Since I last met with my mentor, Donna Lenic, I believe that I have made a fair amount of progress. In the short amount of time that I met with her on January 27th, I learned quite a lot. From the beginning to end of the process of cake-making and baking in general, I have learned many new tips and tricks, from just a few hours, and I hope to learn many more when I meet up with her again this weekend.
I have made another attempt at making the same chocolate cake that I had made when I met up with my mentor. I like to believe that I have made a lot of progress, after just a second attempt, but unfortunately, this is not completely true. While it is true that some parts of the baking process improved, others stayed the same, or became worse.
Take the baking of the cakes. The second time through, I took a little bit more time, because I didn’t have all the ingredients out, like when I met with my mentor. However, I believe that I was faster this time than I would have been if I had to get ingredients out when I was with my mentor, because I am more comfortable, and familiar with the locations of items. I was a fair amount faster in making the batter, because I had already done it once, and had some idea of what needed to happen, and how to tell when the batter was ready.
On the other side of the spectrum, during the actual baking of the cakes, I had some improvement, and some errors. The first time I made the cake, when I was flipping them out of the pans, some of the cake remained stuck to the pan. However, this time, the first cake I flipped came out about as cleanly as you could hope for. This encouraged me, but when I moved on to the second cake, when I flipped it, it came apart. I tried to flip it out too early, so the pan was still a little bit hot, and as a result, a fair amount of cake remained stuck to the pan. So, I had to put one of the many things that I learned I my last meeting with my mentor, which was patching up cakes. Essentially, this is achieved by scraping off whatever was stuck to the pan, and placing it into the gap in the cake where it originally was. This way, when the cake has completely cooled, you won’t be able to tell the difference.
On a separate note, some of the other things that I learned two weeks ago included flouring the pans, and how to ice a cake. It is important to not only grease pan, or put parchment paper on the bottom, but you should also flour it. This will help ensure that the cake will not stick to the pan as much. This makes it easier to get out from the pan, but it also saves you time in the future, because you have less that food scraps stuck to the pan that need to be scrubbed away. In terms of icing a cake, especially one that is two layers, I learned many valuable skills. When you do your bottom layer, you want to try and place it as close to the center as possible. This is because you should not move the cake around too much once you have finished or are in the process of icing it. If you are making a multilayer cake, generally speaking, you want to make sure that you have enough icing for the second or top layer, because that will be the layer that everyone can see. So in my case, I would want to use just a little bit less than half the icing for the bottom layer, and the rest for the top layer. This is because if there are small gaps of the bottom layer, the chances are that you won’t see them. However, if you don’t have enough icing for the top layer, and you can see the cake itself, then it will be obvious. Also, while icing the cake, you usually want to start by icing the side, because it is the most difficult, and finish up with the top of the layer. As I partially alluded earlier, you want to ensure that you don’t have any bare spots, so that the cake has a better appearance.
Back to the original topic, of my second attempt, I believe that I have made an overall step forward. With the making of the icing, I was must more efficient because I knew what to expect, and how to do it. I also knew how to recognize when it was done, as this was the second time that I had made the icing this way. As for the icing of the cake, I felt it went much better, as I knew how to do it, and what to avoid. Also, I feel that it went much better because I was able to complete to a degree similar to that of the cake I made the first time, without the help of specialized equipment like an offset spatula.
The main obstacle that I have had to overcome lately is the lack of time. Baking takes a lot of time, but school, sports, and piano have been taking up most of my time recently. However, I did manage to find the time to bake the cake above, and I am hoping to have the chance to bake even more in the coming weeks for a few reasons. Firstly, basketball is now over, and soccer will be ending in a couple of weeks. This will free up half of my time spent outside of school. Secondly, my piano exam has now just passed (it was on Wednesday); I no longer need to make that my main focus. Because of these two reasons, I believe that I will be able to bake more in the comings weeks and months, and I am looking forward to having the chance to bake, as it is something that I greatly enjoy.
One of the cookbooks that my mentor has is a Martha Stewart book about baking. I did a web search for Martha Stewart, and ended up at her website. There, I was browsing through some of the recipes, and I noticed that there are many different levels of difficulty. In the book however, more of the recipes are a little bit challenging, but seem quite doable nonetheless. Browsing throughout the book gave me an understanding of how many different aspects there are to baking. There are the obvious parts, such as measuring, mixing, and baking, but the subtler ones are the ones that I believe are the most difficult to master. For instance, baking a cake is very simple, but how your end product looks will depend on your creativity, and your skill. There is so much that can be achieved with baking, because there are so many variations of everything. With cakes and cupcakes, you can decorates in a countless number of ways, and with cookies and muffins there are many different kinds of them, all with their own unique flavors, and methods.
Understanding this and realizing what I have not yet accomplished has suddenly made me think differently. While I had originally thought that there was only so much more that I could learn about baking, I now know that new doors have been opened for me, and whether I wish to explore what is behind them now or later, they will always prove to me that there is more for me to learn. For instance, now that I know how to make a tasty chocolate cake, maybe I want to go and learn how to do something like cake decorating (which Josh happens to be doing), or I could try to learn how to make as many different kinds of cookies or muffins as I can. I look forward to the near future, and the rest of my life, as there is so much for me to do and explore on the topic of baking.