Monday, October 24, 2016

A muffin is not a cupcake. I repeat. A muffin is not a cupcake.

Drunk with success from my first stint at Baking School, I went back for more. This time it was Muffins and Scones. The course was shorter, just 3 days long plus 1/2 a day for assessment.

My teacher for 3 days, Chef Tan was someone new to me. But I have previously seen him before, lurking in the kitchens. Chef Tan is pretty new to the school but has been in the baking industry for many, many years.

Our class was quite big, 11 of us and to be honest, sometimes it just got a bit too rowdy. As usual, we had people who didn't lift a finger to help out in the cleaning of common areas. After 2 courses, I've come to expect this kind of behaviour.

The first thing we baked was muffins. When I say muffins, I don't mean the English muffin. I am referring to the American muffin. We all know muffins, rite? Rite? Wrong. I thought I knew muffins. I've eaten muffins. I've bought muffins. During the course, we were told, muffins and cupcakes have the same "body", as in the batter is the same. The method in which the batter is made is exactly the same.

You're kidding me.
The world has turned upside down.
Pigs are flying.

So what's the difference between a muffin and a cupcake then?
According to the school...

If a muffin has topping such as icing, cream, chocolate, it becomes a cupcake! Muffins usually has ingredient fillings instead.

So, using that explanation, if I were to bake a plain muffin and a plain cupcake, all I have to do is make ONE batch of batter and pour some into a muffin tray labelled "muffins" and they will be plain muffins. Pour some of the same batter into another muffin tray labelled "cupcakes" and they will be plain cupcakes.

Am I wrong or is this total bullshit? Please help me out here. I find it impossible to accept that muffins and cupcakes have the same "body".

So what's my idea of cupcakes and muffins? And this is not something I pull out of the sky but based on my years of eating cupcakes and muffins. A cupcake is a mini light cake. A muffin has a heavier, denser texture. You guys watch Seinfeld before? You must surely know Jerry Seinfeld's "You know a muffin can be very filling." It's true. My son, he eats 5 cupcakes in a row. Nothing. Give him one muffin and he's done. If you try to get him to eat more, he'll tell you, "You know a muffin can be very filling."

Ingredients for my fake-muffin.

The batter was made unsurprisingly as if I was making a cake.

I've seen this exact same batter before in my cake course.

Muffins are baked. Or cupcakes. Whatever.

The fake-muffins cupcakes were surprisingly good. My son ate them. My daughter ate them. My daughter's friends ate them. Hubs' colleagues ate them. I made them 3 times during the course.

When it came to scones, I was a little more open minded since I'm not a scone person and have probably eaten scones once or twice in my entire life. Still I was a little surprised the first batch of scones came out very bread-like. The first time I ate it, I thought it tasted pretty good. Well maybe anything straight out of the oven tastes good. The next day I tried eating another one and I could. Not. Swallow. It. The scones weren't popular with hubs' colleagues either and we ended up throwing them away.

It became clear pretty soon that many of the students in my class were questioning the scones recipe. Like why does it taste like bread. Why?

On Day 3, I decide to be a rebel and not wear my white shirt which is part of our "uniform". I wore my Metellica Uniqlo raglan sleeve and when I opened the classroom, I was shocked to see a total stranger addressing the class. It turned out to be the principal and I was wondering if he had come to talk about our attire. Nope, he had come to explain why the scones tasted like bread. I forgot what the explanation was but what came out of the principal's presence was we got to modify the scones recipe. And no, he didn't say anything about me not wearing my white shirt.

These scones had more fats and tasted slightly better than the previous batch.

These scones were baked on assessment day and the recipe was different again. Firstly, the size of the cutter was changed and the amount of fats was lower than the 2nd batch. The taste was quite good. However on the following day, I put one in the microwave oven and the inside turned hard as a rock. I think I should have microwaved it with a saucer of water. Anyway I ate one without warming it and it didn't taste bad at all.

I found the method of making scones quite new and exciting. First, the dough is mixed for a very short period of time until it pulls away from the mixer. This sticky dough is rested for 20 min. Later it is floured and folded. The ingredients goes into the dough and folded again. (I really struggled with manipulating the dough. After a lot of practice, I think I finally got it.) The dough needs another 20 min rest and the scone cutter is used to cut out the shapes. A final rest of 20 min. Lastly, apply egg wash and the dough goes into the oven. Whew!

The assessment wasn't as bad as Cake. We only had to bake muffins and scones. The theory (oral) which I detest wasn't too bad either. I really, really hate studying for it though. Like super hate, hate. It's impossible for me to memorize all the keywords! I struggled with one question, as always. The tester kept saying: more, more. I had nothing more but managed to cough up the answer, somehow. And so I passed Muffins and Scones.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Performance Series #4

This morning, hubs and I woke up at 6:45am, put on our running gear and took a taxi to Bedok Reservoir for our fourth Performance Series run. Bedok Reservoir is in the eastern part of Singapore and quite far from my home. The taxi fare came up to $25.

Want to hear something funny? Last Sunday hubs and I woke up at 6:45am, put on our running gear and took a taxi to Bedok Reservoir for our fourth Performance Series run. Except we went on the wrong day! It was so funny and embarrassing. And stupid because we could have slept in.

We have been lucky the last 3 runs. The weather was good. This morning it rained. It didn't rain where I live but it rained badly at Bedok Reservoir earlier in the morning. When we arrived, we saw a lot of runners queuing up. There was no sight of any crew from the organisers. Usually they are around to guide you to the starting point. We asked someone and he said the runners in Wave 1 did get to run but halfway, the route was cut short and the run was cancelled. If you are a competitive runner, you will be in Wave 1. For runners in Wave 2 and 3, the organisers had not yet decided to go ahead with the run. When we were at the park, the ground was wet but the rain had stopped quite a while.

So we waited.
I had brought my hat because I was expecting sun. I guess I should check the weather app before leaving home. I felt kinda silly wearing a hat in cloudy weather so in the end I put it in my fanny pack.

Finally, it was announced that runners in Wave 2 and 3 would run together. Hubs is in Wave 3. I had 45 mins to kill for my 5km run. While waiting I people watched.

This couple in the 10km run came with a PRAM. They were denied entry. I don't know if they managed to run later.

This group of runners came very late for their 10km run. The crew was about to close the lane. And they hadn't even put on their bibs and time chips!

A bride and groom came with their entourage for a photo shoot. They didn't care the ground was wet and muddy. Well, wait till they see the laundry bill!

Finally it was my turn to run. It was pretty uneventful.
Just the usual few assholes elbowing their way through the path. It's always the guys who do it. Women are nicer runners.

I got sand in my shoes because we ran on a sandy path for a short period.

I ran into hubs along the way.

My timing was nearly 42min. I could have gotten a better timing if it weren't for the slope we had to run up in the last 1.5km. I'm bad at slopes and it knocked the wind out of me.

Oh, I ran into Spidey.

Do you remember a long time ago I had a photo taken with a Abercrombie and Fitch model (see post here) and I was a little awkward wondering how to pose, should I put my hand on this waist? The same thing happened here. See my left arm. I was about to grab him by the waist!

One more run to go and all my medals will form the island of Singapore.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Baking School

I did the craziest thing this week. I signed up for a 4-day boot camp to learn to make cakes at a baking school. Originally I had signed up to do the 4-day bake bread course but due to my having to recover from gallbladder surgery, I had to withdraw. Since then, there hasn't been another bake bread course so I did the next best thing (in my mind) and opted for cakes instead.

I have baked maybe 2, 3 cakes in my whole life and they turned out really bad. I did not attend Home Economics in school and well, you get the picture. Before I attended the course, I was a little nervous but I had no idea how hard the next 5 days would be.

This is chef James. He was our teacher for the first 2 days. On the first day only 4 students showed up so it was a really small class. We went through the orientation, safety stuff and a bit of theory. The theory bit, I really blanked out at first. I don't know if it's because I haven't been to school for a long time but if I listen to someone speak, I fall asleep. If I watch a Craftsy class, the same thing happens. I get sleepy. Youtube videos are easier because they are shorter.

I tried my best to pay attention because this is a Workforce Skills Qualification (WSQ) course and for my age group, 90% of the course fees is funded by WDA(Workforce Development Agency). In order to get this funding, you need to attain 75% attendance and pass the practical and oral test on the 5th day.  I didn't want to fork over $540, so I worked really hard to keep up. The remaining 10% of the course fee ($102), I paid using my Skillsfuture credit account which the government had topped up with $500. So I got to learn to bake cakes for free!

This is the baking room we used on the first 2 days. Getting used to the baking room took me a while. You have to learn how to use the mixer, the oven and weighing scale.

What we wear in the baking room is a white shirt with sleeves and collar, black pants and covered shoes. Of course we wear a kind of netting over our hair (see chef Jame's photo) and a plastic apron. No jewellery is allowed but I forgot and wore my fitbit on the first day.

Baking my first cake was the most frightening and exhilarating experience of my life. I felt like I was standing still most of the time (not knowing what to do), yet at the same time I had to keep treading water to stay afloat. You know that kind of feeling? After a briefing, the chef said to start and everyone scrambled. I barely knew what to do.

When I finally got to the stage where I could use the mixer, it was a relief. You have to gather all your ingredients first (mise en place) and that took a while!

The first cake we baked was pound cake and we used the creaming method. If you don't do the creaming method correctly, your cake can go very wrong! We made one plain cake and one marble cake. I think they turned out not too bad!!! Hey, I never knew pound cake had a 1:1:1:1 ratio for eggs, fat, sugar and flour.

Chef James was very particular about scraping down your batter and he insisted we remove the paddle each time we scraped down. I really struggled with the mixer! Removing the paddle, putting it back, putting the mixer bin back, it's extremely tedious. This is not a machine you use in your home kitchen.

We also made another batter cake using the All-in method. This is an easier method compared to the creaming method. What we used to help the process was milk and glycerine. Apparently, glycerine is the magical ingredient. But I don't like the taste of the cake. It's too soft for me compared to the cake made using the creaming method which tasted more natural.

Day 2 We baked cheesecake. It's a real pain I tell you. First you have to build the support for the metal ring using cling wrap and foil. Next the biscuits and butter as the base of the cake which need to be chilled. Lastly, the mixing which had to be done in a particular order. Finally it had to be baked using a water bath method which means you put the cheesecake on top of a tray of water. The trick to cheesecake apparently is to use warm water and to add ice cubes to the water to prevent it from getting hot.

I don't know how my cheesecake turned out because I can't eat cheese. My girl said it's "normal" but she's not a cheesecake fan.

We also baked a sponge cake using the foaming method. For this cake, we made it with a partner so to be honest, I don't have a good memory of how it's baked. I do remember we had to use a hot water bath (put your batter bowl over another bowl of hot water) and stir and whip the crap out of it. Finally the machine did the rest of the work. A very tedious method if you ask me.

I want to be honest with you about the first 2 days. I did not burst into tears but I wanted to. The chef criticized me a number of times. It was good really because it helped me become better. However, when he asked me how I was possibly going to pass my test on Friday, my heart sank. It didn't help that the other 3 students had way more experience than me so I looked really bad next to them. I told hubs how bad things looked and he said he would pay the course fees if I failed. That took a bit of the pressure off but I still wanted to try as hard as I could.

Day 3. OMG, I wanted to walk out of the course. We had a new chef instructor, chef Gan and he was more comfortable with Mandarin. I made him speak English which was heavily accented and I barely understood him. But that was not why I wanted to walk out. The language thing, I slowly got used to and sometimes I spoke to him in Mandarin because I do have some Mandarin listening skills! I don't have much memory of Day 3. I think I blanked out sometime before lunch. We baked and baked and baked. Non-stop. We also used a new kitchen. The oven was different. The chef was scary.

I know we baked a sponge cake again because the chef wanted to compare it with the sponge cake we made on day 2. This time we used the All-in method which as you remember uses emulsifier and produces a finer (more unnatural) texture.

Here's chef Gan doing the critique. My foaming method sponge cake is on the right. See the air pockets? The other cake made using emulsifier looks smoother. (I think mine is better)

We made swiss roll. Not once but twice.

This is my swiss roll. It tastes better than it looks. It has emulsifier which makes it very soft. The second time we made the swiss roll, the chef jazzed it up a little by teaching us how to use piping to create patterns. I forgot to take pics because I had no energy or time to remember.

The last cake we baked was marble cake again using the creaming method. Chef Gan taught us another method to pipe in the chocolate.

On Day 3, I felt baking 4 cakes was a bit too much for my brain. I felt completely drained and in the middle of baking the 2nd swiss roll, I toyed briefly with the idea of walking out. What made the day very hard was I lost my mixing bowl. It turned out the chef had lent it to someone and I ended up having to use the bread mixer which was very heavy and the machine was different from the one I had used previously. So something new to learn again while I was already so freaking tired. Also the oven was confusing. And the chef was angry a lot. This guy scolds. He did not really scold me. Well, maybe once I thought he was gonna lunge at me. He did yell at someone else. I happened to be near him and felt the sting of his anger. Anyway, did I mention I attended this course with an old friend? I think having her around really helped me and in the end because I had her to talk to I just kept hanging on.

Looking back, Day 3 was really important because chef Gan trained us to bake 4 cakes in a day. Because on Day 5 we had a practical test where we had to bake 4 cakes.

Day 4 was chiffon cake day. It's a difficult cake because failure is obvious. Your cake does not rise. This cake is very sensitive. So many things can go wrong. We baked a pandan chiffon cake and later we baked an orange flavoured chiffon cake. I'm quite amazed myself both my cakes turn out okay. Either the chef is a very good teacher or I'm not a bad baker after all. By the way, the cakes are freaking delicious. So soft and fluffy.

In the afternoon on day 4 we baked another cheese cake. We learnt a couple new tricks. The rest of the day we went through theory preparing for our test on Day 5.

On Thursday night, I realised I was terrible with the theory. There's some notes given to us and we had to learn them because the theory (oral) questions would come from the notes. I went through the notes a few times yet I couldn't really remember much. Finally I decided to go to bed. On Day 5, it rained very heavily. Of course. On the train, I quickly went through my notes again and this time, I felt I could remember better. Anyway, the practical test came first and I had to get through that.

It was freaking nerve wrecking. Our tester brought us to the bread kitchen. Thank god we had been using that kitchen the past 2 days so I was familiar with it. We were given our test paper and we had to bake 4 cakes - batter cake, sponge cake, chiffon cake and cheesecake. The test paper only includes the ingredients and very basic instructions like "Prepare to bake batter cake." There are no temp, timing instructions given.

I don't know how I did it but I managed to bake all 4 cakes. We also had to prepare one more batter but we only had to show the tester the batter.  So amazing! The other 3 women were super fast. I was so slow. But I decided I must not rush because I did not want to make any mistakes. Finally, the nerve wrecking part. After de-moulding our cakes, we brought them to the tester. She went through my cakes and gave her critique. She was really nice and wanted it to be a learning journey for us. While she critique, she also taught. All my cakes had no problems. I only had two execution issues. I did not cut my swiss roll evenly. And my cheesecake had a crack on the surface. The tester blamed it on the method we were taught and gave us tips to achieve a better surface. (use ice-cubes!!!) Then the oral test. That was crazy. I managed to answer all the questions correctly but was stumped on 1 question. She asked me to look at my batter cake to find the answer and amazingly by looking at the cake, I was able to give the right answer! I don't know how. The Universe willed the answer to me! So I passed! I passed! Do you know you can't fail a single question? If you do, you have to retake the test all over again or fork over the course fees.

Honestly, this course is ridiculously hard. How I managed to go through it, bake all the cakes during the test and answer the questions correctly is beyond me. I felt like I was a person running for my life while a tiger was behind me.

The tester said for someone like me without much baking experience, this course was a bit hard. I should have started with something easier like cookies. Ah so.

Here's me, my old friend in the middle and a new friend. Despite all the hardship, I enjoyed myself. I learnt so much in one week. But I won't be making cakes for a while because you know, I don't think I can stand the sight of another cake. Also, I realise how important the mixer is. I have a kiddy plastic mixer at home and I doubt if it will achieve the same result. So until I get a real mixer, I'm not going to try baking cakes at home. I also feel sorry for my family who had to eat a lot of cake this week.
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