.

There are computers available for use as well as a copier, scanner and fax machine. All services are free for students, staff and alumni. Our collection contains over 5,000 volumes, over 1,000 DVDs and 20 magazine subscriptions. Staff and students can check out up to 7 books or DVDs at a time.

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So, which books, DVDs and magazines do we have? Our unique collection exists to support the ICC curriculum, meaning you can find just about anything relating to culinary, pastry and wine studies. We have cookbooks of course but we also have chef memoirs and biographies, food history, food writing and books to support your career search or if you’d like to start a small business. I rotate featured titles depending on the season and which events are coming up.

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Currently, I have the James Beard award winners displayed in the library. I also have a shelf featuring staff picks which changes monthly, so take a look and see which books inspire our chefs and administrators. I always feature new books on a cart in the front of the library. Check out the library blog to see specific titles highlighted, or search our catalogue for the entire collection.

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Our DVDs include documentaries; TV shows and feature films but also every chef demo that has taken place in the amphitheater. If you are a big fan of a particular chef, definitely look through our DVD catalogue, you may find some very rare footage that can’t be seen elsewhere. If you missed a class or were confused about a particular technique you learned there, we have those on DVD as well. We subscribe to the New York Times and all major food and wine magazines as well as a few smaller ones. These need to stay in the library, but stop by to take a look when new issues arrive.

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Now you are probably wondering the same thing people ask me all the time. What does a culinary librarian do?

I was trained in library science and I have worked in many different kinds of libraries but I have to say hands down this is my favorite. I’m a home cook and food lover and I bring that passion to work. I’m here to provide reference, with an in depth knowledge of the collection to help you track down a recipe or history of a wine region.

I can also offer book recommendations if you are looking for some leisure reading or if you would like to increase your knowledge base on a particular topic. I also love to do research; don’t hesitate to come to me if you need assistance in that realm. While a librarian will never play favorites, I have had some interesting research questions here including the history of curry, the different categories of petit fours and the background on seafood sausage.

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So, if you haven’t come to visit yet, please stop by and take a look around.

Be sure to follow the library on Twitter @intlcullibrary where you will see updates when everything new arrives!

Play with your food: The Frozen S’more

By Nick Wuest,
ICC Pastry Arts student
(read more about Nick)

Something I’ve learned in my life is that the one thing more popular than S’mores is the idea of S’mores. I’ve seen it more times than I can count; someone brings the ingredients, that intrepid individual maybe even gets a few made, but before long everyone is forgoing the toasting and just snacking on grahams, marshmallows, and chocolate. Let’s face it after cramming your face full of BBQ and beer they’re a hassle.

I set out to simplify the S’more with an incredibly convoluted process…you heard me. So in honor of Memorial Day Weekend – the unofficial official start of BBQ season (aka the best season) – here is The Frozen S’more.

Special Equipment:

  • Metric kitchen scale
  • Glass or enamel casserole dish
  • Two-bowl ice bath
  • Ice cream maker/machine
  • Stand mixer w/ paddle attachment
  • Tamis (drum sieve)
  • Chinois (cone strainer)
  • 2.5 – 3″ round cookie cutter – I used a mason jar lid
  • Silicone baking mats
  • Small food chopper or food processor

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Toasted Marshmallow Ice Cream

For the uninitiated making custard can be tough because of its extreme sensitivity to temperature. Be sure to have everything ready, otherwise known as mise en place, to facilitate a more fluid transition between steps.

  • 175g mini marshmallows
  • 150g egg yolks
  • 166g raw sugar
  • 1 Cup whole milk
  • 2 Cups heavy cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • heavy pinch of salt

Broil marshmallows in casserole dish at 350, stirring each time the top begins to brown, until the entire mixture is an even golden brown. As the mixture begins to appear mostly browned begin warming the milk, cream, and vanilla in a small saucepan over medium heat to just below a simmer. Whisk the eggs and sugar in a large bowl to thicken. Remove the marshmallow from the oven and give it a stir. Pour the hot milk/cream into a spouted container and gently whisk it into the eggs to temper them (make sure not to go too fast to avoid curdling the yolks). Strain the egg-cream mixture through the tamis into a larger saucepan. Add the marshmallow paste. There may be hard clumps of toasted marshmallow initially; they will dissolve for the most part. Cook the custard gently over medium heat (set up a bowl in an ice bath around here), stirring briskly to break up the marshmallow, until steaming and thick enough to coat a wooden spoon (a clear will remain if you run your finger through the coat). Strain the custard through the chinois into the ice bath, stir in a heavy pinch of salt and cool until warm. Chill 7-24 hours (this custard is so front loaded with sugar that there are no complex flavors like vanilla that need to bloom overnight).

Process in an ice cream machine and spread in a pan lined heavily with plastic wrap. Wrap it all up and press it mostly even. Freeze until hard enough to cut out with cookie cutter.

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Triple Chocolate Cookies

I’m wandering in the Guy Fieri zone with these and if the results weren’t so delicious I’d hate myself a lot more. The marshmallow ice cream is potent so I wanted a cookie rich enough to not get buried under it. Cocoa powder and two types of chocolate did the job. Just make a dentist appointment now and save yourself the trouble.

  • 190g all purpose flour
  • 48g unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 2.3g baking soda
  • 3g kosher salt
  • 134g dark brown sugar
  • 104g sugar
  • 12g unsulfered molasses
  • 167g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 60g eggs
  • 110g 70% cacao chocolate, chopped roughly into 3/8″ pcs
  • 110g semi-sweet chocolate chips

Sift flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda into a large bowl, whisk in salt. Stir sugars and molasses together in a small bowl. Strain chocolate chunks to remove tiny pieces, mix chunks with the chips.

Cream butter in stand mixer with paddle at medium-low until soft peaks just begin to form. Mix in the sugar/molasses until fluffy, scrape down sides and bottom of bowl. Add eggs at low to just combine, scrape bowl. Add flour mix in 2 batches at low, scraping bowl each time. Add chocolate and pulse to combine. Scrape and stir by hand one final time. Chill dough 20 minutes.

Heat oven to 350. Line baking sheets with silicone mats or parchment paper. Spoon rough ~1″ balls spaced 2″ apart onto sheets. Bake 14-16 minutes. The cookies are so dark and so gooey you won’t be able to tell by sight or a toothpick test that they are done. At around the 15-minute mark you will however smell it. Just trust yourself, when they smell done they’re done. Cool cookies in pan on a wire rack until they’re warm then remove them from the pan and cool them completely on the rack.

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Graham Crumble

  • 9 graham crackers, broken up
  • 5 Tbsp butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 3 Tbsp sugar

Heat oven to 350.

Chop crackers in food processor until mostly fine. Add butter and sugar and process to incorporate. Pour evenly into small pan. Bake 15-18 minutes until browned and fragrant. Let cool. Pound into mostly fine crumble in plastic bag, return to small baking pan for assembly.

Assembly

Select two cookies of similar size. Cut out an ice cream round and gently form it onto one cookie. Place the second on top. Sprinkle the graham crumble along the rim.

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This is a great project to take on for practicing fine temperature control and sharp mise en place, which are especially important in pastry arts. It is not however great for practicing self control around food and I apologize in advance for the amount of sandwiches you will eat but hey “no retreat, no regrets”.

Stay hungry,

Nick

This recipe was originally published on Fill Your Plate.

Play with your food!

Big things often have small beginnings – a little spark that becomes a blaze (I’m a Springsteen fan get used to it). If you’re ever lucky enough to experience that don’t ignore it. Keep your eyes up because it can be anything from buying a cheap grill at a yard sale to biting into a perfect macaron.

My name is Nick Wuest and I can’t stop playing with my food.

My journey to this very exciting point in my life is long, sad, elating, and just plain weird so I’ll keep it brief. After depression fueled eating problems had me too scared to eat anything not prepared by my own hands I found myself cooking more and more. Lo and behold the more I did it the better I felt. For the first time ever I was actually really good at something! Cooking became my outlet for all of the negative energy I had in me. It was perfect. I could focus all of my obsessive tendencies on learning about what I was making down to the chemical level and exhaust myself physically and mentally in the process.

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As I healed I found myself learning more and more that food has a power. It’s so much more than just a necessary part of life. It’s a tool to bring people together, to cheer someone up, to transport a person’s senses somewhere else. To put it simply food is magical.

It’s that magic I’m searching for when I say I can’t stop playing with food. I’ve picked a career that requires both extreme levels of devotion and sacrifice. I harbor no illusions that this will be easy, but I also believe it should never stop being fun.

I worried about holding onto that mentality after starting Pastry Arts at The ICC right up until I met John Davis and he gave me a tour of the school. As soon as I met him and the students and faculty I felt…home, a feeling that was only reinforced by my chef-instructor Chef Tom Jones. That same excitement is so palpable and infectious I’m glad it’s unique to The ICC because if college was like this I’d be a brilliant historian stuck in a library somewhere instead of working five days a week in a kitchen where I belong.

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So I was thrilled when I was approached to write for the school. Food is about a shared experience (secret recipes are lame) and I’m honored to be able to do that with students and faculty new and old. My hope is for these posts to be as educational as they are entertaining much like the food I like to cook.

Nick
Blog // Instagram

Check out my Frozen S’more recipe.

Surprise Marriage Proposal in Ramen Class

Last Friday night, many ramen lovers from all over the city gathered at International Culinary Center for a cooking class with Hiroko Shimbo. Little did they know how passionate some of the participants were about ramen and each other!

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Hiroko Shimbo is an authority on Japanese cuisine with world-wide recognition. She is a chef-consultant for restaurants and food companies, trained sushi chef, cookbook author, media performer and chef-instructor. Hiroko teaches Basics of Sushi, Ramen and Gyoza, and Essentials of Japanese Cuisine courses at ICC.

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The lesson began with a conversation about ramen history, basic ingredients, essential techniques, and everything about stock, chashu pork and noodles. Students quickly got to work by rolling and tying pork belly, kneading dough and cutting it in pasta machines. Meanwhile Joshua was working on his own secret plan, trying to guess just the right moment to reveal a special “dessert”.
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One of the highlights of the class was making and eating sizzling hot Japanese potstickers — “gyoza” — filled with pork and cabbage. Everyone had an opportunity to experiment with folding round dough wrappers and flipping ready appetizers from steaming pans into plates while being cheered on by the rest of the class.

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When the noodles were cooked, it was time to assemble the ramen bowls. Here’s the recipe for delicious success: a few tablespoons of shoyu or miso sauce at the bottom of the bowl, followed by hot broth and drained noodles, topped with tender chashu pork, ramen egg, Japanese mushroom, nori and chopped scallions.
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The class was slowly coming to its end and everyone was enjoying their handcrafted ramen dinners and culinary conversations, when something completely unexpected happened. Joshua got down on one knee, pulled a ring out of his apron, and popped the question! Watch this ramen-tic moment:

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Congratulations to Joshua and Diana! Thank you for making us a part of the celebration!
A surprise engagement cake was made by Chef Michael Zebrowski for this occasion:

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The next Ramen + Gyoza class is happening on March 17th, 2016 — sign up now!

10 Tips for Hosting a Dinner Party

Professional Culinary Arts student Stephanie Nass’s tips for the best dinner party.

 


 

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Stephanie Nass was a financial analyst before she decided to pursue her passion for the culinary arts at ICC.

In addition to her night classes, Stephanie (nicknamed “Chefanie” by her brother) founded Victory Club, a supper club that brings together friends of friends over the culinary and visual arts. The club hosts bi-monthly events in venues related to the arts, and each invited guest is encouraged to bring someone who was not initially invited.

Follow @foldedvictory or @victoryclub for more!

A Different Kind of Iron Chef

Professional Pastry Arts student Ann Marie Cariaga on the culinary school workout.


When first accepted into the Professional Pastry Arts program here at International Culinary Center, many thoughts crossed my mind. The top three thoughts were:
1. AHHH!
2. YES!!!
3. …I’m going to get SO fat.

I was ecstatic. However, being somewhat of a fitness junkie and gym rat, I was a bit weary of the toll it would have on my physique. From dancing to martial arts, to yoga and weightlifting, I always managed to keep my body in motion. I was so sure that the freshman fifteen that I dodged in college would seek vengeance upon me.

As the first unit progressed, however, I found that I was wrong. I knew that working in the kitchen would keep me moving at all times, but I was never aware of the toll it would take on my muscles. Even though I still attempted to go to the gym on my days off, I came to the realization that the pastry kitchen was not only my classroom…it was my personal gym. Let this be an amateur guide to whomever would like to maximize their time and energy in the kitchen in order to start or meet their fitness goals.

Tool: THE WHISK
Used for: Whipping heavy cream
Level of difficulty: Easy
Target: Arms (forearms)
Tips: Keep your arms in, shoulders down and whisk in a back and forth motion.
If you have never whisked heavy cream into whipped cream by hand, you will in the pastry arts program. Your forearm WILL want to fall off your body and run away. Do not fret…you still have the other arm. This was the first time in my life when I experienced a cramp in my forearm. It was not pleasant, but I knew it was worth it when I looked down at the soft, supple peaks that were now crème fouettée.

Tool: THE WHISK…again
Used for: Whisking pastry cream into a smooth mixture
Level of difficulty: Medium
Target: Arms (biceps)
Tips: When carrying over your heavy saucepan for the pastry cream, be careful…it’s HEAVY. With the additional weight of the cream you will make in it, be certain you have a good grip on the handle, and your sheetpan with plastic handy for transferring. Also, DO NOT LOOK AT THE CLOCK EVERY TEN SECONDS. This is somewhat of a difficult feat, as you are required to whisk the pastry cream for two whole minutes—so watching the clock is actually an important step in this recipe. This will be the longest two minutes of your life. That is a guarantee.

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Tool: THE ROLLING PIN
Used for: Rolling out dough
Level of difficulty: Easy-medium
Target: Shoulders and back
Tips: Assouplir. Soften your dough first by smacking it gently with the pin. If your dough does not roll out right away, let it sit and relax for a few minutes, and continue rolling. Your shoulders WILL feel sore the next day. If you are like me and vertically challenged, this would be a good time to work your calves as you stand on tiptoe and struggle to place your weight onto the pin and dough.

These are only a few of the many exercises performed in the pastry kitchen. Once you have rolled brioche dough into submission, you will never take bread for granted again.

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If the elevator breaks and you are in charge of returning food items, be prepared to carry pounds of ingredients up the stairs (I was never aware of how heavy chocolate was until this unfortunate day). When you are hungry and there is a mad dash for dinner, stairs will never have looked so evil. Having to climb three flights to get to our meal, I noticed a trend with the students: Flight number 1: students climb with fervor fueled by hunger, heads down and looking at their phones. Flight number 2: students begin to slow down, and use the hand railing for support. Flight 3: students either use the railing as their main tool for getting up the last few steps, or they go hard and make a sprint towards the top. Either way, quads will burn. Hours on the Stairmaster could not prepare one for this trek. I am convinced that the kitchen may have been placed on the fifth floor in order to throw in a workout for us students.

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Once you are aware of all the physical demands culinary school places on your body, you can be sure to also notice how strong you are (hopefully) becoming in the kitchen. Mixers don’t seem as heavy to carry, and you have a better grip on those heavy bottomed saucepans, especially pans with the weight of boiling water. Carrying multiple ingredients in your hand has become second nature, as has balancing sheet pans in both hands. Whisking away has become less painful, and you learn to breathe as you do so, and build stamina for rolling out dough. As for the stairs…well, you may have an easier time climbing them, but that sudden shooting pain in your quads as you reach the last step never seems to go away. It’s just another sign that you are getting your workout in at school.

While fitness in the kitchen may not be a typical topic in the culinary industry, it is certainly one that affects our health and bodies. Hopefully some of you have gained a little bit more insight on the physical requirements that the kitchen demands of you. This way, you can track your progress and come to the realization that you are getting stronger on your way to becoming a chef.

Learn more about Professional Pastry Arts

Professional Pastry Arts Unit Two: The Reaping

Professional Pastry Arts student C.C. McCandless on pies, tarts and the importance of timing.


After a rousingly successful whirlwind of a first week in the Professional Pastry Arts program, I entered Unit Two with equal amounts of excitement and trepidation. On one hand, I was thrilled that we would be expanding our skill set so quickly, delving into the crucial and delicious world of tarts and pies. The syllabus indicated that we would learn a multitude of different doughs, fillings and presentations. This sounded excellent.

Except, as it turned out, pie doughs were my nemesis.

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Back home, once I had committed to ICC last fall, I used that upcoming holiday season as my own personal training grounds. Thanksgiving and Christmas provided ample opportunity to test out any and every manner of desserts on more-than-willing family members. I’m happy to report that most of my attempts were successful to one degree or another. The one glaring exception, however, was the broad category of homemade doughs.

I just couldn’t get them right.

I tried. Truly, I did. Different recipes. Different techniques. Different baking methods. However, each and every final product included something that I viewed as unacceptable. Don’t get me wrong…they tasted good. But my crusts were suboptimal. Sometimes they would shrink, retreating down the sides of the pan like a frightened turtle back into his shell. Or my pie top wouldn’t seal exactly right with its bottom partner, looking ragged around the edge. My attempt at a lattice top for an apple pie was a ham-fisted mess that looked like the work of a serial killer. Dirty Harry said that a man’s got to know his limitations. In this case, mine were crystal clear: I was unable to make a perfect tart or pie dough.

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That’s just what we learned to do in Unit Two. It turns out that all I was missing were perfectly proportioned dough recipes taught to me by a master of the craft. At ICC, I received both in short order. There was literally no time to worry about whether I would screw up my doughs yet again; no opportunity to mentally linger over whether this might just be some fatal flaw in my own baking DNA. We were taught how to make pate brisee, pate sucre, pate sablee, and more, and the important differences between each.

A new unit meant a new partner, and we drew random numbers from a bowl to determine the new pairings. For a week that I might be anxious about, it was all-too-fitting when I drew a classmate that I had my eye on since day one. She had an uncanny air of professionalism and confidence, and I just knew from the first moments of our initial class that she would be a force in the kitchen. My instincts were spot on, as I peripherally watched her turn out one gorgeous product after another during unit one, all while working diligently and maintaining a sparkling clean station. Did I mention that she already has her own amazing food blog? Well, she does, and I had no doubt that she was a future food star in the making. For recipes I had every possibility to muck up, I couldn’t ask for a better teammate to work beside.

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I carried myself well enough during unit one that she seemed excited about our pairing, too. And once again, a classmate and I fell immediately into a seamless rhythm. This was especially important for this unit, because I learned that making doughs had to become automatic; almost robotic. The routine, I found out, was the inherently incorrect part of my process. Make the dough. Don’t overwork it. Chill it. Roll it out. Chill it again. Trim it in your tart ring. Chill it again. None of these steps were optional, and the unit was cleverly designed to ingrain this process immediately. Repeating it daily beside someone that knew her stuff helped it become second nature for me. Literally within a couple of days, I was able to look back at my amateurish problems at home with a smile.

My doughs were now really good, but more importantly, they came out that way automatically. There was no worrying or concern anymore. They always turned out right. It was so freeing and soothing that it’s almost mind-boggling, thinking back to what a thorn in my side they used to be. And the fillings! Lovely, flambeed fruits; rich, stirred custards; luscious, chocolate ganache…we cranked out an incredible array of mouth-watering treats in room 204 that week.

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Our lead instructor, Chef Jürgen, did not make a big deal of the minutiae of the daily schedule. He did, however, write it out on the giant white board at the head of the class each morning, with the expectation that we would follow it to the minute. Every moment from our arrival to the concluding clean up of the kitchen before our departure was accounted for in bright, dry erase marker. The rare occasions we lagged were inevitably met with a booming Austrian voice imploring us, “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!”

Each day, we had homework that included preparing recipes for the following morning. On one particular afternoon near the end of the level, we were also assigned something completely new. It looked innocuous enough, as it was essentially a blank sheet of paper. Chef Jürgen informed us that not only were we to prepare tomorrow’s recipes, but that we each had to craft our own version of the daily schedule. His smile gleamed as he assigned us this deceptively tricky task. “And tomorrow, we will have a Reaping like “The Hunger Games,’” he said, with a sinister tinge in his voice. “One of you will be chosen to read your schedule to the class.”

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I realize that it’s kind of ridiculous that I’ve approached this entire experience like a classic hero’s journey. I don’t think Joseph Campbell had lemon meringue pie or tart Alsacienne in mind when he crafted his theories about myth and storytelling. But it has been my approach, to the best of my ability, to live this culinary adventure to the fullest. Thus, Chef Jürgen’s throwing-down of the gauntlet left me with only one possible reply. I had to make Katniss Everdeen proud.

“I volunteer as tribute!” I blurted out from my station, which happened to be right beside the chef’s marble that week.

“Yeah?” he said, giving me a sideways glance as his sly smile grew wider.

“Sure,” I said, realizing that my arrogant mouth and desire to say something cool were at least a couple of steps ahead of my brain. But I couldn’t back down. I returned home and began to assess all of the steps that needed to be compiled for the necessary schedule. I stared down the prospect of coordinating a couple of complex tarts, a new pie dough and two different compotes for fillings, and I immediately realized that I took the precision of our razor-sharp daily schedules completely for granted.

I did the best that I could. I accounted for time needed to roll out doughs, to chill them and to make the requisite accompaniments. I scheduled the brief but integral intervals when the chefs would demonstrate new techniques. I accounted for our lunch break and even left some time at the end of the schedule for review. I was confident that, while my itinerary might not have been perfect, it was one that would work.

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The next morning I arrived early, as I always do, and Chef Jürgen quickly double-checked the validity of my bold offer to volunteer. I had no intention of shying away from the task at hand or asking him to proof my work. He took the quickest of glances at my itinerary and instructed me to write it out on the board. I thought that had to be a good sign. I did so, wondering if there was some crucial error that he intentionally left in my plan, just so he could point it out to the class.

“Looks good,’ he said, analyzing my handiwork as I finished up. “Very nice job.”

Whew. We ended up using my itinerary exactly as written that day, and it worked out perfectly. That was an excellent lesson, reminding us that each day at ICC we are learning things that we might not even be consciously aware of. It wasn’t exactly a life-threatening challenge, like surviving a day in the arena from “The Hunger Games,” but I still felt heroic about it.

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My First Pastry Job: Nothing to Fear

Professional Pastry Arts student Meredith Adams-Spurrier on tackling her first day in a professional kitchen.


I recently was offered a job at a bakery that specializes in French macarons and breakfast pastries. It could not have come at a more perfect time. Any earlier, and I would not have been qualified, but because of the experience I gained in Level 1 of the Professional Pastry Program, I was hired.

Take for example, the cinnamon bun. On my very first day at work, I was handed a binder full of recipes and my new sous chef told me what I would be expected to make for the day:

  1. Cinnamon Buns.
    Being in a production kitchen with professionals was a bit intimidating, but I gulped down the rest of my coffee and got to work. I had the skills to make this because a few weeks ago I had made pecan sticky buns in class that were out of this world. Sure, I was making enough cinnamon buns here to feed a small army, but if I could make one small batch in class, I bet I could make plenty. Next on my list of recipes to complete:
  2. Banana Bread.
    I felt the nervousness slowly disappear. I knew how to do that because I had just completed Unit 4: Breads in school. I thought back to how I made poundcake: creamed butter method, mix in the dry ingredients just to combine so the gluten doesn’t get over developed. So, I only made one loaf in school and this recipe called for four quarts of batter. I had the skills to do it and that’s what mattered. Feeling more confident, I went through the list and did the mise en place (prep work) for every recipe. It was an important concept that I learned on the first day of school and you can’t work productively without it.

During my next shift at my newly acquired job, I was given the recipe to make something I have never made before at school, macarons. I started to panic and seriously question why I was hired. That is, until I read the procedure. I knew how to make almond flour, the difference between 6X and 10X confectioner sugar, how to make an Italian meringue and how to fold the meringue into the almond batter without deflating the entire mixture. I even knew how to hand pipe them from ICC’s lesson on Pate à Choux (piping cream puffs). So maybe I could make macarons without having ever made them before? I was pleasantly surprised to realize I had nothing to fear. My sous chef gave me some great pointers and short cuts for working with such a monstrous amount of batter and I successfully made my first macaron. I felt reassured that I was the right person for the job and at that moment I was very grateful to my Level 1 chef instructor.

I knew that the skills I have learned in school thus far would give me experience to land the job, but I never stopped to think that I would learn technical and professional skills at work that will help me excel in the rest of the pastry program. I have tons of respect for those students who, like me, work a full time job and attend evening classes of the Pastry Program. It’s hard work and for me, my new job wouldn’t exist without the skills and concepts that I learned in Level 1. It’s bittersweet that next week I move on to Level 2, a new classroom, and a new chef instructor, but I am ready for the challenge.

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