Lessons 57-61: What Lies Beneath

It's that time of year again. The winter coats come out in full force — the colors and fabrics varying from person to person. But underneath those coats are layers of tank tops, sleeved shirts and sweaters, worn for all possible climates one may encounter during the day.

As beautiful as that vintage, plaid pea coat is, the layers underneath are integral to how it all comes and stays together. So what does my winter coat have to do with module III of the pastry arts and baking program? As you know from my last post, we've been making lots and lots of cakes. The latest are the ones Chef Kathryn says are the hardest to make — genoise. These are dry sponge cakes that require a moistening syrup on each layer prior to adding a filling.

The cake is actually ideally eaten 24 hours to three days after it is made, allowing enough time for the syrup to absorb through and moisten the otherwise bone dry cake. Chef Kathryn also introduced us to a foolproof method to fill and ice our cakes using a metal ring slightly larger than the diameter of our cake that is iced on its interior prior to assembling cake layers within it. As each layer is pressed down into another layer inside of the ring, the filling fills the gaps around the sides of the cake. Once our entire cake was iced, we froze it and then used a blowtorch to ease the metal ring off the outside of the cake.

The result was a well-iced cake ready to finish and decorate. “I love how everyone's cakes are so different.” “Freedom is fun!” This is what you heard from my otherwise quiet classmates this week. It was true. Just like a parade of unique winter coats down 23rd Street, our cakes were our own. There was Ivana's delicious peanut butter, banana and chocolate cake, Moriah's almost perfectly iced and piped cake, Jennie's Grand Marnier soaked and coffee buttercream cake, Kristi's caramel artwork piece, Denise's chocolate walnut bark with caramelized walnuts on top, and so on... I made a praline ganache cake topped with toasted hazelnut and chocolate shavings.

They were all beautiful in their own way. And then Chef Kathryn reminded us to pay careful attention to our layers when we sliced into them. So, I guess what they say is true. Looking beautiful on the outside doesn't hurt, but when you cut through that exterior, the layers beneath are what matter. In genoise cakes, we are looking for even and level layers. In life, well, I guess the same is true. Check out the photos of my classmates beautiful cakes and decorations. They really are great! Next up: I'll have a chance to have a behind-the-scenes look at the creativity of chefs in the “real” world during my trails on Friday night and Saturday morning! In class, we'll be having a quiz (wish me luck!) and making roulades.

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