Sweet Spots: Learning Pastry

Institue of Culinary Education


Sweet Spots:

Learning Pastry

Article & photography by: Sara Tane

The most common question that I’ve been asked since I’ve started culinary school at the Institute of Culinary Education is “Do you get to learn about pastry?!” The answer is yes! In fact, there’s a whole module dedicated solely to baking & pastry, and that happens to be module that I’ve just completed. Heading into the module, there were definitely mixed feelings about this chapter of school among my classmates and I. Some were VERY excited to dive deep into breads, cakes, and other sweet treats, while others couldn’t bear the thought of meticulously measuring ingredients and following rigid recipes. 

I probably fell somewhere in the middle of these feelings. Growing up, I baked ALL. THE. TIME. My mom and my aunt Lisa are great bakers, so I learned from them, and I’ve always loved making desserts for holidays and special occasions. Somewhere along the line, I got into savory cooking.  Admittedly, I don’t bake *a ton* in my adult life, but whenever I get around to it, I certainly enjoy it. 

All of this is to say that the pastry module did NOT disappoint! I mean, on the first day, we were tasked with a blueberry muffin exercise. How did they know that this is my FAVORITE kind of exercise?! Over the course of several weeks, we learned about so many different classic goods and pastries--scones, quick breads, yeasted breads, laminated doughs, custards, tarts, mousses, marshmallows, cream puffs, ice cream, and cakes. My favorite aspect about this module was the sheer expansiveness of the ‘zerts that we made. So! Many! Sweets! Our class also lucked out because we got the immense pleasure of learning from both Chef Jeff and Chef Alex--both of whom I’m pretty sure are the two nicest, most knowledgeable pastry chefs around.

Even though I have baked countless desserts over the course of my life, there was still plenty of technique-driven methods that I had yet to learn. Did you know there’s a reason why you’re not supposed to stir the living daylight out of cake and muffin batters? Overworked flour leads to tough baked goods which leads to immeasurable sadness. Did you know that sugar provides much more to baked goods than just sweetness? It caramelizes under heat, speeds the growth of yeast, acts as a preservative, and helps to incorporate air when creaming butter. Wow, thanks sugar!! Did you know puff pastry has 729 layers of folded dough?! Yup--seven hundred and twenty nine layers!! Now that’s flakier than your friends that always bail on plans at the last minute. 

One of the classes that I have been looking forward to the most out of the entire program was making croissants. I’ve never attempted to make them before, and one of my favorite things to do is to look at all the crazy cross sections on Instagram. We made the laminated dough over several days in order to achieve those flaky layers. This process definitely tested my patience and attention to detail, but it was all worth the wait. They might not have been as intricate the ones that I’m fawning over on my phone screen, but they were still delicious! I’m pretty sure I was made up of 90% butter for the few days after that class, yet still, I regret nothing.

Now that the pastry module is behind us, that means only one module remains! How did we get here already?! The fifth and final module includes fermentation, curing, charcuterie, pâtés, and then we’ll tie the whole curriculum together with market basket cooking. I’m definitely excited to get back to savory foods (mostly because I need to start eating things other than croissants and muffins for dinner) but I am very grateful that the Culinary Arts curriculum includes a pastry section. Here goes the home stretch!