CCA B&P Classes

These entries are bits and pieces of my experiences at the California Culinary Academy

Thursday, December 29, 2005


This is a work in progress. Many Blogs are written like a diary. That seems a little egocentric to me. This is the story of my experiences so will contain personal information. My intention is also for it to be educational. I find myself saying "Oh, REALLY!" or "WOW" frequently both when presented with information or when learning a new skill. When I make changes, I make them where they are relative, not in the most current entry. The only cake not pictured is the Opera Cake which we will finish after Christmas break.

Wedding Cake

This is my practice wedding cake. Boy did I learn a lot putting this together. This cake has fondant on it for an icing. Fondant is also called rolled sugar paste. It is just a very thick frosting that is rolled and handled like pie crust, using powdered sugar instead of flour.

The chef assigns the final cake. In my case, he did not want any holly or Poinsetta because Christmas is over.

Check back for the final version of a wedding cake.

Buche de Noel

This is the chef's cake.

And this is my cake. I got a little bit too much "Pittsburg" snow on the cake.

Happy Birthday Cake

This is Chef's cake.

The cake is devils food with a poured white chocolate ganache which started out as Italian Butter Cream. Pouring a glaze on a cake is quite a trick. Everything must be the right temperature. After you rapidly pour the glaze on you tip the cake to get the excess glaze on the top of the cake to slide off. If the glaze is too cold, it will ripple and leave ridges down the back side of the cake.

The rose, leaves, and Happy Birthday plaque are made from white modeling chocolate. That is some interesting stuff too. When it is warm, it is pliable and a little sticky. We roll it out with cornstarch rather than powdered sugar. When it is cold, it as hard as a rock. Chef Jake told us to pound it into smaller pieces and then massage them until they are warm and pliable and will stick together. This created quite a racket in the class room. One of the other students decided to wrap his lump in chef wrap (aka Saran wrap) and put it in his pocket until after lunch. I found out that the process works. I have no idea what my Safety and Sanitation teacher would say about this practice. Out in the real world there would not be time to use this warming process.

Invariably someone walks through our kitchen and says "I love this class. Someone is always having a birthday.".

This is my cake. I am happy I finished it at home during my winter break. It is less than perfect, but I learned something. I need the lettering for a competency so will make the scroll again with better lettering. I also need a modeling chocolate rose with 3 rows of petals rather than 1 as I did here.

If I scrape the frosting off this the kids will probably eat it since it is a devils food cake and I put a chocolate filling in it.

Mocha Torte

This dramatic cake is frosted with buttercream. Getting buttercream to look smooth like marzipan or poured ganach is difficult. In the tips for success post you will find some tips on how to do this. This was also a test of our piping skills. The chocolate squares stuck to the side are not as difficult to make as they look. The top pieces were scraps. They satisfy the height requirement for a decorated cake - something to poke your eye out - as the chef calls it.

I have not completed this cake yet either.

Princess Cake

Our chef chose to make it pink with Christmas Decorations because that is the season now.

Generally the princess cake is pale green with a white rose in the center. Often times it is a real rose.

The elaborately decorated princess cake is traditional in Sweden for a girl's sixteenth birthday.

Because it is a complex cake with several different components, the princess cake is a bakery specialty, but the adventurous home baker can make one by following this recipe from Gayle and Joe Ortiz's The Village Baker's Wife. It is made with a basic genoise, a French butter sponge cake. Gayle points out that although this cake has many steps, all of the components can be made ahead of time and the cake assembled on the day of the celebration.

This lovely cake calls for care in preparation. Plan your baking and assembling steps in advance and the result is a gorgeous, delicious cake.
PHOTO CREDIT: Kathryn Kleinman

Sacher Torta

This is an Austrian cake with a long and troubled history. Look below if you would like to read about it.

This is Chef's cake.

I nearly forgot to take a picture of mine but a friend caught me in the act of cutting it to take a sample home. This cake and the chocolate decadence have been the kid's favorites. They are skeptical of something that doesn't look like the cakes Mom used to make.

Sacher Torte History
For more than a hundred and fifty years it has been considered by many as the world's most sophisticated chocolate pastry, and the man who cooked it up was named Franz Sacher (pronounced "ZAHker") when he was 16 years old and working as an apprentice in a pastry shop in Vienna. At the time Prince Klemens von Metternich (1773-1859), a famous and powerful European diplomat, had tired of the usual whipped cream creations called "tortes" that were often served in Vienna, and in 1832 he gave word for his favorite pastry chef to come up with something different for a special occasion. Unfortunately, the chef had fallen ill on the day the pastry was needed, and the task fell to Franz Sacher (1816-1907) to fulfill the request. With the daring and enthusiasm of youth, he came up with a totally new taste in pastry -- two layers of a slightly bitter chocolate cake with a puree of apricot jam connecting them, and completely covered in a shiny dark chocolate glaze. For traditionalists, he added a dollop of the ubiquitous whipped cream Austrians call "schlagober" to the side of the cake, and that's the proper way to serve the pastry even today

The cake was an immediate success and the Sacher Torte became popular throughout Vienna, where Franz Sacher continued making it. In 1876 his son Eduard Sacher opened the Hotel Sacher across from the Opera House in Vienna and continued the tradition of serving the torte his father created. Today pastry chefs all over the world know and serve the Sacher torte, but in Vienna, although the cake is made in countless cafes and bake shops, there are only two places where, by law, they are permitted to write the name "Sacher" on the cake (in chocolate of course) --- at the Cafe Sacher in the Hotel Sacher and at Demel's Coffee house, where they serve a slightly different version of the recipe created and sold to them by Franz Sacher.

Now, here's the surprise. Countless number of people have been to Vienna, sampled the Sacher torte there, and report that "it's dry -- it tastes like sawdust." Nevertheless, despite the fact that the original may well be an acquired taste, there are many adaptations and imitations that are delicious and give the torte an enviable worldwide reputation.

There are several similar versions of this history. I chose this one because it is the same as the history our chef gave us. The internet site where I found this is:


This is a German Cake. Zuger kirsch, a cherry flavored liquor, is made in a town in Germany called Zug.

This is chef's cake.

My cake is below.

This cake was not graded as a whole. It provided an opportunity to complete proficiencie such as 16 cut, or layering.

The decorations suffered some because chef was calling for cleanup, usually at 1:15.

Time is short for preparing the cake and some students are messier than others. In a class meeting I suggested that we clean as we go. Not many agreed, so we have a chaotic 45 minutes at the end of each day. We have to keep track of our tools too which some days is difficult. I have lost my measuring spoons and my rolling pin.

Chef Ken said that the best way to change practices in the kitchen is to set an example. Rules are difficult to enforce in the environment we are in. We want to remain friends but each of us is scrambling to get the work done. Less pushy students run the risk of not finishing their cakes.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Very Berry Torte

This is Chef Jake's cake. It is a very dramatic cake. We were learning how to make chocolate fans. They are considerably more difficult than chocolate curls. The cake is frosted with Raspberry Fool which is just whipped cream flavored with raspberry puree. In England, it is a dessert in it's own right. It is yummy. This cake construction is similar to a black forest torte.

This was a practice cake. We were not graded on it.

One of the guidelines for successful cake decorating is to have the decorations indicate the type of cake. Here we see chocolate and raspberries. The cake is chocolate and has raspberries and whipped cream inside.

My cake is in the freezer waiting for completion. Even though it is not requried for a grade, I want to complete this cake for the experience. It is also a very good cake.


This is Chef Jake's Cake

Also known as "Tuscan Trifle," the dessert was initially created in Siena, in the northwestern Italian province of Tuscany. The occasion was a visit by Grand Duke Cosimo de'Medici III, in whose honor the concoction was dubbed zuppa del duca (the "duke's soup"). The erstwhile duke brought the dessert back with him to Florence. In the 19th Century, zuppa del duca became popular among the English intellectuals and artists who lived there Consequently, it is also known as zuppa Inglese. They took the dessert to England, where its popularity grew. Zuppa del duca eventually made its way to Treviso, just northwest of Venice, in the northeastern province of Veneto. Treviso is best know for its canals, frescoes and . . . Tiramisu.

This one is mine. I still don't quite have the right technique with the chocolate curls.

White Chocolate Cheesecake

This is my white chocolate cheesecake.

Cheesecake is believed to have originated in ancient Greece. History has the first recorded mention of cheesecake, as being served to the athletes during the first Olympic Games held in 776 B.C. However, cheese making can be traced back as far as 2,000 B.C., anthropologists have found cheese molds dating back to that period. The Romans spread cheesecake from Greece to across Europe. Centuries later cheesecake appeared in America, the recipes brought over by immigrants. In 1872, cream cheese was invented by American dairymen, who were trying to recreate the French cheese, Neufchâtel. James L. Kraft invented pasteurized cheese in 1912, and that lead to the development of pasteurized Philadelphia cream cheese, the most popular cheese used for making cheesecake today.

This is the one our stand-in instructor, Chef Ken O'Neil, made. He was one of chef Jakes students and was so inspired by the class that he decided to bake cakes for a living. He also teaches the evening class (3pm -10 pm).

Chef Ken made this undecorated cheesecake. It is New York style. He was demonstrating crusts so this one has a crust. Typical NY style cheesecakes do not have a crust. A crust is formed by the baking technique.

Chocolate Decadence cake

This is the chef's cake. There is no frosting, just whipped cream decoration. It is more like fudge than cake.

This is my chocolate decadence cake. The chocolate curls on top should have been bigger. I used some that someone else made and she did not have the chocolate warm enough before she made them. We have 11 pound blocks of chocolate that we warm either with a heat gun or just the palms of our hands. Then we draw a chef's knife at a right angle across the top of the warmed chocolate. The curls are larger and darker if the chocolate is the right temperature.

Sunday, December 18, 2005


Cakes Class, taught by Chef Jake Ference, CEPC. CCE

This has been quite an experience! Each cake we make teaches us certain techniques. We make everything from scratch, including our own ladyfingers, marzipan and fondant. When I made Tiramisu I said to myself, once is enough! As it turns out, that was one of the easiest cakes to make.

We are now working on our wedding cakes. American wedding cakes are made for children. They are a fluffy cake with butter cream frosting. The cake we are making has some body to it, like a pound cake or fruit cake. The cake is covered with marzipan and then fondant. It almost looks like a plastic mold when done. It generally has been flavored with a liquor. I selected a pound cake with fruit. The traditional English wedding cake is a fruit cake, yes, FRUIT CAKE, which has been soaked in bourbon and aged up to 1 year, certainly no less than a couple of months. Then comes the one quarter inch thick marzipan "crumb coat", and an icing. Our chef made such a cake for a friend of his. She wanted royal icing on the outside. Royal icing is what is often used for decorations like roses on an American wedding cake. It dries as hard as a rock. That is exactly what the bride wanted. She was delighted with the cake. The top of the cake of course cracked when sliced – great. They serve pieces that are about the size of a finger because it is so rich. While the bride was happy, the relatives thought the marzipan coat on the top of the cake was too thin. It should have been 1 inch thick!

Our chef is quite a character. He is charming and kind. When he critiques a cake with you it is more like a consultation with you on what you could do to make it better. His demos are facinating. Besides showing us technique we often hear the history of the cake and even some of the world history surrounding the we are to make. He likes to sing and nearly anything can make a song come to mind. Soaking a cake layer three times with cake syrup usually brings on "Once, twice, three times a lady". Most days I come home with the theme from Green Acers in my head. I would never want to play 'Name That Tune' with him. It sounds like he speaks several languages but claims to only speak English. French is the language of cooking so we are learning proper pronunciation for French and German cooking terms. Many times he will present some information and then say "Ya?", to which we are expected to respond with "Ya!". This reminds me of home. Growing up in the Scandinavian and German Russian country in North Dakota I always used "ya" instead of "yes". My eighth grade math teacher refused to accept that for an answer however. No one graduated from that school saying "ya", at least not to that teacher. So, now I am learning to say it again. :-)

When Chef sprinkles powdered sugar on the cakes for decoration he says it is snowing in the Alps. If he sprinkles cocoa powder on too he says "Now it is snowing in Pittsburg.".
The scope of making a cake in class is sometimes mind boggling. One Wednesday morning I was thinking of what to say about my day in class when I got home. That day I was cracking and separating 60 eggs to make an Opera Cake. We were working in teams so had doubled the recipe. Many recipes make 2 cakes to start with. We have 20 quart mixers, 12 quart mixers, and 8 quart mixers. We can bake about 50 cakes at a time in the various ovens to accomodate all 24 students.

We learn terms like Baine-Marie (water bath), Bisquit a cuillere (lady fingers), and Miece en Place (everything ready before you start). I did not know until class that there are 5 different types of butter cream, American, French, Swiss, Italian, and German. We have no written tests, only competencies. We do not get graded on all of the cakes. Some are just for experience. Did you know that pound cake got its name because it has a pound of sugar, a pound of butter, and a pound of flour in it? I never made a pound cake before this class because I could not bear to put that much butter in a cake.

We have cooking rules. Tom's favorite one is "Kill no one, use pasteurized eggs and cream". My favorite is "Decorate to hide mistakes.".

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Safety and Sanitation

Chef Steve Dugan taught this class. He is quite serious but an excellent teacher. He had his moments though. When we were piping shells or beads he said to pipe them close together, "like dogs in the park". He talked about everything from metal shavings when opening a can to why not to eat seafood in a restaurant on Sunday. He also taught Piping and Knife Skills and Food Science. Organic chemistry must have been his favorite subject in college because he drew carb, fat, and protein molecules like mad on the board. Below are some bullets of information from his class. We learned all about the chemistry of gelatin, leavening agents, eggs, and the proper temperatures for cooking, storing and holding food, inspecting a professional kitchen and much more. It makes my head spin just remembering it.

To peak your interest in Safety and Sanitation here is a question with an answer that will surprise you. Which of the following are safe to eat when left out at room temperature for an extended period of time?
Alfalfa sprouts B
aked potato Watermelon slices Sandwich w/ pasteurized process cheese food slices and mayonnaise from your local store. The short answer is the sandwich. Store bought Mayo is not a potentially hazardous food any longer due to the processing now used. It is pasteurized and acidified with a pH level of 4.6 or less which makes it safe at room temp. Check out for more information on this subject. This question is # 4 of a food safety test you can take on the web site.

  • The first rule of cooking is: Don't kill anyone.

  • The white stringy stuff inside the egg white, connected to the yolk is called chalaze. Its purpose is to keep the yolk from breaking when the egg gets bounced around.

  • Splenda is created by replacing the hydrogen atoms in sugar with chlorine atoms. Dioxins are produced during the production of chlorine. Chorine itself is toxic.

  • Stevia a natural sweetener made from the leaves of the Stevia plant and has been used for 400 years as a sweetener. It must be sold as a "supplement" so it is not in direct competition with the sugar industry.

  • Cherries with the stem on indicate the pit is still inside

  • Knox gelatin is made from pig bones. Strict vegetarians do not eat this.

  • Ever since the introduction of high fructose corn syrup the rate of diabetes has increased dramatically. High fructose corn syrup is manufactured. It does not occur naturally.

  • Rhubarb leaves are poisonous. You can boil them to make a natural pest control spray.

  • Raw kidney beans and fava beans are poisonous.

  • Apple seeds, pear seeds, and apricot pits have cyanide in them.

  • Honey from bees that make honey from Rhododendron or Mountain Laurel flowers contains a poison that could kill you. Don’t give honey to children under the age of 3. Honey should be pasteurized.

  • The CCA uses 12,000 tasting spoons per week

  • You get electrocuted in the bathtub when an electrical appliance falls in because the salt (NaCl) in the water conducts electricity.

  • Wash your hands as needed or at least every 4 hours in the kitchen. Wash for 20 seconds (Sing Row Row Row Your Boat or Happy Birthday twice) while you lather and then rinse in the hottest water you can stand.

  • If there is enough sugar or salt in water it will bind the water and kill bacteria. In Russia they used to take sick people into the salt mines.

  • Clean a wooden cutting board with salt. The salt will draw the contaminants out. Best not to cut meat on a wooden cutting board. Use different boards for meats and vegetables.

  • Sanitize your kitchen counters by spraying with a very weak solution of bleach – 1 tsp bleach to a gallon of water. Let this air dry on the counter.

  • If you make lasagna in an aluminum pan and then cover it with aluminum foil for storage you have just made a battery.

  • Don't store acid food in cans in the refrigerator.

  • If you forget a Teflon pan on the stove and the temperature reaches 400 degrees you have created toxic smoke.

  • Never use galvanized metal or pewter to cook in. In the past pewter was dangerous to use because it had a high lead content, which would be leached out by certain foods and could cause lead poisoning.

  • Sugar will pull copper ions off a copper pot, so don't use copper directly with food.

  • Cast iron gives off iron when used which is a good thing, but clean all rust off before using.

  • Always run cold water in a kitchen with old pipes, even if you want hot water. Older buildings have some lead pipes. Hot water leaches more lead from the pipes than cold.

  • Don't mix bleach and ammonia. You generate chlorine gas which is toxic.

  • Puffer fish have no natural enemies and are so toxic that the chefs who are taught to prepare them must be Japanese or Thai. They go through many months of training on how to prepare the fish. Even then, the fist contains some toxin so you must eat only small amounts. The organs are so toxic you cannot touch them. All refuse is destroyed.

  • Watch for metal shavings when opening a can. Be sure to clean them out. For the same reason, don't use steel wool in the kitchen.

  • Don't rub stainless steel pots with an aluminum whisk – you will get aluminum in the food.

  • Most restaurants get fresh fish in the morning. Fish served Sunday evening was most likely delivered Friday morning and won't be at it's best and has the potential of being spoiled.

  • When you de-pan a cake, check the bottom for eggshells. If you dropped any in, they will be on the bottom.

  • Adding baking soda to a recipe and not adding acid will make the product bitter. Baking powder is baking soda with an added acid, usually cream of tartar, and a chemical agent that reacts to heat to make the cake rise.