Hi everyone! If you follow me on twitter and have seen my latest tweets, then you are probably aware that I went to a cool culinary school-type place. Greg is such a thoughtful and romantic guy that he always knows how to play the strings of my heart. Or as he sweetly puts it, he "sings my song." Awwww.:D As a Valentine's Day gift, yesterday he sent me off to The Gourmandise School of Sweets & Savories located in Santa Monica at The Market! Seriously, I was so stoked to be able to have one of my "dreams" fulfilled without even having to tell him about it! Hehe, I guess he knows me too well and my love for cooking and baking.
The drive is actually supposed to take only 38 minutes according to Mapquest, but due to L.A. traffic it took me a whopping hour and 45 minutes! I guess you can say that I was kind of stressed on the road...
As soon as I walked in the door, I saw about 12 students making vanilla cupcakes. To my delight, I was also greeted by this charming sign on the chalkboard. Hey Gourmandise, I <3 chocolate too! I predict that we will be very good friends from here on out.
After the vanilla cupcakes were done, we set out to bake one more different cupcake flavor. The next one up was an ultra moist and delicious chocolate cupcake, and probably the most perfect one that I have ever tried in my twenty-four years of life! The frosting that would be pairing up with the chocolate flavor would be chocolate ganache. In addition, we were able to make any and every kind of frosting flavor because as the instructors said, "there is no such thing as a cupcake recipe." In other words, any flavor of frosting and cake goes, as long as we know how to measure out the dry ingredients in order to prevent a dry crumb.
And to answer your question, yes. Lots and lots of butter was used--so much so that I believe Paula Deen may have been looking upon us with pride and joy. :P
One of the most fun parts of this experience was when the instructors encouraged us to go all out with the decorations and let our creativity do its magic. We used the sprinkles and candies that they laid out for us to make the cupcakes look fancy.
Meringue buttercream frostings: orange zest, raspberry, and vanilla. Plus chocolate ganache.
Since we were sent home with a box full of these, I gobbled down 1...or 2...while on the way home. :P They are so light and perfectly sweet!
As I was working away in the class, I had the epiphany that I can easily use these recipes for the cupcake bar at our wedding reception! I had already planned on laying out a make-it-yourself cupcake bar long ago, but it didn't dawn on me till then that I will have the most perfect cupcakes on that day, and they won't disappoint even the biggest critic. Yay!
Tips for the Best Cupcakes Ever
Being at The Gourmandise was possibly one of the most enjoyable group activities I've ever done. Clemence (the instructor) gave us a slew of advice and tips to make fool proof cupcakes. While I already knew half of those tips, I was also surprised to hear some because they didn't initially make sense! I hope you find these invaluable lessons helpful too, and you may come back and thank me later...with cupcakes. ;)
1. Always use regular all-purpose flour and never the bleached kind.
-According to our instructor, bleached flour can rend a funky taste to baked goods. And athough I was already aware that any kind of wheat based flour like pastry flour tends to make breads a little tough (since I love to healthify recipes and use whole grains/flours), I still went ahead and asked if it was okay to use those. Her response was a big fat "no". But still, my hopes to make healthy yet tasteful treats are alive and well. :)
2. Never use the dark non-stick baking pans. Instead, use only the silver light colored kind.
-Yup, you read that correctly!! I was utterly puzzled when I heard this bit of information as well. The reason that professionals recommend the much-avoided-by-amateurs light colored pans is that it allows the baked goods to cook more evenly and prevents burning on the bottom. Come to think of it, every movie or show where the character is some kind of aspiring chef, they are shown using the silver pans instead of the dark ones.
3. When making cupcakes, never place the pan directly on the oven rack. Instead, place it on top of a large cookie sheet, and then put it in the oven.
-This simple extra step ensures perfectly baked cupcakes. Placing the pan on a cookie sheet will help the heat distribute evenly, and in turn, the sides and bottoms won't end up too dark.
4. Never ever open the oven before the timer goes off!!!!!
-I am super guilty of this partly because I enjoy the smell of vanilla and flour wafting throughout the house, and partly because I am never too sure about the duration of baking. Since I usually come up with my own recipes, I obviously need to know how long I need to leave them in there, but I guess it's just a trial and error process for most of us. After all, someone has to take the risk. :D The instructor said that this is very important because opening the oven too early is the recipe to a collapsed cake. The heat that was distributing throughout the oven will quickly escape and prevent the top of the cake from fully rising/cooking.
5. If you want to flavor your frosting with fruity flavors, never add fresh fruits or juice. Instead, add something like freeze dried raspberry and process it beforehand.
-This is essential because not only will the taste be stronger, but the consistency won't be watered down. I believe that Trader Joe's sells freeze dried fruit.
6. For acidic ingredients, use something like sour cream or regular yogurt.
-I asked her if Greek Yogurt was alright to use, but she said that it's not good because it's so thick that it curdles like cottage cheese. Woops! Guilty here too. :P
7. Do not overmix cake batter!
-This may seem like yet another obvious statement. However, you would be surprised to find out how many people tend to overmix their ingredients and end up getting hardened and gummy breads. Most of the students' concerns in this class was the fact that their cupcakes always come out flat and tough. Make sure to incorporate the batter ever so slightly just until there are no clumps remaining.
I can't begin to describe how "right" and at home I felt in this baking class! I think that it would be a great experience to go to culinary school someday, but I know that for now, that's not my calling. Nevertheless, a girl can dream and stay open to that option if the perfect opportunity ever comes by! Greg keeps telling me that I never know what surprises there may be in the future. For now, I am just content with the fact that my awesome fiance gave me the opportunity to live out one of my dreams. Thank you Punkin!!!!
***The Gourmandise School of Sweets and Savories offers different classes for gluten-free baking, cooking, and even a class for couples to make a 3 meal course. If you're in the L.A. area I highly suggest that you give this place a try!
Have you ever been to a cooking/baking class? How was your experience?
Which one of these baking rules have you violated?
If you could choose one of those 3 classes at The Gourmandise, which one would it be?
Have a great day y'all!