Monday, August 13, 2007

My Enemy Has Shown Itself

And its name is Cake.

Well, more specifically, the act of frosting cakes.

During my time as a Culinary major at the CIA, I like the other students take a three week course that covers the essential basics of Baking and Pastry. Now I’m no baker, but I do love bread and do respect the skill needed to do a lot of what’s expested in pastry kitchens today.

For the last two weeks the class, instructed by Chef George Higgins, the time has passed very smoothly. We are a small class comprised of only 10 students so there is plenty of work to be had. As Culinary students most of us (my self included) really don’t take the time to be as precise as we need to be in the bake shop.

This past Friday our weakness became painfully obvios when one of our carrot cakes came out a little smaller then the rest when it appeared as a simpering halfling.

Fast forward to today, Frosting Day. After spending the morning preparing our stations, gathering mise en place, and preparing cream cheese icing (Which by the way would put Betty Crocker out her fancy pants house if I was able to bottle and sell the stuff!) we were all set to frost away.

A short demo ensued and my partner and I were told to pick a cake and begin work. Being on the other side of the very large wooden tables at the time I got last pick.

Anyone see where I’m going with this? Yeah, that’s right.. I got Tiny Cake.

I wanted so badly to get it right. I took my time trimming, cutting and "Crumbing". Crumbing is the act of laying down a thin layer of frosting first to keep crumbs from appearing on your finished frosted cake.

Halfway through my project I thought to myself:
"Hey I’m not doing to badly here..."

Little did I know that Tiny Cake had plans for me yet unseen.

The second to last step was to frost the sides in a manner that leaves a "lip" of frosting above the top line of the cake. Upon finishing laying the lip I was suposed to fold the lip over the top of the cake gently smoothing it out to create a nice bend in the frosting, to give the appearance that the frosting was simply laid over the cake and tucked in like a crisply ironed bed sheet.

A fresh bed sheet I could not make. Matter of fact, it ended up looking like the deflated dome of Space Mountain at Disney World. Chef came by and told me to redo the lip and sides.

I spent another 20 minutes trying to perfect that hateful lip.

There I was, Last man doing his cake. The whole kitchen cleaned, and Chef preparing to demo the piping decor for our cake.. and my cake was looking worse the more I tried to fix it.

Its not often that I get discouraged in a kitchen. I save that for my personal life. But today I wanted nothing more then to pick that cake up and smack myself in the face with it ala Three Stooges.

I finally managed to render an acceptable cake. I piped the decor, and left the kitchen for lunch feeling aggravated at my morning’s failure.

When I arrived at the lunch room I saw a baker friend of mine, Heidi, sitting enjoying her usual 11 am waffle. I sat down and immediately began to complain how the very bane of my existence had just reared its head in the form of the process of frosting cakes.

To which she replied:

"Its ok, we all have bad days. So you can’t frost a cake, whoopee, its just flour, eggs, sugar, and water...You can try again another day"

And she was right. It was just a cake, and I would have another chance. But the exchange got me thinking about how little upsets can be so frustrating. How we can spend so much time working so carefully to get something right only to have it fall apart on us.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how badly we want it to work, sometimes the kitchen gods demand we fail.

So it's better we fail here at school then on a wedding cake for the only daughter of a US Senator, right?

So watch your back Tiny Cake. Next time I see hanging out in a dark alley, I’m gonna frost the hell out of you.


JunkyPOS said...

Hm...I half "expested" that...

Let him eat cake!!!


Bob del Grosso said...

I've never met a cakes I could trust stay still for icing. But then whay would anyone expect any sentient being to not fight back at someone who was trying to "ice" him.
It wouldn't be natural.

blondee47 said...

I loved this refreshing to hear someone from the food industry laugh at himself especially in a school kitchen...I am beginning to feel most you chefs are very much a snobbish bunch...humility is the sign of greatness

The Foodist said...


So your expecting a cake revolution soon?


There are a few chef instructors here whos attitudes about themselves could use an adjustment yes. But for the most part the majority of the chefs here are here because they want to teach and share their knowledge.

There is pride in what they do, and its sometimes taken as arrogance, but there is a large amount of humility as well.

Today in class for example, we had a student frost his first cake ever.. and it came out looking PERFECT. When the chef saw it, he asked him if he had any experience frosting cakes, then proceeded to tell him..

"well that just pisses me off. My first cake looked like that one (pointing to another students) where do you get off coming in here and doing a perfect cake?!" all jokingly of course. The chef made a great deal of complimenting the student on their excellent work.

I guess when you boil it down the students hold these chefs in such high regards sometimes that it almost seems like many have a god complex in the kitchen, when I can honestly tell you most are as humble as they come.

Robert said...

dont feel bad bob I have been a pastry chef for a few years now and I still dont like frosting cakes and try to avoid it as much as I can. good luck with the next one, I am sure it will turn out much better!