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!
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.