Baking with the CIA: Day 2

In which our hero does battle with delicate cakes and a fearsome tabletop burner.

Day 2 found us spending much more time in the kitchen, focusing on the trickier baking technique of whipping eggs until they foam up and trap air. The basic idea wasn't new to me (as it probably isn't to you), but the intricacies of the process were. We made three different such cakes today:

Sponge Cake (Genoise): For this cake, the eggs are first mixed whole, with some sugar added, until they form a foamy liquid. The resulting cake has a light texture, but by itself is dry and not really worthwhile by itself. We slathered it with a soaking syrup* flavored with Framboise, and will check it out tomorrow.

Sponge Cake (Chiffon): Chiffon cakes get their texture by utilizing only egg whites for aeration. Egg whites trap air more efficiently by themselves, and since the yolks don't need to be whipped they can be used to help form the batter before the whites get mixed in. This means the whites are subject to a minimum of mixing, and the trapped air stays embedded in the cake.

Lady Fingers: Lady Fingers, the small little cake tunnels that usually get made into tiramisu, are even more aerated. The yolks and whites are separated, but then individually whipped to maximize the amount of air. They're baked into small, very soft tubes that you squirt out with a pastry bag.

My friend Tiff, who's taking the class with me, worked with me on the Genoise cake, and I fear to say I overmixed it. It came out a little denser than is ideal.

That was nothing, however, compared to my disaster with our second project of the day, a chocolate cream pie. We're working in a baking-specific area of the kitchen that lacks built-in burners, so when we need one we bring out appliances that provide a single burner. Unlike normal individual burners, though, these feature induction, which means they use some kind of magnetic trick to directly heat the pot. These burners are approximately 6.1 bajillion times powerful than any burner I've ever used.

The first step in chocolate cream pie is to prepare a custard, and the first step in custard preparation is boiling milk. Our milk was just about to start simmering when I turned around to wash off a scraper. Maybe 15 seconds later, I turn around just as the milk begins to boil over. This was no mild splash, though ... in a span of about 5 seconds I saw what turned out to be a pint of milk geyser over the sides and onto the table!

Fortunately, I had just learned what will turn out to be a very useful fact. One of the chief problems of preparing custards is that the milk must not be heavily boiled lest it start caramelizing on the bottom and become "scalded." This requires careful attention. But when you add some sugar to the milk beforehand, the milk stands up to the heat much better. So in this case we could still use what milk we had.

The other 3 teams (there are 8 people total in the class, in 4 teams) prepared coconut cream, lemon meringue, and buttermilk pies, all without incident. All products were judged excellent, including even our pie. I especially enjoyed the decoration process, and will soon be adding a set of pastry bag nozzles to my kitchen.

As a final project we made scones. This recipe bound the dry ingredients together with only cream, a variation I'd never heard of. I'll report on the results when we eat them for breakfast tomorrow.


* A "simple syrup," as you may know, contains equal parts water & sugar. A "soaking syrup" has half as much sugar, for use in larger quantities.

Posted by patrick on January 14, 2003 | TrackBack

Patrick : keep the updates coming! They make for great reading - you're Gastronome's answer to Michael Ruhlman!

What sort of reading/learning materials are you walking out of the class with, out of curiosity?

Posted by: rebecca on January 15, 2003 3:41 PM

We get a notebook produced by the school. It contains a fair bit of technical information about baking basics, but Chef Stephen generally skips it and just talks from his memory about whatever topic is at hand.

We do get all the recipes used in the class, complete with some commentary and revisions. They're pretty cool in that they don't go into great detail about the steps involved; instead, they just give you the ingredients and the general idea and let you exercise the basic techniques you've just learned. This is great for learning. I'll post the better ones to gastronome once I can write them up to be a bit more user-friendly.

Posted by: Patrick on January 15, 2003 4:18 PM

A third kudos! All the details, my friend. All the details. (Your writing is grand.) I'm curious to see how close that scone recipe is to the full-cream scone is that i often make, and if i matches the one in The New Professional Chef.

Are you going to be running desserts for dinner parties from here on out?

Posted by: meriko on January 15, 2003 10:12 PM
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