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This is a pretty exciting week for me. My mom and I are attending a 4 day baking boot camp at the Culinary Institute of America (hereinafter referred to as the “CIA”) in Hyde Park, NY. This would be super cool on its own, but it’s even cooler because my brother went to the CIA, so it’s really neat getting to spend a week at the school where my brother spend two years. A very exciting week, indeed. I flew in Sunday evening, so we were able to take our time Monday morning getting ready.

The CIA campus is a business casual environment, so we were forewarned not to wear jeans when we came on campus. When the students are in the main buildings, they are either in business casual or uniform. What does a uniform consist of at the CIA? Houndstooth chefs pants and chefs jacket (buttoned up all the way — I was scolded when I initially wore my jacket with the top button daringly undone…). If you are in a classroom then you are also supposed to wear a neckerchief and toque (the big white hat).

I want a giant rack where I can store all my kitchen tools. Can I have one, please?

I want a giant rack where I can store all my kitchen tools. Can I have one, please?

Mom and I showed up early on campus (in our business casual) to orient ourselves and have a bite of lunch. We went to the Apple Pie Bakery, which is a nice cafe-style restaurant run by the students in the Baking and Pastry program and is filled with decadent looking treats. However, since we were to be baking all afternoon, we passed on the sweets. We split a hot pretzel stuffed with pork, cheese, broccoli and sun-dried tomatoes. Mom had the mushroom soup and I had the chicken caesar salad. Everything was delicious and all the servers (students) were very friendly and proficient.

Orientation

At 1:00 pm, the baking boot camp students gathered and were met by Laurie, our guide for the week. She walked walked us through the schedule, showed us where we could acquire coffee and tea and introduced us to our chef. She also gave us our goodie bags. Now, I’m a sucker for swag bags. I love them. They could be filled with the cheesiest shit imaginable and I’m going to be excited about it anyway. That’s just how it is. These were gym bags with two sets of pants/chef’s jackets, a neckerchief, a CIA coffee mug, a tee-shirt and a pen. I was super excited.

Class & Lecture

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Chef Bruno

Thus, appropriately attired and caffeinated, Laurie ushered us into our classroom. We are in a real baking classroom, which is pretty cool. The CIA students use it in the morning and we get to take it over in the afternoon. Our chef for the week, Chef Bruno, was waiting inside. The first hour and a half or so consisted of lecture and questions. And oh yes, I ask questions like a champ. Like a lot of questions.

Day 1 was dedicated to introductory matters and “the creaming method,” referring to when the butter and sugar are creamed together (emulsified) at the beginning of the recipe. Here are my takeaways from the lecture:

1. Almost all baking is based around the following five ingredients: Fat/Oil, Sugar/Sweeteners, Eggs, Flour and Liquids, all of which are liquifiers or stabilizers. If you understand the ingredients and how they work together, you can pretty much master baking. Fat, sugar and liquids are the liquifiers, whereas eggs and flour are the stabilizers.

2. Flour is made from wheat kernels. A wheat kernel consists of the bran (the outer shell), the germ and the endosperm.  Most white flours have had the bran and germ stripped away, leaving the endosperm, which is made of protein and starch. Fun fact – wheat flour does not actually contain gluten. Gluten is a byproduct of adding liquid to and mixing flour. High protein/low starch flours (like bread flour) develop more gluten than lower protein/high starch flours, which are great for products that have a more delicate crumb. All purpose flour is pretty much a 50/50 mix of pastry and bread flour.

3. Large eggs are approximately 2 oz.

4. When creaming butter and sugar, you probably need to cream it for a lot longer than you think you do. The creamed butter and sugar should be very pale and should have also increased in volume before you finish.

5. When adding eggs one at a time after creaming the butter and sugar, you should also mix a lot longer after each addition that you probably think you do. At this point, while it is possible to over mix the batter, it’s a lot harder to do so than after you add the flour. Once you add the flour, mixing should be minimal.

6. While butter can start out cold (just cut it into smaller pieces than you would if it were room temperature and creaming it will take longer), eggs really need to be room temperature. If you add cold eggs to room temperature butter and sugar, you can actually break the emulsion you’ve achieved during the initial creaming. If you need a quick way to warm up your eggs, you can soak them (in their shell) in tepid water for a while to hasten the process.

7. Mise en place. Prep is critical to an orderly baking process. Measure out and prep all of your ingredients before mixing anything. Also, measure everything twice. Kind of like carpentry: measure twice, mix once. And weighing ingredients is so much more accurate and easy than using measuring cups/spoons. It just is.

Production

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So after lecture, we had a quick break and then moved on to our mise en place. We worked in teams, which each team prepping a different pound cake and cookie. My team had the lemon poppy seed pound cake and the pecan sable cookie.

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Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake mise en place

This consisted of gathering all the ingredients for the two recipes, weighing (or, “scaling,” as Chef called it) and measuring out the ingredients and then doing any chopping of butter or other prep tasks that needed doing.

Dinner

After prep, we took a break for dinner. We ate with the students in one of the dining rooms, which had a buffet consisting of salad, white bean soup, a veggie stack, veggie lasagna, potatoes gratin (yum!!!) and beef. We were also given wine and unleashed upon a pretty impressive dessert buffet. As my brother has told me, CIA has very good desserts. I had the linzer torte and it was excellent. 

Demo/Production/Critique

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Labeling baking sheets is an important part of kitchen prep.

After dinner, Chef Bruno demonstrated proper creaming technique (see takeaways above) and then set us free to put our mise en place to good use. My team whipped up our pound cakes and got them in the oven. Then we turned to the cookies. It turns out that the cookie recipe was too big for the KitchenAid mixers, so I got to use a Hobart mixer. Let’s take a moment to understand what this meant to me. I’ve burned out the motor on at least one KitchenAid mixer. Don’t get me wrong, I love my KitchenAid, I just do more mixing than is standard for the average kitchenaid consumer, and some of what I cook consists of very stiff or elastic doughs (like bread). Hobart makes super powerful industrial and commercial mixers, but they recently came out with their first home mixer. It only runs about $2k or so… So I’m dying for a Hobart mixer (in my dreams) and you can imagine how excited I was to finally get my hands on one. And what a joy it was. That bad boy moved through the cookie dough like it was warm butter, with barely a purr of the motor. If stand mixers are sexy, this Hobart was like Jeremy Renner in the Bourne Legacy — strong, silent and sexy as hell.

After prepping cookies, we put them in the fridge to chill overnight, prepped our mis en place for Tuesday and cleaned our stations.

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From left to right, Chef’s Chocolate Swirl Pound Cake; Team 1′s Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake; Team 2′s Chocolate Swirl Pound Cake; Team 3′s Orange Cranberry Pound Cake

The last part of the day was spend cleaning our stations and then critiquing our pound cakes. Chef Bruno sliced into each team’s pound cake, giving his observations of each as he went. We got to taste each pound cake and take some home as well.

We rolled out of class at about 8:30 pm and retreated to our hotel, where Mom and I camped out in the lobby to enjoy a well-deserved adult beverage and share our thoughts on the day.

And with that, it is time for me to get some sleep before day 2 of the CIA Baking Boot Camp! I hope you’ve  found this interesting and I’d love to hear any questions you might have about my day at the CIA!

Click here to read about Day 2 of the CIA Baking Boot Camp!