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Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Cooking Courses, Demonstrations, Recipes, Shows...Are You Confused Yet? - One Cake Three Ways

Three different cakes made from one cake recipe
"We learn by example and by direct experience because there are real limits to the adequacy of verbal instructions."   - Malcolm Gladwell

I am always asked about the difference between demonstrations and cooking courses. I am also frequently told: "I have taken a baking class at... with... and haven't really learnt anything.". or "I have read many recipes on bread making, but somehow they don't work, and I don't feel like I am getting better." or "It looked good on TV, but when I carried out the recipe, it did not turn out well."...etc. I have put together this blog post to explore the different methods for learning cookery and to try and answer these questions for you. 

Towards the end of last year I had the pleasure to be chosen by Kenwood to launch their Middle East Cook & Coffee venue. Cook & Coffee is a Demonstration Kitchen by Kenwood, where you get to go and watch Chefs prepare different foods live. Not only will you learn the recipes and techniques of preparing the foods, but you will also learn how to maximise on your different Kenwood machines, so you can realise their best potential. I will use these Kenwood Demonstrations I performed as an example in this post, and will share with you how you can get three different results from 1 recipe. 
So read on and I hope you enjoy...

Cooking Demonstrations

The difference between Cooking Demonstrations and Cooking Classes
A Cooking Demonstration is a visual recipe. A cooking Class is an in-depth look into the preparation of food that includes all the visuals, the literature and the practice.

Live Cooking Demonstrations are nice because you get to watch the cooking process, interact with the Chef, asking all sorts of questions to make sure you know all you need to know for remaking this dish at home. Cooking demonstrations however are different from cooking classes. At a demonstration you only watch the chefs do what they do best. Classes are hands on, which means more learning as you get to do all the work. You know how sometimes, something might appear simple and straight forward, but when you are in your kitchen making it, you find yourself getting stuck. In classes while you are making the food, you have a chance to discuss where you are getting stuck, or what is going wrong in the carrying out of any recipe, which means once you are home you won't go through this. Therefore, if you are looking for learning fail-proof techniques, recipes, recipe creation...etc it is best that you join a cooking course. While if you are looking to expand on a knowledge you already have, looking for new ideas for preparations you are familiar with, then you will really enjoy cooking demonstrations.

In our journey of kitchen mastery, we start with reading recipes and trying them out, then we watch these recipes being carried out (watching mum, TV cook shows, demonstrations...), but when we want to really learn and understand what is going on in the prep and cooking process, then classes are the best and most straight forward option. This learning process also relies hugely on the instructors and their knowledge of the subject matter, most importantly on their ability to deliver the information. It is also heavily reliant on the course material, not every course, is thorough and really elaborate. Therefore it is best to go for the reliable courses that have been tried and tested, and for the instructors that are known to really deliver. 
It will be silly to expect the same degree of learning and knowledge between that acquired from CIA and that which you have learnt at a coffee morning gathering where the neighbour who knows a couple of cake recipes is the instructor. Not that am saying the neighbour option is bad, it could be very informative. However I am telling you to manage your expectations from either experience.

Can you learn proper cookery without joining a culinary school?
This question is very debatable. This is my take on it:
It all depends on what you are looking to achieve. Are you thinking to become a professional in the food industry? Or are you just trying to get better with home-cooking? Home cooks are mostly self taught. We gather information from cookery books, from friends, family and any one who cooks and shares recipes. When push comes to shove we combine ingredients together and see what happens. With time, we continue to improve and develop. The more ambitious home cook would go for classes simply to learn more. So in this regards, Yes you can learn cookery on your own. But for better cooking skills, do join classes you will be amazed at how much better you understand food which consequently takes your home cooking and entertaining to the another level. when you understand ingredients, how to handle them, and flavour combinations as well as specific techniques, cooking becomes more interesting and way less like a chore.

Understanding food ultimately takes
your cooking skills to another level
As for those who want to become professional cooks;
Let me start by saying that I am a completely self-taught cook. I have never joined any cookery courses or classes etc. Not because I ever felt they don't add value or are not important, rather because when I first took up cooking, I never thought I would take it up professionally. It was through the years that I had unveiled a passion that I never knew I had. Being a perfectionist combined with a true desire to know how things work, I went in depth by reading, researching, practicing, trials and errors, back to the research, the reading, the practicing the trials and errors and so on... I had even purchased all the books taught in culinary schools and went through them as a student would, only without a mentor! Of course, any time you research and practice, and the more you do it, your skills are bound to improve and continue improving. However the process is long, complicated and very frustrating. Sometimes it takes just 1 tsp for a recipe to flop, especially in the case of baking for instance. Not knowing that that was what you were doing wrong, you can try a recipe a million times, and it would still flop, which can be tiring to say the least. What you can learn in 2 weeks in a culinary school can take you months to learn on your own. If you are a dedicated person, who is very very stubborn and doesn't take no for an answer, then you probably can learn on your own. However, if I knew then what I know now, and if I ever thought I wanted to become a professional in the food industry, I would definitely have joined a culinary school and that is what I recommend you do in this case.

Food is very trendy at the moment and it seems everyone is either learning, starting a food related business, doing food writing, photography, cooking for parties, demonstrating, offering courses... etc, so lately there's been lots of confusion and at times over expectation from the different mediums. Now I hope this helps you understand what to expect from courses, demonstrations, culinary schools and that it helps clear out a bit of the confusion :)

For the recipe portion of this post, I am sharing with you how you can create 3 different results from the same cake recipe. This cake is probably the easiest cake to bake, yet still super moist and delicious. The best thing about it, it is really easy to know by heart, which means you can carry it out anytime, even when travelling in the summer without the need for your recipe book or notes...etc. The ingredients are basic pantry ingredients that are readily available, making it doable anywhere anytime. So treat your friends and family with either one of these cakes, or all three of them in a cakes buffet. The best thing is, no one will know it is the same cake recipe :)

Classic Victoria Sandwich Cake 
This is a classic cake – traditionally served in Afternoon Teas – that is both delightful and fresh.
We are using this classic cake recipe to create three different cakes:

Strawberries & Cream Cake
Mocha Cake
Summer Berries & White Chocolate Cake

You Need
Spreading Butter Cream
Cake Batter Ingredients 3 eggs
175g butter, softened
175g caster sugar
175g self-raising flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla essence

Garnish Ingredients Fresh Berries (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries...)
Fresh Strawberries
Grated white chocolate
Icing sugar for dusting
Cocoa Powder for dusting  
Strawberry Jam 
Vanilla Syrup
Soaking cake with Syrup
Coffee Syrup

Buttercream Ingredients 200g butter, softened
200g icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp Vanilla Essence 

Coffee Frosting Ingredients 200g butter, softened
250g icing sugar, sifted
4 tbsp prepared Strong Coffee 

To Make the Cake 
Preheat your oven to 350F. Grease and line two 8-inch or one 10-inch cake pan.
In a large bowl, mix all cake ingredients on medium speed until all are well incorporated and the batter is smooth. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tins and level the tops with a spatula. Bake for 20-25 minutes.
Turn on a wire rack and cool completely before spreading with cream.

To Make Buttercream 
Place all ingredients in stand mixer bowl, mix using Paddle attachment on low speed until well incorporated. Once incorporated turn speed up to max and beat for 2 more minutes. Buttercream is now ready for use.

To Make Coffee Frosting 
Place all ingredients in stand mixer bowl, mix using Paddle attachment on low speed until well incorporated. Once incorporated turn speed up to max and beat for 2 more minutes. Your frosting is now ready for use.

To Assemble The Cakes
Cake 1 – Strawberries & Cream :
For this recipe in Arabic click this link

When your cake is completely cool, spread strawberry Jam along the first layer. The addition of jam is optional, just to add another layer of the strawberry flavour. Top the jam with a layer of Buttercream. Top the buttercream with sliced fresh strawberries and top with the second cake layer. Repeat the jam and buttercream layers, then place halved strawberries all around the edge of the cake. You can add grated white chocolate, or go for more fresh strawberries in the centre.

Strawberries n Cream

Cake 2 - Summer Berries & White chocolate: When your cake is completely cooled, soak the first layer with Vanilla Syrup, then top the layer with buttercream frosting and sprinkle white chocolate shavings on top. Place the second layer on top of the first frosted layer and spread a thin layer of buttercream over the top. Place mixed Berries on top of the buttercream in the design of your choice, then sprinkle some white chocolate shavings on top or dust with some icing sugar.

Summer Berries & White Chocolate Cake

Cake 3 – Mocha Cake: When your cake is completely cooled, soak the first layer with Coffee Syrup, top with a layer of Coffee Frosting and sprinkle with grated dark chocolate. Top with the second layer and repeat the coffee syrup and coffee frosting. You can frost the sides of the cake as well or you can leave them open.  Dust the top with Cocoa Powder Then top all with grated dark chocolate and some red currents.

Mocha Cake

Store these cakes in the fridge, covered, for up to 2 days.

This recipe is only an example of how there is many ways to go about anything. How we can achieve different results doing the same thing slightly differently. I always find myself thinking there is no universal rule that applies to everything, there is always variation, and ways for looking at things. So it is best to keep an open mind and go where the road may lead. Better yet is to create a road to follow wherever there is no lead. All is made possible when we have the knowledge, so seek that and you will always open new doors. 

Thank you for coming back, and make sure to drop by again soon :)

PS I will resume offering my courses in September, hope to get a chance to get to know you in person at these courses. Till then keep checking this space for fail- proof recipes ;)

Always Love & Be Peaceful ...