Life As a Pastry Student: Why Quality Counts
Throughout my life, I've learned to appreciate high quality ingredients—both in the food I'm cooking and dishes prepared by others. One of my biggest revelations on the road to pastry school was the first time I tasted the difference between a cake made from a boxed mix and one made from scratch. Ultimately, I feel infinitely happier consuming something when I know exactly what went into it to make it taste so good. However, it wasn't until pastry school that I truly understood the impact the best ingredients make in the final product.
In our first unit, I was exposed to two ingredients that will change the way I bake for good: Trablit coffee extract and Italian pistachio paste. Trablit is a concentrated extract that tastes like the best cappuccino you've ever had. Once I discovered its potential, I tried featuring it in every dessert possible, from ice cream and crème brûlée to buttercream and doughnut glaze. It imparts a warm, rich and authentic coffee flavor that cannot be achieved with espresso powder or other coffee flavorings.
Pistachio paste from Italy has a similar effect. Its concentrated, earthy pistachio flavor is what takes desserts from being somewhat nutty to intensely flavorful. It often contains a touch of sugar or almond meal, but the majority of the product is simply ground pistachios. The creamy olive green color is also far more beautiful than the fluorescent green of lesser quality pistachio paste.
Beyond these flavoring agents, I’ve gained an appreciation for quality in the day-to-day ingredients we take for granted. In our bread unit, I have noticed there is a distinct difference between the flavor of breads made with white flour and breads made with wheat.
Of course, I already knew that whole wheat bread is healthier, but it wasn’t really until I baked bread myself that I truly realized how ingredient selection impacts the flavor, texture and nutritional aspects of artisanal products. Another example? Whether we’re whipping up a batch of brioche or just looking for the perfect complement to our freshly baked breads, ICE students have the benefit of working with President butter, made from high-quality cream in Normandy, France. It’s rich, creamy and perfectly salty, and enhances the flavor of bread, rather than taking away from it.
So will I refuse to eat anything made with products of lesser quality now? Of course not. But if I’m the cook responsible for a dish, I know I can give myself an edge on the competition by opting for these premium ingredients. Moreover, as a student, I feel very lucky to have access to these incredible tools during such a pivotal time in my culinary education.