Sunday, March 28, 2021

Reflections from my last 16 weeks of culinary school

I made croissants for the first time—one of my life goals!

As I start the second half of my second semester of culinary school, I wanted to spend some time reflecting on my last 16 weeks of classes, which differed significantly from the first 8 weeks (read more here). I took my first two baking and pastry classes, a class about breakfast foods, and a customer service class. The baking classes were my favorite. The incredible Chef Jenni Shouppe taught both classes. She is hilarious and so talented and knowledgeable. It was truly a joy to learn from her.

The two classes I took were Introduction to Baking and Classical Pastries and Chocolate. 

The first class, Introduction to Baking, was exactly what it sounds like—an introduction baking course. Here's a list of some topics we covered: custards, mousses, donuts, pâte à Choux, pies, crepes, cakes, and yeast breads. The Classical Pastries and Chocolate class focused more on classical French desserts. We made meringues, laminated dough, tarts, tortes, candies, cakes, and cheesecakes.

There's a cafe at the school, and in my breakfast class, the students were responsible for making the breakfast orders that came into the cafe. I practiced flipping eggs, made French omelettes and American omelets, prepared souffles, and learned how to make fluffy waffles.

For my customer service class, I learned the important roles of the front of house staff in a restaurant (non-kitchen staff) and how they must work with the back of house (kitchen staff) to provide the best experience possible for the customer. There's also a full-service restaurant on the top floor of the school, and for this class, I practiced serving. Working as a waitress is tough, and I have a newfound respect for anyone who provides good service and makes it look easy.

For the last 8 weeks of this semester, I'm taking a class about yeast breads (one week in, I've already learned so much and consumed a lot of delicious carbs) and a class called garde manger, pronounced gard man-zhay. Historically, the garde manger chef prepared the cold foods in a restaurant, like chilled soups, fruit, salads, pates, caviars, and some cold desserts. In my class, we will also learn how to make sausage and prosciutto and how to smoke fish and pickle vegetables.

I'm going to share a few things I learned that really stood out to me. And if you have ANY questions at all on any of these topics, please feel free to reach out to me, and I would be happy to answer your questions. And if I can't answer it, I will contact one of the chefs at school and ask them!

Culinary school during a pandemic means masks plus face shields


  • If your mousse calls for gelatin, you must "bloom" it in cold water. The gelatin absorbs the water and softens so it will easily dissolve when combined with the rest of your ingredients. Bloom gelatin in five times its weight in water. 
  • Gently warm the gelatin to dissolve it before adding it to your recipe. But do NOT heat the gelatin above 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

This cake is called a Charlotte. It's made with lady fingers and Bavarian cream. I made it for the final in my Classical Pasties and Chocolate class.

White chocolate mousse cake with raspberry gelée

The outside of the cake

Chocolate mousse cake


  • Stirred custards are cooked on the stove, and you have to be really careful because they will curdle at 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Common stirred custards are pastry cream, crème anglaise, and lemon curd.
  • Baked custards, like cheesecake and crème brûlée, should be baked in a bain marie (a water bath). A bain marie provides gentle, uniform heat to delicate foods like custards. It also stops the top from drying out and cracking before the inside is cooked. 
  • Use a roasting dish with high sides for your bain marie, and pour the water into the roasting dish after it's already in the oven so you don't have to worry about accidentally splashing water on top if your custard while placing it in the oven. The water in your bain marie should go halfway up the sides of the dish.

Custard for crème brûlée before it was torched

Crème brûlée, final product

We made ice cream with crème anglaise

Pâte à choux

  • Pâte à choux in itself is not sweet. The texture is soft yet crisp. This is the dough used for éclairs, cream puffs, and my new favorite dessert, Paris-Brest (pronounced paree bray).
  • The choux dough is first cooked on the stove. You know it's done cooking when it leaves a little skin or film at the bottom of your saucepan.
  • The only tricky part about it is determining the number of eggs that will go in the dough. The number of eggs in the dough is NOT consistent, and you may NOT use all the eggs listed in a recipe.. Humidity and the size of the eggs create inconsistencies. You will know that you've added enough eggs when the batter is thick, shiny, and a pipeable consistency. When you lift up the beater on your mixer, the batter should slowly slump down into the bowl.

Choux dough piped into eclairs

Baked eclair shells

Eclair shells filled with cream and covered in chocolate

Paris-brest (pronounced paree-bray) is my new favorite dessert. Pâte à choux is piped into the shape of bike wheels and topped with almonds prior to baking. Afterwards, each wheel is cut in half and filled with praline cream. It is divine and my new favorite dessert. Sadly, I didn't get a picture of the final product.


  • I had only made pie dough a few times in my life, and I never really felt like I knew what I was doing. There are so many tips and tricks available online—it's overwhelming. The pie dough we made has just 5 ingredients, and we mixed everything with our hands. 
  • There are two types of pie dough you can make using the same recipe: flaky pie dough and mealy pie dough. The only difference between the two doughs is the size of the pieces of butter. 
  • In mealy pie dough, the butter pieces are very small. This creates a crust that is good at repelling moisture, which is necessary when making fruit pies or custard pies, like pumpkin. No one likes a soggy bottom crust. 
  • In flaky pie dough, the butter pieces are larger. So when you bake the crust, the butter melts and creates tender, flaky layers. This crust is best for the top crust of double-crust pies or for no-bake cream pies.
  • When blind baking crust for cream pies, it is important that your pie weights come all the way up to the top of your crusts for added support to the sides. It's a little confusing because most pie weights are sold with only enough to cover the bottom of the pie. You need to either buy multiple containers of pie weights or use dry beans.

This is a Linzer torte, a traditional Austrian pastry. The crust is made from flour and ground hazelnuts and almonds. The filling consists of raspberry preserves and citrus zest.

This was another new favorite dessert!

Apple galette

I made an apple crumb pie, soft yeast rolls, and chocolate chip cookies for the final in my Introduction to Baking class.

  • Unlike pancakes, there should be no lumps in your crepe batter. For the silkiest smooth batter, use a blender.
  • After making the batter, allow it to rest 30 to 60 minutes (or keep it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days). This gives the gluten a chance to relax and creates more delicate crepes.
  • Use only 2 to 3 Tablespoons of batter per standard 8-inch pan.

A dozen crepes stacked together to form a crepe cake.

Different flours

  • There are many types of flours, and the difference in the types is the protein content. Higher protein means more gluten, which means more strength.
  • Cake flour has the lowest protein content of all flours at 5 - 8%. This means less gluten and softer, more tender baked goods. It's best for cakes and muffins.
  • Pastry flour falls between cake flour and all-purpose flour with 8 - 9% protein content. It's a good choice for pie crusts and tarts.
  • All-purpose flour is a staple in most kitchens. It has 10 - 12% protein content. We can use it for any number of baked goods: cookies, pancakes, etc.
  • Bread flour's protein content is the strongest at 12 - 14%. It's great for yeast breads because the gluten is necessary for making the bread rise properly.


Using a peel to retrieve baguettes from deck oven

Baguette with poolish (a pre-ferment) straight out of the oven

Eating bread straight out of the oven is absolutely heavenly.


Soft yeast rolls

Laminated dough

  • Puff pastry, croissant and Danish dough are called laminated dough. Fat is incorporated through a process of rolling and folding, producing alternating layers of dough and fat. 
  • The fat must be kept cold and not allowed to melt into the dough during the lamination process. Laminated doughs get their flaky texture because water from each layer of butter steams up, creating separate layers.
  • Making laminated dough is a LOT of work, especially if you do it by hand. And it takes a LOT of time because you have to refrigerate it between folds to ensure the butter doesn't melt into the dough.

Croissant dough

Very excited about making croissants for the first time

Apple tarte Tatin made with handmade puff pastry. It's much prettier once it's flipped over, but sadly, I didn't get a picture of it.


  • One of the worst things that could happen to a cheesecake is cream cheese lumps in the batter. I don't know why, but it really is terribly gross. Avoid this by first letting your cream cheese come to room temperature. Beat it by itself with a mixer before adding any other ingredients to the bowl. Then add just the sugar and beat it really well. The sugar granules will help cut through the cream cheese. Make sure to scrape down the bowl well. Add the eggs one at a time, beating and scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Once it's smooth, add the rest of the ingredients.
  • You'll want to bake the cake in a bain-marie, which is a water bath, in a low oven. The water bath ensures even heat distribution. The ideal baking temperature is between 250 and 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • It is imperative to not over-bake the cheesecake. Once the surface appears to “jiggle as a whole,” it is done and must be removed from the oven. It will continue cooking outside the oven.


  • To create the fluffiest waffles with a crisp exterior, start by separating your egg yolks and your egg whites. 
  • Whip the egg whites, either with a whisk or with an electric beater, until they form stiff peaks. Set aside and prepare the rest of the waffle batter as normal, but without the egg whites. Fold the whipped egg whites into the batter with the rest of the ingredients, being careful to not over-mix so you don't deflate the egg whites. 
  • Proceed with the rest of the recipe as normal!

Sachertorte is a chocolate cake with apricot filling. The baker must write Sacher in chocolate on top of the cake. It was invented by Austrian Franz Sacher.

Strudel dough is stretched to the size of a table.

Lemon pound cake

There was a time in my life in which I ate ice cream with lemon curd and lemon pound cake for breakfast.

Dense, fudgy brownies

Pumpkin muffins

Eggs over easy

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