I’ve had several requests that I finish up my CIA Baking Boot Camp series. I suppose I’ve left everyone in suspense since I left off after day three…so without further ado, here is the conclusion to my baking boot camp at the CIA! (Missed the earlier installments? Check out Days 1, 2 and 3.)
We didn’t have to be ready for class until 2pm the last day, so Mom, Mariella and I set out adventuring. I may not have mentioned it earlier, but Mariella was a fellow boot camper and she was staying in the same hotel as us. Mariella is from Peru and has some patisseries called Casa Gourmet. She did not have a car with her, so Mom and I brought Mariella with us on our morning wanderings.
Our first destination was Warren Kitchen & Cutlery in Rhinebeck, NY. My childhood violin teacher strongly recommended it to me when she heard I was in the area, and I’m so glad she did, because it is a fabulous little store.
One entire room was dedicated to cutlery, which is kind of awesome. Another room held all kinds of cookie cutters, pastry rings, sheet pans, bread making supplies, pots, pans, drum sifters and all kinds of other fantastic stuff. And there were still more rooms after that! Needless to say, we were all pretty excited about this store.
The next stop on the agenda was this little place called the Matchbox. Apparently, their chocolate chip cookies have won Best Cookie in America at the International Fancy Food Show, so we decided we had to give it a try. So how was that amazing cookie? Sadly, I wasn’t impressed. Maybe we got an off batch or something, but I just didn’t care for it. I was, however, entertained by these brownies.
Slightly disappointed by the “best cookie in America,” we set off to the Vanderbilt estate. The house is closed during the winter months, but there’s a path you can drive around to see a portion of the grounds. It was pretty impressive. I can imagine how beautiful it is in the spring and summer.
Our last stop before hustling back to the CIA was at the FDR home, museum and presidential library. This was also the very first presidential library. We only had an hour, so we didn’t have time to take a tour of the house, but we went through the museum. It was a really neat museum and I wish I’d had a lot more time to spend there. It was nicely configured, with engaging multimedia telling the tales of FDR’s rise to power, the stock market crash and the great depression, FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt’s relationship and the controversy over FDR’s third term as president, to name a few. It was really interesting and I hope I have to opportunity to go back some day and really spend some time there.
By this point, we were starting to cut it a little close on time, so we hightailed it back to the CIA and scarfed down one last lunch at the Apple Pie Bakery before class.
This last class focused on “lean doughs,” such as ciabatta and baguettes. The first thing we did was get going on the ciabatta, because we’d made the poolish the night before.
It was appear that yeast has come a long way since many a bread recipe was written. We’ve managed to breed much stronger yeast than we used to have readily available, so today’s yeast tends to be much more resistant to salt and often doesn’t need the proofing step of soaking the yeast in warm water. Instead, we just dumped all the ingredients in one large mixing bowl (Oh Hobart, how I miss you!), turned on the mixer and let it do its thing. Pretty sweet.
Then the ciabatta dough went in the proof box (one more thing I would love to have) and we got going on the baguettes, which had the same mixing technique. Once the baguettes were also in the proof box, we cooked off any remaining scones from the day before.
There were several rounds of folding the doughs and returning them to the proof box to rest again, which left some time for other fun things.
Chef Bruno demonstrated how to make a meringue and one way to decorate a lemon meringue pie. Since he’d made several lemon pies, we all got to play with decorating with meringue, which was fun.
Also, I noticed that the CIA doesn’t bother with expensive kitchen torches. They had a straight up blow torch for things like browning meringues. I’m feeling inspired to acquire dangerous fire making blow torches!
Eventually, it was time to shape the ciabatta loaves and, after one last rest, bake them off. Yes! Finally! Fresh bread! While we cooked the ciabatta loaves on sheet pans, we baked the baguettes in the bread oven, which had this super cool peel.
Usually, I think of peels being like flat shovel-looking pizza peels. This peel, however, was this big rolley canvas thingie that hooked on to the oven. As you pull the peel backwards, the canvas rolls back, leaving the bread in the oven. It’s difficult to describe, but super cool to watch in action.
During another lull in the bread making action, Chef Bruno demonstrated how to properly slice a pecan pie. Basically, you invert the pecan pie so that the bottom of the pie is up in the air, and then you carefully slice it that way. This keeps the pecans from breaking weirdly or smushing down into the pie. As you may be able to see, my team’s pecan pie didn’t fully cook through, so there was a bit of mess during this demo, but I bet the upside down cutting technique works beautifully with a fully baked pecan pie.
We then sliced up the rest of the pies so we could sample them all with dinner, which was…
Pizza! The two assistants made up a bunch of pizza dough and we all made different pizzas, which is always a good time. These pizzas were mine and had tomato sauce, several different cheeses (including fresh mozzarella), garlic and bacon. Delicious.
After dinner, Lorrie awarded us with our certificates of completion and then all that was left was packing up bread, pizza and scones to take home with us and saying our goodbyes.
Mom and I drove out to the Courtyard near Stewart airport, repacked and promptly went to sleep, because I had a 6am flight in the morning. During the repack, I managed to stash away several loaves of bread and a box of cookies, which were enjoyed over the weekend. Mom froze a bunch of the scones when she got home and is still enjoying them for breakfast!
So, here are my final thoughts on the week:
1. I desperately want a Hobart mixer.
2. There’s a lot to learn for both the experienced and inexperienced baker.
3. Culinary school, and CIA in particular, is a unique experience and it’s quite neat to get a little peak into that world.
4. You work in groups, so be prepared for the possibility that you will be working with someone who has a lot more or a lot less experience than you do.
5. You will leave the course wanting all this wonderful equipment that they have.
6. Wonderful equipment doesn’t have to be expensive. They use plain metal bowls, basic bench scrapers, plastic tubs for measuring… good, serviceable kitchen tools don’t need to be fancy — they just have to get the job done.
7. Scales are wonderful. Weighing ingredients is faster and more accurate than using cups.
8. Wear good shoes.
9. Baking boot camp is exhausting. Yes, it’s a vacation for most people, but it’s also a lot of work. Getting into bed at night feels so good after a day in the kitchens.
10. Tack on a day or two so you have time to explore the area around the CIA. Rhinebeck was super cute and I would have liked to explore it more.