Archive | August, 2012

Back to Basics-Working in Germany as a Cupcake Konditorin

1 Aug

So although I have been keeping you all abreast of the things I have been participating in, there have not been many ‘Ah ha!’ developments, until today of course!

So yes, I have been blogging but I haven’t told you the big news! I have secured a kitchen share! It’s totally awesome and great and I share with a lovely Konditor, Herr Kay who has been in the biz of cakes and breads as the business has been passed down the generations since the 1800’s. He kindly has invited me to his Backstübe (kitchen) so that I can bake my cupcakes and share them with you all as a cupcake Konditorin in Frankfurt.

The magical big kitchen!

The place is 30 minutes outside of Frankfurt and is just perfect in a small village and a paddock with horses in the old Fachwerk (timber) house next door, who always greet me with their serious horse faces as I pull up to bakery every morning.
I go there to bake cupcakes as well as to hone those baking skills, you know, bring to life all those youtube videos I have seen on cake making. The wonderful thing I appreciate about Herr Kay is that he gives me just enough rope to hang myself but then as soon as I am on the precipice of doing it, he saves me and shows me how it’s really done. So without interfering or condescending, he shows me the ropes, the good kind of ropes that is.

Where all the magic happens! My perfect little space in the kitchen!

Today, I made a triple batch of buttercream. And well it looked like it always does. More yellow than white, due to the brand of butter and the brown vanilla paste that goes in. It’s also full of air bubbles which I have trouble to knock out since I only use a hand-mixer for a triple batch, but hey what the heck. So my mission today was to learn how to make a cake. It is my first cake. Just for fun and to try out some new skills.

After watching countless youtube videos, I decided I needed some serious tools for cake making. I bought a leveler which has those little bubbles to tell you if your angle is perfectly horizontal, a right angle measuring tool, a huge spatula, a little spatula, a turntable, a mat to go under the turntable and a bench scraper. So after all that I felt pretty secure that I would make an awesome cake. You would too, right?

After baking Peggy Porschen’s vanilla sponge recipe, cutting it into un-level layers which were perfectly indicated as un-level by my handy leveler, I layered them with my yellow air bubbly buttercream and with expensive raspberry jam and threw the slightly slanted thingie in the fridge.
Shortly after, Herr Kay comes over to look at the leftover buttercream that is to go around and all over the cake after the central layers have set up in the fridge for a bit. He looks at it and says, your buttercream is not finished.And I say: “Sure it is. It always looks like that.”

He repeats: “It’s not ready.”

After touching it gently he says: “It’s too cold. It’s too yellow and it not properly bound together.”

To which I say: “It’s always yellow. It’s the butter I use. It’s the vanilla paste I use. It’s the hand-mixer that’s not strong enough to get the air bubbles out.”

To which he responds: “It’s not a finished buttercream. Use the heat gun just a little to warm up the buttercream and continue to beat it with the hand-mixer.”(The heat gun looks like an actual hairdryer, but it’s actually much hotter and used to temper stuff with a hot wind heat shall we say which is less aggressive in temperature as say a microwave is.)

So not trusting Herr Kay’s advice, I put the the buttercream back in the fridge so it can set up hard and is easier to slather onto my cake. I go back to my work station and start to tidy up. Thinking, hmmm, maybe, Herr Kay has a point….So I wash my hands, keep tidying, and finally, I say, screw it. I’m going to listen to him.

I take the buttercream out of the fridge and get the heat gun on it while beating the buttercream with the hand-mixer. Nothing really happens but Herr Kay takes notice just as I am about to give up. He brings the heat gun closer to the buttercream while I use the handmixer. Slowly and right before my eyes, the buttercream, starts to bind beautifully into the silkiest silk you have EVER seen. It no longer yellow but a silky white!! The texture is silk-a-fying and takes on a luxuriously elastic quality. No air bubbles!! Just smooth white buttercream!!

I look at Herr Kay, wide-eyed with excitement as I see my little hand-mixer make the best buttercream I have ever made in my life, right before my eyes!! I can hardly believe it! But I thought the butter made it yellow and the vanilla paste…but my hand-mixer isn’t powerful enough to handle such a job! But sure enough, Herr Kay was right. The only thing we changed was the temperature through the heat gun and it worked like a magic wand!

So after seeing all my tools, Herr Kay explained to me how he learned to fully craft a cake with just one tool: a knife. A long palette-like knife, but nevertheless, just a knife.

And after taking pity on me and my cake covering skills with my new-found perfect buttercream, he showed me how it was done. Using just one tool, not a single one more.

The last lesson of the day came when HE had finished frosting the whole cake. He looked at the four layers and commented on its height. The cake measures about 4 inches which is exactly what I was going for. A wonderfully tall cake like those bakers all over the world create and which I totally adore.

Upon seeing it’s final height, Herr Kay said to me: “To be honest I think when it comes to putting fondant on this cake, you may really struggle. You should really have started with a very lowl slightly domed cake which is much easier to cover. Then graduated to a two layered cake with sharper edges and then finally this one, which is super tall with sharp edges. It’s like with driving. When you first learn to drive, you have mini lessons in a parking lot, not on the highway or in a busy city centre.”

And at that moment, I realized he was absolutely right. Yes, I want to be just like my Cake Idols, but I need to take some baby steps first. I really have to learn to walk before I run. It’s so important to build skills in steps rather than just jumping into the deep end where I am likely to fail, get frustrated and miss out on a valuable learning curve that I would learn through a gradual process.

So really interesting revelations at the Backstübe (kitchen) heute (today). I have a lot to learn but I’m happy to do it and I am lucky enough to have found just the right person to help me to continue my cupcake journey!

Here are some pictures of my first cake!!

It was extremely delicious!! Technical issue: As you can see the frosting moat/border used to keep in the raspberry filling was a little too wide. Note to self: Use a smaller round tip next time!!

I am super excited to have booked a sharp edges course this fall, to learn how to get sharp edges on my cake!