Catching up the continuing or Year Three or the little egg that could

In the Alberta Baking Apprenticeship program there are four exams, one for each term of study and then the Red Seal, which acts as sort of a Canada wide final. The Red Seal is also the only one of these exams that has any sort of consistency within the industry. Unlike the other trades, baking has no manual, no set of procedures. What happens at one bakery will be completely different from what the procedure is at others. In the industry this is fine, because it doesn’t take long to pick up a new bakery’s routines and procedures once you get into the swing of things. The disconnect becomes a problem when you have several bakers from all walks of the career creating the final exam. If the owner of a bakery from a small town becomes a member on the apprenticeship board, the way they do things can make it on the exam, even if those things are way out of the norm. Often times these procedures contradict what’s in textbooks and what’s taught at schools. The same thing can be said about the grocery chains who each have their own unique way of doing things. The way you attach an edible decal to a cake at Co-op isn’t going to be the same as the way you do it at Safeway. This would be fine if there was a handbook, but as it stands there isn’t even an agreed upon textbook for the program. On top of all that, the professors aren’t allowed to know what’s on the exams, they teach the course as best they can, however, there’s only so much they can do with the material they’re given.

This has lead to all kinds of problems within the program, including entire classes failing exams. The most notorious of these exams is the second year exam, which I passed by the skin of my teeth. There were questions that I knew the answers to, but those answers weren’t a multiple choice. It was one of the few exams where I wished there was more math, because then there was a bit of certainty.

I’d taken most of my studies with the same group of students and I assumed that most of them would be taking third year the following block. It turned out that I was the only one who had been given permission to have the full four months off of work. My third year class ended up being only three people, I was a little surprised that classes weren’t cancelled due to numbers. We were quite a rarity and I think that we might have been the smallest class in SAIT history.

Having a super small class was amazing. The three of us worked really well together and any questions we might have had were instantly answered. Our head instructor was Master Baker, which is the highest honour one can receive in baking. We were able to get way ahead of the program, delving into recipe creation and experimentation. my favourite was a red wine and sprouted quinoa bread I came up with, which was great for sandwiches. There was also an extensive portion on cake decoration, chocolate making and sugar blowing.

Outside of school, my car had been cubed, and my husband and I had moved into a bigger place. In a matter of days I’d gotten a new house, a new car and a new name (when my husband and I got married we both legally changed our names to something new, which is a process that takes a lot of dollars and many months). Over the course of the move I’d caught a cold, but had powered through it, which sucked because of the way the apprenticeship program is set up, you can’t really miss any classes without a risk of being thrown out. Then less than a month later, I got sick again which was strange because I’ve got a decent immune system and it’s rare for me to get sick once a year let alone twice. Little did I know that this was the first of the many symptoms I would experience during my pregnancy.

My husband and I were planing on having the kids talk once I was out of school. I’d told work that we were planing on trying in the not too distant future, but nothing had been set in stone. I hadn’t even planed on having my IUD removed until we’d had that talk and all of that depended on whether we actually wanted kids or not. After being a couple of weeks late,  on the day after my thirty-third birthday I took a pregnancy test on a whim and boy were we surprised.

Being pregnant and being enrolled in a program where all you deal with is food was not pleasant. Well, the whole pregnancy was unpleasant to say the least. Pregnancy nausea kicked in right when we started the units on cake and ice cream, there are still pictures of cakes I made that I can’t look at because of how sick I was at the time. Once again I found myself powering through and I managed to win the Dean’s Award and got a tiny little scholarship by the end. Considering how talented my classmates were, this was quite the accomplishment. All I had to do was get through the third year exam and the Red Seal.

The third year exam was a hell of a lot easier than I thought it would be, which worried me at the time because I compared to the second year exam it was a little too easy. The Red Seal was the next day and I started that morning off by nearly missing the bus due to morning sickness. The first part of the test went well, then I got to the section on ice cream and the very idea of ice cream and everything in it made me sick. I ended up guessing on everything, just so I didn’t have to read the questions. On the breakdown of my exam there’s a consistent 80 to 90 percent average until you get to the ice cream section where it drops to 30 percent. Despite that, I did pass both exams and at thirty-three completed my post secondary education. I wanted there to be more of a story to this, but it was more a variety of stories that aren’t all that remarkable. So here are all of the things I made in my final year, I’ll try not to look at the cakes.

Advertisements

Catching up again, back to school yet again

It’s been well over a year since I posted here last and it’s been a hell of a year. My last post I talked about my anxiety over 2016, briefly touched on my experience in my first year of pastry school and mentioned that I’d gotten married. I was days away from starting my second year of school and might have been contemplating more blog posts, but then got lazy and decided that Instagram was the way to go. I’d post a big update once I finished school, then I didn’t and then time kept on passing and then it felt like it had been too long. I started to feel guilty about ignoring this space and then started to ignore the guilt and here we are. So let’s get caught up.

The first two months of my 2017 started with me going back to school and ended with my husband and me moving into a bigger place and the death of my car. While initially being worried about going back to school, I ended up excelling at my second year studies and other than the ridiculous final exam (which is a rant for another day) my grades were in the high 90’s. In an earlier draft of this post I went into extremely boring detail, but upon reading it I realized that the pictures of my progress would say more than I ever could. Besides, it was my third year studies where things started to get interesting.

 

Catching up, life, media and how I got the nickname Donut

Last I wrote here, I was preparing for my first day of pastry school. I was a little nervous, mostly at the prospect of failing at something I truly loved doing. The apprenticeship program for baking takes two years of school and condenses it into six months of training, partially because they expect you to have learned a lot from your work experience. I was enrolled in my first year training and it went great. In fact as I write this, I’m just eight days away from entering my second and third year training. That was eight months ago, so why the silence?

Well it was my plan to post once a week on what was happening with school, with lots of pictures and details into the inner workings of professional baking. The only problem was, I kind of got burnt out telling friends and family about school and I was posting stuff on instagram, so I was just going to do a big post at the end. Then the condensed nature of the course combined with a couple of real life things got the better of me. I got married, secret married, which we didn’t keep the secret for very long. One of my best ad dearest friends got married as well and since it was a real wedding it required more effort and organization.

I had tons of ideas for posts, but I was determined not to post anything until I’d actually said something about school. Only I didn’t know what to say, it had been so long. I was going to say something before Twenty-Four Hour Comic Book Day, but then because everything was so hectic in October I decided to do Inktober and Drawlloween instead. I did a few more drawing challenges, one was even Dungeons and Dragons themed, which might have made me look a bit obsessed if you didn’t know it was a themed challenge. They were simple enough, plus to participate I didn’t have to do the one thing I’d been avoiding for months and that was opening my laptop.

Some day I’ll look back and 2016 and I’ll laugh, because for me personally it was a pretty good year. This was the first time since my divorce in 2012 that I’d stabilized myself financially, I went back to school, I got married to the most amazing man I could ever imagine and other than blogging more frequently I kept most of my resolutions, however, there were a lot of horrible things that happened too. The American election caused me so much anxiety that I couldn’t bring myself to open my computer. I did everything from my cell phone and was able to keep informed, but stay away from most of negativity that seemed to be infecting the internet masses. All in all, the whole thing made me very happy to be a Canadian. Now that all of the election garbage is over (there doesn’t seem to be as much coverage now that the worst has come) it feels like I can open the computer without a barrage of internet bile filling the screen.

So here I am days from going back to school again without having really said anything about my first year. I think that I can sum up my first year of school in one story, the nickname story. From what I remember it was the second or third day of class that we put on our uniforms for the first time and got to go into our lab kitchen. We learned about and got a quick demo about each station were were going to be using over the next two months; this was all review for me except for the doughnut station. So when we got to the hopper and deep fryer, I jumped at the opportunity try out the new equipment. We made a batch of cake doughnuts that turned out really nice, but it was interrupted by an orientation that all apprentices had to attend.

On the advice of our teacher, we brought the doughnuts to the auditorium to feed the rest of our schoolmates. So along with two other classmates, I carried the tray of doughnuts through the pouring rain. For the most part they were shielded by notebooks, so they didn’t get too wet. They turned out to be a huge success and everyone ended up loving them…except for the three people that we missed, the guys from the apprenticeship board. And boy did they know that we forgot to give them their doughnuts.

Every question I asked during the assembly was met with ‘will you give us a doughnut if we answer?’, since I’d sort of made myself the ringleader of the doughnut tray. Seven weeks later everyone was getting ready for their exams and the apprenticeship board guys were back. As I was passing the gymnasium on my way to the train I ran into one of apprenticeship board members and he asked if we were bringing any doughnuts, I told him we weren’t but I could bring some if they wanted. Instead, he told me to make sure I passed my exam.

On test day the board members gave us our instructions which mainly included under no circumstances can you bring a cell phone into the exam, and of course I was grilled about not bringing doughnuts.We proceeded to the exam, which was one of the harder tests I’ve ever taken since it didn’t involve a whole lot of what we learned in school, instead more so on what we would have learned at work. As I handed my paper in one of the board members asked, “How’d the test go Donut?” to which I responded, “Pretty good.” And we decided that Donut (I like the american spelling better because it looks cuter…at least for a nickname) was a pretty good nickname. I like donuts, they’re cute, tasty and just a little bit bad for you. Plus it could have been a lot worse, I could have gotten the all popular cinnamon bun, which after years of making them is my least favourite of the baked goods. Seriously, I get really frustrated when someone or something is referred to as a cinnamon bun too good for this world. In the grand scheme of baking cinnamon buns are low brow and don’t require any real skill, doughnuts are high tech compared to cinnamon buns. Plus I think they’re gross, cheese buns on the other hand are a work of art.

So there’s school in a nutshell, not the most interesting of stories, but the experience was well worth my while and now that that’s out there, maybe I’ll get back to posting more than once every eight months.

Chocolate Making

I spent most of December rendering and making chocolates.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/574/54033156/files/2015/01/img_2467.jpg

I’m not a fan of eating chocolate, but I love working with it. Chocolate is one of the most versatile elements that you can experiment with baking wise. When I do eat chocolate I like to eat the filled ones. I particularly like the ones filled with ganache.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/574/54033156/files/2015/01/img_2472.jpg

So when I started making my own chocolates, I knew that they’d have to be ones with filling. Using some silicone ice molds, I managed to make a series of chocolates filled with everything from ganache to caramel to meringue fillings. My favourite fillings were the ones that were based on teas, in particular my Earl Grey ganache.

I think that chocolate making might be my favourite part of baking and I love almost everything about baking. It’s challenging, messy, fun and a great opportunity to be creative.

I had so much fun doing it that I went a little crazy with the molds.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/574/54033156/files/2015/01/img_2470.jpg

I’ve got fifteen so far and a ton on the way. Next step: rendering my own chocolate from scratch.

Thoughts on baking, gluten, why fad dieters are annoying and why its silly to get upset over other peoples dietary concerns

I’m a baker. My work day consists of the production of hundreds of baked goods, which need to be both delicious and good looking. It is by far the most physically demanding job I’ve ever had, but it is also the most rewarding. Over the past year I’ve learned a lot about the complicated production of bread and the finicky nature of baking in general. Did you know that a single loaf of bread takes over an hour to make, start to finish? There’s a lot of comparison of Chefs to artists, which if you look at a high end meals is absolutely true. So if Chefs are artists then Bakers are scientists. If you think I’m full of it, try throwing together a loaf of bread or a cake together without a set recipe, it won’t turn out great. There are a lot of ratios that need to be followed and chemical reactions that need to be observed, tests that can be performed to figure out if you missed a step…but I digress.

gluten-1

So Gluten, it’s been in the news a lot over the past few years. Outside of bakers and people that suffer from coelics or a gluten intolerance (which according to my research isn’t really a thing and is medically considered un-diagnosed coeliacs, but I’ve heard doctors refer to it as that so I’m considering it a thing) , most people don’t really know what gluten in. Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat and is the composite of gliadin (which is the trouble maker of the pair) and glutennin, combined with starch in the endosperm of various grasses and grains. It’s what give bread it’s elasticity, helps it rise and otherwise makes it awesome. Over the past year I’ve done a lot of different kinds of baking, including vegan and gluten free. I really like it, it give me a chance to challenge what I know about baking, adding and subtracting elements of known formulas to get similar results. To this day I’ve never been able to produce or have others produce for me a gluten free bread that actually tastes good. As a baker, taking gluten out of the equation is an amazing challenge because in my opinion gluten is the best part of bread.

At least once a week, someone will come into the bakery and rage about the evils of gluten and how we’re all bad people for producing and peddling the stuff. These people do not have a gluten intolerance, coeliac disease or a wheat allergy. These people are fad dieters and they are annoying. These are not people who are trying to create a healthier lifestyle for themselves, these are bandwagoneers who will put you down for not being up on the latest misinformation. Fad dieters are the most vocal people I’ve ever met (next to extreme vegans and atheists) they will let you know what they’re not eating and why you are a fat slob for eating it. They are the reason why there seems to be so much animosity towards people who actually suffer from coeliacs.

The majority of the people that I’ve met who have an intolerance or allergy to something put a lot of time and research into what’s afflicting them and what they can and cannot be eating. It’s not a trendy label that they’ve put on, its an inhibiting imposition that they’ll have to deal with for the rest of their lives. Most of them are pretty bummed that they have to give gluten up.

Unfortunately, as is the case with most things that become trendy and buzz-worthy, they get lumped into the group of fad dieters who haven’t done their research other than what they’ve seen on the covers of poorly researched books and side articles on the internet. They are the ones who come into a bakery and lambaste the staff for not carrying a gluten free option when unless you’re a gluten free bakery, it’s not really an option.

When producing a consumable product and taking allergies or intolerance into consideration, you have be all or nothing. If you are going to make a candy product without peanuts, then you’re entire production facility needs to be peanut free. The same goes for bread, because of the dust-like nature of flour and other mixing ingredients (including gluten) there would be no way to make a loaf of bread without cross contamination. Depending on the severity of the ceoliac, a hint of gluten can cause a variety of symptoms including nausea, migraine and diarrhea, which is the last thing anyone wants to put a customer through.

There are annoying people everywhere, in every group and walk of life. Look at vegans and vegetarians, most of them are reasonable people that just have different dietary beliefs from the norm. The same can be said about people who have religious dietary restrictions. Yet, I’ll still run into the occasional vegan or vegetarian who’ll condemn you for just thinking about meat, but that doesn’t mean the rest of them are jerks. Yes the fad dieters are annoying (has anyone else had someone go over how awful gluten is while enjoying a non-gluten-free beer?) but the fad dieters have always been annoying and always will be. No one should be condemned for what they can, cannot, choose or choose not to eat. So let’s stop getting mad at the gluten, meat, peanut and so on free requests and just roll our eyes and shrug off the fad dieters, because who knows that they’ll jump on next.

Crossover Scroll

I wanted to post my number one comic book hero at some point, but after a full day of work and day three of the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, I’m beat. I could post something quick, but I don’t want to half ass it. I also didn’t want to break my posting streak.

So in honour of food and comics, two of my favourite things, here’s a Crossover Cheese Scroll.

20140426-221403.jpg

At work we make two types of savory scroll, one pesto and one vegimite. We do both scrolls on a single head of dough, thus there’s always a middle scroll that is both. And while we can’t give it to customers, it’s super tasty.