Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Whipped Into Shape (Vegan Baking Bootcamp-Style)

Sift that flour! Soak that agar! Roll that pie dough! If these commands send you running towards the kitchen to stand at attention, then you would have loved Vegan Baking Bootcamp, a five-day course offered by the Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC and taught by the highly acclaimed diva of dairy free desserts, Fran Costigan. I had the honor and joy of attending from July 7-11 (for other posts about the previous class, look here and here) with 13 other aspiring bakers. Here is a brief account of each day...

Day 1 - Demo Day. Orange tofu cream, wheat free lace cookies, cornbread, nut cream, and fruit gel

Even though there was no mixing or kneading on my part, my hand was tired by the end of the day from taking notes. Fran covered topics such as the importance of mis en place (having all your ingredients ready before you start baking), staple ingredients for vegan baking, and various techniques and tricks that can make a baker's life in the kitchen a little easier.

Day 2 - Creamy and Gelled Desserts. Assignment - mango mousse, rice pudding, maple cider sauce, orange-ginger crisps, carob pudding, and magic chocolate pudding cake.

This was our first day to do some baking of our own. Half the battle was finding our way around the kitchen. Thankfully there were four amazing assistants who were always there to help. We broke into groups and were assigned several recipes. One major success for the day? The demystification of agar. It seems the key is soak time and lots of patience!


Day 3 - Cookies, Bars, Muffins, and more! Assignment - almond anise biscotti, carob brownies, pumpkin muffins, basic biscuits, and sesame oat squares

By the third day I was finally relaxed and in my rhythm. It was kind of nice to be assigned recipes, because I tend to be a creature of habit, and bake things I know and like. Carob brownies were something I would have never attempted (why? when there is chocolate), but the results were surprisingly delicious.

At the end of the day, it was all about presentation. We plated our desserts and lined them up for discussion and tasting. Can you see the tripod on the far right photo? There was a Japanese journalist who came by each day to document and photograph the class for an article in a Japanese food magazine (Cafe Sweets), where vegan desserts are apparently all the rage!

Day 4 - Pies and Tarts. Assignment - Black Bottom Coconut Banana Cream Pie, Fourth of July Blueberry Streusel Pie, and random tarts of our choice (as seen in the first photo of this post).

As someone who all too often relies on store bought pie crusts, the first lesson of the day (making your own foolproof flaky pie crust) proved to be one of the most beneficial for me. It was also yet another test for my dough rolling skills, I'm getting closer to being able to roll a circle! And can you believe that there are 8 cups of blueberries in that monstrous pie?!

This class would not have been the same without Fran Costigan and her contagious energy and excitement for all aspects of vegan baking. She was graciously giving of her time and vast knowledge. Her words of encouragement have given me motivation to continue to experiment and enjoy baking back in my own kitchen.

Day 5 - Cake Day! Assignment - 24 Karrot Cake with tart lemon spread and Chocolate Layer Cake to Live For with chocolate cream frosting

This was the day I had been looking forward to all week. And can you believe this was the first carrot cake I've ever made (bottom left)? Making the cake was about 30% of the fun, the rest was decorating! We played with melted chocolate (with tranfers and bubble wrap), frosting spatulas and tips, fresh flowers, and gold luster dust.

I even got to use some of my recently acquired cake decorating skills to ice smooth our chocolate cake. It was very exciting to find a frosting that contains no shortening, EB, or powdered sugar; and one that you can still pipe! We had fun playing with gold luster dust on the mint leaves.

The reward each day for hours of baking? Sampling, of course. My plate got a little bigger everyday as you can see...

After flexing my vegan baking muscles all day, every day for an entire week, you might think I was ready for a break from desserts. Quite the contrary! My sweet tooth rarely diminishes in strength, but more importantly, my interest in all things vegan baking has been heightened to a new level. From understanding the chemistry of baking, to using natural/wholesome ingredients, to perfecting presentation, I want to learn more about it all. Fran's class provided me with a jumping off point to explore baking on my own, and I can't wait to get started!

Thanks to Fran, our assistants, my baking partners (pictured above with Fran), and the whole class for making this week truly worth using up half of my allotted vacation for the year! For more pictures, visit my flickr set. Also, if you are interested in any of these recipes, most of them can be found in Fran's book More Great Good Dairy Free Desserts Naturally.

36 comments:

Theresa said...

That all sounds so cool! I would love to take a vegan baking course. I too rely heavily on pre-made crusts, but the thing that's really caught my eye is that chocolate icing! No shortening? No icing sugar? How can that be??

Bianca said...

Oh wow! I'm super jealous! I wanna go to vegan bootcamp! Your baked goods look fabulous. You should consider opening a vegan bake shop.

julie hasson said...

How awesome! It looks like you had a fantastic time at bootcamp with Fran. I'm completely jealous because it looks like so much fun!

Your desserts are gorgeous!

Mihl said...

I would love to take such a course too. Sounds like a lot of fund and the right place for you! Now you have perfected your frosting and baking skills!

Suzanne said...

Thanks for sharing this experience. It looks like you had a fantastic time. Can't wait to see how you use your knew skills!

jessy said...

wow! this is so awesome! thanks for posting all of these glorious photos of the wonderful yummies you all created! that's so cool that you took that course (jealousface)! good to know on the agar. i have been too intimidated by it to try anything with it, but i think i may have to give it a shot and remember to show patience when using it! ;) hooooooooray for a fun and successful bootcamp! and thanks again for sharing with us, too!

Katy said...

Wow, everything looks amazing and delicious!!!

Animal-Friendly said...

The Vegan Bootcamp sounds like such an amazing and educational experience! Everything you made looks not only beautiful, but delicious and I'm drooling over your plates of samples!

jennycestcake said...

You are perhaps the luckiest person alive! Vegan Bootcamp sounds amazing! What glorious desserts - especially that chocolate cake. Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us!

Vegyogini said...

I ALMOST attended that class and I'm so disappointed that I missed an opportunity to meet and bake w/ you! It just wasn't in the cards for me this time around, but I'm very happy you had such a great time and learned so much. I have Fran's book that you mentioned, so I think I have some reading to do!

tofufreak said...

vegan baking boot camp sounds like so much fun! and the desserts look awesome too!

I have several questions for you:

What components make up the frosting for the chocolate cake?

where do you get gold luster dust/what is it made out of?

do you have any tips for vegan pastry cream?

thanks so much!

Tara said...

You did a great job on those cakes!I can't believe you've never made a carrot cake before that very beautiful one in the picture. And is that you in the bake and destroy shirt? my friend Natalie would love this picture for her collection!
www.nataliecakes.wordpress.com

aTxVegn said...

Boot camp sounds like so much fun! Everything looks beautiful. I know you like the cakes, but I think the tarts look the best.

jennconspiracy said...

wow - everything looks so fantastic!

Ruby Red Vegan said...

It looks like you had so much fun! That class looks awesome, obviously...what respectable vegan wouldn't want a vegan baking class in NYC? The sampling part sounds especially fun. :)

tofufreak said...

thanks for the tips you left me on my blog. i did try the vegan pastry cream that you mentioned once before, but i found it to be more of a pudding-like consistency rather than an actual pastry cream. anyways, just thought i would let you know. thanks again!

Jenny said...

WOW! That's about all I can think to say! You must have had so much fun! Everything looks awesome and delicious. What a great class!

Sanja said...

Everything looks amazing here. I am so jealous that you got to go to one of Fran's cooking classes, it sounds so great!

Vivacious Vegan said...

You look so happy in that last photo! What a wonderful way to spend your vacation. I don't have Fran's book but I'd be willing to buy it just for that frosting recipe. It sounds very interesting.

the little one said...

Now I'll definitely be looking more closely for that post announcing your new baking business. You're ready!

Carrie™ said...

What a great experience! I don't know which baked good intrigued me the most. All of the pictures are fantastic!

tasteslikeyum said...

So jealous. But wow, I am sure you had quite the time!

Liz² said...

wow, that all sounds so fun/educational/delicous!!

and you aren't kidding about cake decorating skills, that icing looks as smooth as paper (though I'm assuming about 3874x tastier? :D)

sooooooooooo jealous! but happy you brought back photos. :))

The Vegan Snorkeler said...

I am so impressed! I just made a vanilla cake from Fran Costigan's Great Good Desserts Naturally (so good and so much healthier than "normal" vegan cakes!). All of your creations are jaw-dropping! Amazing!!!

Hannah said...

That's a whole lot of baking to fit into a few short days, but also a lot of great experiences. It looks like so much fun!

Anonymous said...

Your's is still one of my very favorite ones for vegans. Thank you for blogging!

zippi

Lauren said...

wow this looks soo awesome! i wish something like that would come around where I live, what a great opportunity! all the desserts look amazing. :)

Lovliebutterfly said...

Wow! I'm speechless! I would love to go on a vegan baking course!

Bert said...

It looks and sounds like an absolutely amazing and fun experience, and educational to boot (pun intended...)

How about the Vegan Meetup group gets together at your house for potluck dinner, or rather dessert. :)

LizzyQ ~ Vegan Mother said...

yum.... i'm seriously jealous!

Melisser; the Urban Housewife said...

That looks like SO much fun! Beautiful work.

Fran Costigan said...

Thank you so much TX, for your wonderful write up and photos from Boot, but most of all for your great energy and attitude and knowledge that made this series awesome. Friends of noodle-- let me tell you that her decorating skills are fantastic and the Japanese photographer, mentioned in the blog, choose this cake to 'studio' photograph. It tasted as good as it looked.
This group really came together, as the photos show, to rock the room every day. I must have the best job in the world--meeting the greatest people and tasting sweets. It is all just so sweet.
I'm keeping my eye on you!
Best
Fran

Pamela said...

I'm just catching up on some blog reading. I have a random question...Do you know the name of the Japanese magazine? I live in Japan and would love to find more people interested in Veganism.

Everything you guys made looks beautiful!

Thanks!

B36Kitchen said...

all of it is so beautiful!! lucky you to take such an awesome class. i WENT to that school and we never made anything as great looking as what you've done.

Alice (in Veganland) said...

Oh, my, everything looks so good! I could never do such a course, because I would eat EVERYTHING! :-)

Erin said...

So so so cool that you got to do this! Seems like it was definitely worth taking time off and traveling for, this class plus all the amazing food and sights of NY.