Category Archives: Baking & Pastry Arts

Japanese Pan @ ABC Culinary

One of the highlights of my recent visit to Osaka, Japan was to meet up with Sachiko.  Where would you like to go?  I can spend time with you on my off days on 3, 6, 9 April.  Sachiko wrote in her email exchange with me prior my travel.

I got to know Sachiko along the streets in Adelaide in 1997.  Both of us were travelling alone ~ she on a 6 month working holiday (ie. work while travel) in Australia and New Zealand, and I was on 2 week holiday in Adelaide.  Since then, we visited each other’s country and home and had travelled within Japan and around Singapore together.

I would like to make Japanese bread!  I told her I would like to visit a Japanese pastry kitchen but since it was not going to happen, I was going to learn to make bread instead.  I found a culinary website by ABC Culinary, it conducts casual classes but I couldn’t understand the content in Japanese.  So Sachiko made the enquiries and we registered ourselves for Japanese pan (pan = bread in Nihon-go) making class for 500 yen.  500 yen?  Is it just demo?  500 yen is equivalent to US$5, and I was doubtful.  Yes.  Sachiko confirmed it cost only 500 yen and the session was hands-on.  The promotion price was meant for first time attendees at ABC Culinary Studio, as an incentive to understand their courses and join their membership and sign up for certification courses.  All the classes were conducted in Japanese, Sachiko told me she would translate for me.  Ha!

On that day of lesson, we were to bring our own apron, a pair of indoor slippers and a towel.

The Topic:  Mayonnaise Egg Pan and Cranberry Pan.


We met at Umeda branch of ABC Culinary Studio.  We were introduced to our Instructor, Yamaguchi-san.  Actually both of us didn’t catch her name, I translated her Japanese name in kanji from the photo.  It turned out that Yamaguchi-san speaks Japanese, English and Italian, and pretty fluent in them even though she humbly pronounced her insufficiency in the foreign languages.  It was interesting because Sachiko had picked up Italian language too, spending a half year in Italy a few years ago to learn the language.

The group ratio was 1 instructor to maximum 5 students.  In our session that day, there were only 2 of us.  All the different sessions for bread and cakes were ongoing at the same time in an open concept.  One working table was shared by 2 sessions.  Initially I was surprised, then I realized it was possible because the Japanese are generally considerate in their manners and behaviour. 

The recipe was in Japanese, so Sachiko helpfully translated for me loosely over dinner later.  I had also taken some notes during the session so it helped.  The steps were simple – mix all the ingredients together, knead well, 1st proof, roll into balls, 2nd proof, form the shape, 3rd proof, into oven done.  Over the 2 hours there, the proofing time was a time for coffee break, chit chat and washing the equipment used.  I was joking to Sachiko that I felt like a Japanese housewife instead of a student.

I shared my observation with Sachiko – I noticed the instructors and students acted in manner so different from the speed and actions in the kitchens I am familiar with, whether at CIAML, at home or the hotel.  Take for example, the act of egg washing the final bread dough, the action was meticulously slow and looked nice.   Sachiko told me that in their society, they are conscious of what others thought of their actions and behaviour.  We both agreed though that as long as we are doing right in principles we do not really need to bother too much.

At the end of the session, we each ate 2 breads, and got to bring back 3 others in varieties.  It was an interesting way to interact with a friend other than the meals we shared together.  I also learnt a basic Asian bread dough to make, bake and eat all within 2 hours.  Cool!


My Fascination with A Simple Sponge Cake ~ Castella!

I have this fascination with a simple sponge cake I found in Japan.  It is Castella or to the Japanese, Kasutera (カステラ).  It is Portuguese in origin but the Japanese made it popular … or rather it originated from pão-de-ló, a portuguese cake.  Most of the castella cake businesses started in Nagasaki, a port town in Kyushu, and which was naturally influenced by imports from foreign ships in its early days.

~ Original Castella Cake from Fukusaya ~

~ Original Castella Cake from Fukusaya ~



In my first few weeks at CIAML, I asked Chef Sebastien about this cake.  I guess Castella is not popular outside Japan.  The other country where Castella is popular is Taiwan, since the country was previously occupied by Japanese for years in her history.  I wanted to know how the cake can be so evenly baked and cut.  I passed Chef a cd containing a pix of the cake, and a summary of some information I found on the net, and I believed he has not viewed the file on the cd yet.  Ha! 

During my recent trip to Osaka, I bought one from Fukusaya for BK and myself, and another bigger one to bring to the hotel where I was last attached to.  To many, it was just a 蛋糕,literally mean Egg cake.  Oh well, it is.  It is a sponge cake made of  sugar, flour and eggs, and starch syrup(?).  The original version is honey-flavoured.  Now it comes with Matcha flavoured and Cocoa flavoured.  Most of the pastry team at the hotel gobbled the cake before a second look, while a few appreciated the cake for the texture, taste, and simplicity.  Do you have the recipe?  The Pastry Chef asked.  I believed it is widely available on the net, it was the precision in baking resulting in a evenly flat cake and the packaging that made this cake special, at least to me.

I simply love it ~ a simple, honest and perfectly baked moist piece of art.   


Castella evenness

~ Castella evenness ~

It is a perfect cut!

BK and I shared half the cake over supper one night with hot milo, a local chocolate drink.  Then I got to finish the rest for breakfast over the last 2 mornings, because I got to wake up later than him to have a leisurely breakfast.  A light sugar crunch on the bottom, a subtle honey flavour, a light evenly fluffy texture, with a perfect flat brown top.

And the packaging ~ yes, you can trust the work of Japanese packaging.  Meticulously wrapped and boxed to keep the cubiod cake intact.

~ part of the packaging ~

~ part of the packaging ~


~ Castella box ~

I didn’t manage to take a picture of the full packaging, I was all ready to taste a huge mouthful.  Then another.  And another.


~ Matcha Castella from Bunmeido ~

~ Matcha Castella from Bunmeido ~

I searched in my digital pix collection and found a pix of the full packaging of a Matcha flavoured Castella I bought last year from Narita Airport, Japan.  I was transiting at the airport enroute from California to Singapore, and found the matcha version from 文明堂, or Bunmeido.  The Bunmeido version was pre-cut, also evenly. 

It is definitely not going to be my last bite for this simple sponge cake.  It was perfect-o!  My fascination continues

Tipsy Turvy @ Chocolate Academy, Chicago

Day 1 ~  My head spun, and I had a bout of sinus and a night of throbbing headache all the way till this morning when I returned for Day 2;

Day 2 ~ My stomach couldn’t take it anymore and I sat in class stoned for the last 2 sampling.  I drank 2 bottles of mineral water.  Now it appeared I have upset my gastric and I am feeling some discomfort back in my apartment.

…  And the interesting thing is:

This could aptly describe my last 2 days in a Chocolate-Wine- Scotch pairing workshop at the Chocolate Academy by Barry Callebaut in Chicago.  For a start, I am a non-drinker;  I loved my 70% cacao dark chocolate and disliked the milk counterpart.   But I enjoyed myself, as almost always.

Back on Sunday 7 Dec, I flew into Chicago for the 2 day workshop on Monday and Tuesday.  The original plan when I first signed up for this course was that I was just stopping over in Chicago en route my UA flight back to Singapore.  Yes, leaving Houston for Singapore after completing and graduating from the Culinary Institute Alain and Marie LeNotre on 21 Nov.  And Barry Callebaut had just opened the Chocolate Academy in September 2008, the first Chocolate Academy in the US, and the 12th around the world.  But alas, I confirmed the course, but could not confirm my UA flight for the Chicago-Narita leg and Narita-Singapore leg till last week.  I decided to ditch the flight plan, fly back Singapore direct from Houston on Singapore Airlines instead, which mean I will fly back to Houston after my workshop in Chicago, and fly out from Houston to Singapore the following day.

I arrived into Chicago on Sunday, the temperature was sub-zero, about -7 deg celsius.  That evening I went for a walk along the river, I was dressed warm with a layer of cashmere, a sweater, a woolen coat and a windbreaker, completed with scarf and gloves.   But my ears were freezing … BK had brought me my woollen cap that didn’t match my coat, so I refused to use it, and I didn’t bring to Chicago ;~  Hee.   That evening I slept at 8pm, accumulated sleep debt again but it was good 8 hour sleep and I was wide awake at 4am.

I arrived at the Chocolate Academy @ W Chicago, a few blocks from my hotel.  I was met by Dora, she is the business manger and coordinator at the Chocolate Academy – Dora graduated from the French Pastry School and had previously worked in a number of hotels.  Then we were introduced to the instructor for the workshop – Chef Paul Feaver from Canada.  He had flown in the day earlier as well. 

Chef Feaver’s Introduction.  Chef Feaver lives in eastern Canada, and he works as a GM and chef at a restaurant.  His professional life revolves around being a GM of a restaurant business, and chef in charge for the restaurant,  instructor and ambassador for the Chocolate Academies in Canada and Chicago, and spend time researching and developing ideas and materials for new courses – he called it crazy schedule but he clearly enjoys the adrenaline rush and like he said or he will get bored.  He is the creator of this course, and this is the first time the course was ever conducted by the Chocolate Academy, so he encouraged us to ask him loads of questions, shared with him how we want to move along etc.  Depending on response, he may be creating advance follow up to the course but that could take at least another year – pairing choc with tequila, with beer etc.  And why chocolate and wine?  It was created by fluke – like all creations and discoveries, isn’t it? – he was at a trade show and the booth next to his was serving wine, he tried some with choc – some worked, some didn’t – and this was how it all started.  Then, he has been learning wine for the last 11 years already.  In his professional life, he was blessed with a 5 month break from restaurants and kitchens … where he spent time learning, and put things together.  He never liked Maths and Chemistry but now he enjoys them in a whole different scale.  Cool!  If our education system can be taught the same way, but again we may not be ready to appreciate the depth till we discover we are ready one fine day.  Now he get paid to enjoy what he likes.

More about Chef  Feaver ~ He is from New Finland(?), the most eastern part of North America.  He is of French, Scottish, and English origin (think I missed another part to this).  He spent 22 years in Opera, and 22 years in the industry, and … by 11 Dec he will be turning 38!    He said, go do the Math.

Six of us attended the sessions:  Jill and Lori from Pair Chocolates – they are already pairing chocolate and wine in their business working for their company but were at the session to learn more;  Eric, Assistant Pastry Chef from Hyatt Orlando;  Neil – a wine enthusiast who would like to own his choc and wine business;  And Rieko – a choc business owner who previously attended the French Pastry School and now supplies luxury chocolate to airlines, corporate and  sales.  Had a chance to speak at length to some of them … inspiring indeed.

What we learnt during the 2 days?  Nosing and tasting, more nosing and tasting, and more …  The first thing in eating is nosing, as the smell goes over the tongue first, Chef Feaver said.  The hardest is getting over something we personally do not like but it is not all about Me?, it is about the consumers we are serving.  In learning, Chef Feaver reinforced there is never a failure, never a mistake if we learn from it, it is always a learning process … quoting Thomas Edison in his discovery of light bulbs – we will learn the ways not to do to make it work.  In the process of teaching, he shared that he does not know everything, he is learning continuously from his students too, so he is also a student at the same time, he will continuously learn or he will get bored.

The 5 Primary Elements of Tastes.  1.  Sweet.  2.  Salty.  3.  Bitter.  4.  Sour.  5.  … and he excluded Rieko and me from the question he posed to the class as Asians has the taste in our culture.  Huh?  The 5th basic taste is Umami– a Japanese term – a fresh, cleansing taste … Chef Feaver said it is a clarifying taste, the process of blending things together, a negative spice …  To me, I have always accepted as part of our cooking and I never thought it was unique to Asians and I must have heard of this term but I don’t remember it.  Now I do.  He gave us a secret ingredient – a negative spice – to neutralize the taste if we add too much of one component in our recipe (so it shall remain a secret here!  I am not telling unless you are my worthy friend ;p).  Like Rieko, I enjoy and will continue to experiment with pairing Asian ingredients to the basic recipes I have learnt.  It is fun.

Day 1.  After a morning of theory on Chocolate and profiles of specific grapes … Chef Feaver said “Let’s go for lunch now, before we come back and … drink!”  To laughter.  And it was the beginning of more laughter the whole afternoon through and a hilarious session.  For choc-wine pairing, we were to pair both choc and wine profile that balance and equalise.

“Nose the wine, nose the choc, then eliminate, then tasting them, it will be more accurate” … ‘Don’t make it too complex in taste” … “Always pick choc, then pick the wine” … “First sip to cleanse, second sip to taste” … “2 ways to clear and refresh your senses – 1. coffee beans.  2. … smell yourself” (oh!! … Reason being that our body smell is something we are used to and is neutral to us, so when we smell ourselves, it makes the mind go blank and relax, which numbs and clears our senses from other smells … interesting!) … “if you are serving a flight of wine for tasting, always starts from mildest to heaviest … if you put champagne, that is the first thing to taste”…

By 5th testing of white wine, and 1 more to go … I was sniffling.  Chef Feaver said the wine must have set off my histamines and my sinuses started acting up.  I was feeling cold, my face flushed.  “You ok?”  Chef Feaver asked, and the class laughed.  Neil, seated next to me, asked me to drink more water.  In getting our response to a question he asked, the Chef said to the class, “What did you see in front of me?”  I see *Stars!… to more laughter, he was expecting us to say “chocolate”.  Then we have 3 red wine tasting to go, the first one must have set off an allergic reaction – my skin showed red pores, and my skin started to itch.  Chef Feaver identified that I may be allergic to the sulfide, the preservative which is not present in white wine or melalactic acid, which is present in red wine.  Other than these differences, the white has no stem, no seed, and no skin added.  

For someone who doesn’t like milk chocolates, you are doing pretty well.”  I think my mind is confused, chef… more laughter.  He explained that our concept of milk chocolate come from candies … he would let children eat directly from a bag of chocolate anytime – will not set off any hyperactive reactions etc, choc being 10x more antioxidants to red wine and berries.  During the pairing session, I tried 3 types of milk chocolate – Ghana Milk (Cacao Barry 40.5%), Arriba (Callebaut 39%), Java (Callebaut 32%), still can’t say I like them on its own compared to the dark chocolate but I do like specific wine and milk chocolate pairing.  I actually enjoy them.

By the end of the session on Day 1 … “Chef, I can’t hear you…” … “Chef, whatever you say, can you say it again?” … I was no longer thinking … and I guessed I repeated the requests a couple of times, to more laughter.  I will, and next time I’ll record it, referring to the sames classes he will be conducting again twice in April.  Jill joked that she wished she could put me on candid camera or YouTube.

Then I noticed that other than the 6 + 3 + 1 wine glasses we each had a set and used, there was a carafe left untouched at the end of the session.  I asked “Chef, why did you give us a carafe?” … It is meant for you to spit in it!Huh? None of us did, we had tasted and drank the wine.  Referring the the Choc-Scotch session we would be having the next day – “I would need to repeat more times for tomorrow“, more laughter.  Chef, I would not be here tomorrow though I will be physically here… again more laughter.  As Chef Feaver does this as part of his job – wine tasting and pairing, he usually noses the wine and chocolate for pairing elimination and decision before he actually tastes the wine and chocolate for confirmation. 

The class laughed a lot on the first day, I was not sure if we were drunk, or we were happy and enjoying the session, or we laughed in reaction to words said … a combo, I guessIt was hilarious!

At the end of the class, I was already stoned.  I had walked closer to the chef to take a closer look at his full name to research on him, I looked at his chef jacket, then I looked at it again.  He laughed, it appeared that I had to repeat my actions twice to focus.  Then I took another 10 minutes to get dressed into my warm clothes, my head throbbing.  I decided to walk back to the hotel, the cold air did some good to clear my head.

Back in my apartment, I was sneezing, my head was still throbbing.  I had wanted to update my journal entry … I couldn’t think, … my eyes were puffy from the sinus reaction.  I knocked out, sitting in front of my laptop.


Woke up at 5, then 6, then finally at 7 … my head was heavy, and I just felt I need to sleep more.

Day 2.  More questions.  I asked about wine as a filling in choc … use fondant with the alcohol … suspension and syrup to reduce alcohol % … ganache … buttercream … gelatin etc.  I have to read more on this, as I don’t quite get the chemistry.  Chef Feaver also introduced us to Choc-a-latte, which we can use for sorbet, cream, liquid etc – it is a thick liquid form of chocolate.

A morning on theory of Scotch.  My eyes were still having a handover from the previous day.  All Scotch are whisky, and not all whisky are Scotch, Scotch being whisky produced in Scotland, just like how champagne and cognac were named.  In US, there is an “e” in “whisky” which made it “whiskey”, identifying its origin in US.  In Canada, there is a whisky called Rye(?) – the only whisky made from 100% rye grain. … The biggest markets for whisky are China and Japan.  Hmm.

Chef Feaver demo briefly on chocolate tempering before we proceeded to have lunch.  I got to see for the first time the types of machines available in the chocolate lab at the Chocolate Academy – Tempering, enrobers, robot-coupe vacuum machine, cutter.

After lunch, more nosing and tasting of Scotch … and nosing and pairing with the “right” chocolate.  “Right” being subjective, though an ideal pairing will enhance the taste and feel and there is usually one that has the best fit.  The nosing of Scotch hit the sensory hard, some sting my nose, my eyes teared, one shot to my head … and tasting, I didn’t like the burning sensation as the liquor triggered down my throat, and literally I only tasted with the tip and my tongue and I hardly swallowed.  There were 8 Scotches but 9 whiskys, I stopped at #6 … even though I thought I did pretty well in the nosing, tasting and choc-Scotch pairing initially … my stomach was burning and I didn’t feel very well.  Ate more bread, more chocolate.

The class was very enriching with loads of information.  I have so much to learn.  At the end of the session, we were each presented with a certificate of attendance, a tour of the store, and our choice of 1 x 2.5kg pack of chocolate – nice, my choice – Togo (Callebaut 61.3%), a dark choc balanced with a light gingerbread taste and a goodie bag of more materials on chocolate, machines and molds.  Nice!


Before I left for the day, I had a chat with Rieko, I would have loved to visit her business and learn from her.  She spoke to me briefly about the chocolate machines she uses too – she had preferred the machines which were French made, but the after sales service were limited in the US, so she uses Italian made.  Then Dora arranged for me to have a machine intro session with Chef Jerome Landriau.  Chef Jerome is the technical advisor for the Chocolate Academy, he joined the Chocolate Academy direct from Paris.  During our brief introduction and conversation, he introduced me to the use of the machines and their applications in the chocolate business, and the best way to learn is to learn from a great confectionary shop which uses the machines to produce the chocolates in quantities and possibly move to another for a few months, he provided me a contact to learn more about chocolate in Paris. 

When I left the Chocolate Academy, it was snowing heavily.  There was apparently a weather advisory issued for schools this afternoon.  The heavy snowing weather was a good experience for me though, yeah I was out there only for a short time since I hopped into a taxi after a 5 minute wait, couldn’t say I liked to have my head wet once the snow melted.  Got back to the hotel, rested a little to make sure my stomach was ok, and I went out to catch a quick dinner.  This time round, it appeared to be raining lightly instead.  The cold didn’t bother me much, as again I was layered comfortably except for my head.

Then I knocked out soon after and woke up at 11pm.  Now is 4am, and I hope to catch a wink to enjoy the bed a little before I wake up in an hour to pack, have a good waffle or biscuit meat pattie & egg breakfast before I leave for the airport at 7.15pm.

I am glad I made the trip here.  Being in downtown, even though I didn’t move around much, I enjoyed the walk, the weather, and the experience here.  Trust I will be back another time to actually experience the place and the pastry business.  One negative though – the drivers here are worse than those in Houston Ha.  I am looking forward to be back in Houston, my last chance to pack everything into my baggage allowance and intended excess baggage, clear my apartment and be all ready for my flight home to Singapore.  Yes, and hopefully a relaxing breakfast date before I leave Houston for home.

Graduation Speech from A Graduating Student

Would you accept making a speech from a graduating student to the graduating students?”  Bob asked me last Tues afternoon (18 Nov 2008).  I was a little apprehensive … I will speak if I have to, but I prefer to be behind the scene or chatting among my circle of friends.  I would, I said.  The topic was left up to me, and that was the most difficult part. 

What shall I say?  What should I say that could be relevant and meaningful to my peers and the audience? What should I say that will remain significant to myself as a graduating student?…  Clueless. 


Tuesday.  I didn’t think about it that night as I need to plan for my mousse cake final the following day. 

Wednesday.  BK and I went out for dinner at House of Bowls and it was a longer dinner than expected as we bumped into Garren and David who were there with another friend Daniel, they joined us at our table and we chatted.  

That night, I couldn’t do much as BK and I had a heart to heart talk … that talk did us great as it always takes some misunderstanding – misunderstanding of perspectives, and resolution to hold us closer, which was why he is my greatest buddy.  I needed to get it out and resolve things before we sleep and sleep sweet, and I was glad we did.

Thursday.  I remained in the Culinary Institute resource centre, flipping through the file of ACF Culinary Review issues, partly to complete my read before I leave, partly to seek inspiration.  I enjoyed the articles, particularly Insider feature on the featured chef and his motivation, about the competition team and their spirit, and novel read on Flavour eg. Cupcake Couture, Unique Boutiques, and others on Wine-food pairing, travelling chef etc.  At the same time, I found out that BK has gone to Galveston with my apartment keys.  So it was a good time to sit down and seek inspiration for my speech.  Before I left the culinary institute, I had scribbled 2 pages of notes and ideas for my speech.

Read your blog, you will know what to include in your speech, BK suggested.  Indeed, my journal entry captured my thinking, the teaching, my learning, the inspiring moments in last 20 weeks…  He reminded me at the right time.

That evening, we decided to have a Mexican dinner at Teotihuacan, the restaurant cafe was packed, yet the service staff remained friendly and efficient.  A tasty grill we had, a Mexican beer for BK and a virgin margaritas for me, and we finished our meal with Tres Leches.  This was the 4th version of Tres Leches I tried, kicked started by Chef Kris introducing us to the Mexican dessert – I had found the cake too sweet, but each time I found it on the menu, I ordered to taste, and I got to like it better and better each time – not sure if my taste bud changed or the TresLeches served got better.  A lady came up to us with tequila shots for sampling, I enthusiastically accepted and soon knocked out when I got back to the apartment.

Friday – Graduation Day.  3am.   I was woken up … don’t you need to prepare your speech?  Yeah, … I finally woke up at 5 to put the thoughts into some words.  I was to scribble another 2 pages of thoughts from my blog entry for my speech.

Before my final lesson started for the day, I completed my scripts in scribbles.  During the break, I was to copied my scribbles onto clean sheets in organised thoughts.

Truth be told, as I thought about my graduation speech, I felt the reluctance more than thinking about my speech … there was this constant reminder the graduation speech signaled my final day at the culinary institute.  As I reviewed my speech in my little corner at the culinary institute, I felt sad again … and I feared my emotion will show in front of the crowd.  I was not prepared to face the crowd with my emotions … I spent time psyching myself to focus on completion and just speak my heart.   

The Keynote Speech?

I didn’t realise I was the keynote speaker till that very moment when I was being introduced by Mr LeNotre.  I was nervous, I breathed in and out hard and controlled.  I focused on completion.  The closer friends were wondering if I would start tearing as I speak, I was worried too – once I tear it would be non-stop and I tend to laugh too and it would be hilarious … I didn’t intend my graduation speech my most embarrassing moment!  The reaction from the audience calmed my nerve, in front of me in the front row where the graduating students were seated was Krystine – the baby in my class and Jill, their presence and particularly Krystine’s laughter reassured me … and each time I felt a tinge of emotion, I just looked at her … (thanks Krystine, you may not know you helped me but you did, ‘cos your laughter calmed me and made me smile).  I remained in control to completion.  Whew~!  ~

The Gist of My Graduating Speech:

1.  A Love Affair ~ About a love affair to live lives without excuses …  a love affair with the science and art of baking & pastry arts, the chefs I learnt from and the friends I learnt with … a love affair savouring each moment in Houston.  Love what we do and do what we love…

2.  Valuable Lessons and Inspiring Moments Beyond Learning Just Recipes – People who inspired me… Chef Sebastien ~ Never Be Late;  Chef Kris ~ Misen Place and Preparedness which Determine the End Results;  Mr LeNotre ~ 10 Good Advice to Be a Good Chef & his generous “Joy, my door is always open“;  Chef Philippe ~ About Choice … Think about what we want to do, how we want to live and choose the way we want to do it…  Simple words great inspirations …

3.  Good Advice & Contacts from 2 External Chefs I got associated with at the culinary institute: Chef Charles Carroll – inspiring quotes from his book Leadership Lessons from A Chef.  Finding Time to Be Great.  … And his recommendation of a chef whose business model I should check out; Chef Enming Hsu – she recommended me a chef I should seek out to be my mentor chef.  I am so thankful!

4.  3 Take-Home Messages:  Be In Charge, Be Ourselves (Be true, Be in love), and Be A Champion in spirit and mindset!  A constant reminder to myself…

5.  Gratitudes ~ Mr & Mrs LeNotre – for their generosity during my time at the culinary institute and for Mr LeNotre’s advice for my career and future;  My Chefs – Chef Philippe and Chef Sebastien for inspiring and challenging me to be better each day, & for their trust and faith in me;  My Classmates and Many whom I called Friends – for introducing me to American junk food (hee…), and the warmth of a friendly & trusting learning environment; The Staff – many of whom I knew by first name, they made me feel so at ease at the institute … Importantly, my loving husband who is my greatest buddy and a cheerleader in my life, and who made things possible for me.

At the end of my graduation speech, Mr LeNotre presented me with a beautifully written letter …  I got to read it only in my apartment, I am really really blessed indeed.


Graduation Day went past in a blur.  Mentally I knew it is not the last day – I still got to attend 3 extra sessions in Chef Philippe’s class, even though we have made up the hours lost to Ike by starting at 7.30am through the past weeks.  I am blessed BK was present for me, and he made it so matter of fact and easy.  I am happy I got to thank the individuals who were instrumental in assimilating me into living a meaningful life in Houston.

Graduated. 21 Nov 2008.

My Wedding Cake Final

I started this entry on the day I finished my wedding cake final on Tuesday, but was too flat tired to write.  Now I am continuing the entry, hopefully I finished this so that it is not further backlogged.

11 November 2008

Feeling really happy … and flatly exhausted.  Mentally it was a blur now, the brain just needed to a re-supply of oxygen.

We presented our wedding cake final today.  From dreaming about it during the hurricane, to first draft, to the week before final to actual – things just evolved from ideal to realisation to realistic expectation and connection, but somehow I was happy things turned out … with its own flavour.  I had first dreamt a wedding cake with Calla Lily and Lilies of the Valley bouquet – a simple white, green, yellow combination, the use of Lilies for a significant meaning due to its Chinese name 百合 (百 literally means hundreds, to mean lots, bountiful … 合 literally means reunion, togetherness…);  Nearer the date I thought of Orchids – even though the national flower for Singapore is Vanda Miss Joaquim, a type of hybrid orchid, my feeling for orchid was not strong enough to create a decent looking piece to my expectation;  Back to my own wedding – I decided to create a Bridal Bouquet with Rose as a focal flower…  The actual creation was different from my bridal bouquet, but exuded an oriental flavour which was not planned or intended.  Things somehow evolved.





The Books

I started researching way back in September, till it was disrupted by Ike as internet was down.  I narrowed down to 2 key authors – Nicholas Lodge for all areas covering sugar craft on cakes , Alan Dunn on sugar flowers and his books on flowers were inspiring and awsome – I got his books on Sugar Roses, Sugar Orchids and Sugar Exotic Flowers, and got another book by Toba Garrett who is a Master Pastry-Chef Instructor in Cake Decorating with ICE.  The ones with the most realistic and inspiring flowers and techniques definitely goes to Alan Dunn’s books.  Nicholas Lodge and Toba Garrett covers a wider aspect in cake decoration.

The Tools and Miscellaneous

Jennie was a great help.  She brought her whole tool box and cake decorating books for me without me asking, because she “already got them, and you can use them” … That was very generous, I really appreciate her thoughtfulness.  Really, she was not expected to lend me her stuff and I didn’t even know she has the tools or the books.  My sincerest heartfelt appreciation to Jennie.  I spent some time dissecting her toolbox and books understanding what were available and their uses.

I decided to try petal dusts.  Yes, I love to have plum colour as a theme but never found that colour.  That was how my colour evolved.  Weeks ago, I saw copper among wilton colours and wonder it could go into piping, it finally did and I like the copper tone on the cake.  When I thought of something, I just had to get it and try it, I rented a car on Friday and enjoyed my wedding cake retail therapy at Make a Cake and Michael’s over the weekend.  I found the former to be more complete in equipment and colours.  It was my first attempt on Houston freeways and realised my sense of direction was not too bad afterall, no choice too, I guess.

Gearing Up

Chef said we could make flowers at home if we want to.  I was to spend a weekend reading Alan Dunn’s books before I even embarked on making the flowers late Sunday night.  I learnt from listening, observing  and reading (I needed the theory to execute, as I did in learning bowling, skiing and media campaign etc.  I am a high C on DISC personality – a need to understand why.)  Some observations became an obsession, I guess ~~~  that leaves of roses are compound leaves which comes in 3s, 5s or 7s with the bigger leaf on the outer edge and get smaller further down the branch ~~~  that a bridal bouquet has 1 focal flower, in my case, a single large rose, accompanied by few medium size roses, and more baby roses, with decreasing sizes as the flowers cascaded down the cake ~~~  that the calyces of the roses were in 5s and the hairs on the edges of the calyces are of a specific number (It even has an old country saying that goes, “two with two and two without, one with one and one without”, gosh).   I would love to include magnolia or rose hips or rosette succulent as a secondary flower accompaniment but again all 3 I chose required plum colour – I just had this knick for the plum colour tone – exotic, cool elegance. 


My rose colour.  I like pale, but not white … like cheerful colours but not red …  how the colour came about, I just added copper in small quantity and it became orange tone!  For the medium and small roses, I cut stencils from the template from Alan Dunn’s book, for the focal rose, I rolled the gum paste using the spoon like how Chef taught us.   On Monday itself in class, I decided on an evergreen succulent plant called strings of pearls from South-East Africa, but alas I left my green tape in my apartment, and decided to go ahead with brown tape for brown stems instead.  Thus the colour yet again evolved, and things happened for a good reason – the brown complemented the copper tone nicely.  End result was that my evergreen string of pearls started to take on the look of pussy willow – a cotton-like flowering plant we commonly have during Chinese New Year in spring.  Slowly, I felt that my wedding cake took on an oriental look.

Piecing Them Together

On Tuesday, I knew I would have time to piece them together and complete by 3pm.  In my heart and my mind, I told myself, there was only one way – it just gotta work!  And things fell in place nicely.  At one point, while trying out the arrangement on my practice cake styrofoam, the balance was disrupted when I removed my focal rose, my key bunch of cascading roses with the styrofoam tipped over and got caught by my apron … Sarah and Jill came over to my side to ensure none of my flowers crashed to the ground, I gave both of them a big hug after.  My heart beat did not go faster, I believed my heart literally dropped … and I felt my heart beating fast only when I left to the break room to take a gulp of water.  Thank God!  

I was about done, and I was exhausted and dehydrated … and hyper.  It was all mind over body.  Chef gave us time to complete and continue the following day.  No, it had to be completed that very day, not the next – it is all in my mind.  And it was surely completed  by 2.

Our Class Final Wedding Cakes:

~ To Each His & Her Own ~

~ To Each His & Her Own ~

Alas, all the cakes were completed and arranged alongside our pastillage show pieces in the lunch room.  It was so amazing – each cake reflected a different ideal, personality and possibly age.  Nice! 


At the Beginning

Last Thursday, a day after Pastillage final (will enter into the journal later), we mixed our fondant and gum paste dough for use on Friday.  Then Friday, we rolled down the fondant to cover 3 cakes and a cake board.  For most of the class, it took a morning, for me it took me from past 8 till noon.

The fondant story.  Lightly greased the styrofoam cake rounds with shortening.  Knead the overnight rested fondant well and drape over.  Chef again made it sound so easy, but it couldn’t be so difficult either, coz nearly everyone was almost done with dressing 3 styrofoam rounds to form a 3 tier cake plus the cake board.  And me?  Still fiddling with first one, the lowest tier.  The fondant was so hard I could hardly pressed it roll it down.  I tried 3 times over with 2/3 of my fondant … ie draped over styrofoam, … no good – mainly due to cracks on dough …the dough was too hard – undo and start over.  The texture no longer felt right … Trash it and get from the container, Chef Philippe said to me …  Gosh, I felt like I was cheating using rolled fondant from the container … anyway I got the bottom tier done with it.  For next 2 tiers and cake board, I used the fondant I made, this time, I knew I could use the microwave to soften the fondant and really get it soft once and for all.  So it was completed, yes, half a day on rolling fondant.  And my shoulders were to ache for the whole weekend.


Things fell into place … nicely.  I was amazed what we can do from these weeks of learning from Chef.  I am not too sure though if I will ever do wedding cakes … seems too distant … except for the 3 I promised my friends when they get hitched.