Pastry: Class size and Cookies

(Also posted on

After successfully completing the Professional Culinary program, I have moved on to the Pastry kitchen to complete the 2nd part of the full year professional program. There is nothing as comforting as folding ingredients together and baking it in an oven. An initial worry coming back to class was the size of the pastry class – it is huge with 16 students (compared to 9 students last term). Extra tables were brought in for extra stations, there are less space to move around, and having 3 sinks plus one hand wash station can cause a line up during a clean up session, but after the first week of settling in, there is appreciation in having extra people man the dishwashing station and extra hands with helping to scale recipes, the opinions and experiences from everyone is wide and varied and we have learned how not to bump into each other. 16 students works.

There is no doubt that the world of pastry will be defining for me. One of my first impactful moments from class was with our cookie menu development – learning the basic formula for a basic cookie (3 part flour + 2 part fat + 1 part sugar) and the 16 different types of cookies each of us in class came up with. Just a week before class started, I was attempting to make a chewy vegan chocolate chip cookie but instead it turned out solid as a rock. I realized the different type of flours, sugar, fat and ratio of each in the recipe plays a role in how a cookie develops.

My inspiration for the cookie menu development was the Chinese Almond Cookies that is served after a banquet dinner. The crumbliness and texture of the cookie is something I have never attempted at home before.

Here’s my recipe:

300g Cake Flour
100g Almond Flour
267g Lard (or shortening, but lard tastes better)
1/2 t Baking Powder
1/2 t Baking Soda
pinch of salt
140g Sugar
3 egg yolks
2 t Almond Extract
almond slivers to place on top of each cookie before baking
egg wash on each cookie

1. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

2. Cream together the lard and sugar, beat in the egg yolks and almond extract.

3. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet until incorporated.

4. Shape into 25g balls, flattened slightly with the back of a spoon or fork, space the balls 2″ apart,  top with almond slivers and egg wash.

5. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for about 20 minutes, rotating half way, until golden.

One thing I would change for next time is use 1 whole egg instead of just egg yolks to see if that would a less yolky tasting product, but I was pretty happy with this recipe.


Chinese Almond cookies


The 16 different cookies developed by each of us in class.


Keeping busy with a few more cakes

Besides culinary school full time, and working on a research paper for class, several draft blogs not yet made public and drafting scholarship applications essay, I have made a few cakes in the last week. After all, this blog is named Cakes and Options. 😉

The following cakes are dairy-free and egg-free, aka vegan. I often get mistaken for being gluten-free as it seems to be the buzzword of the moment, but for your full disclosure, these are not gluten-free cakes.

I’ve made these Guinness chocolate cupcakes with whisky frosting a couple of times now and they always turn out yummy, light and fluffy from the carbonation in the beer. The amount of alcohol used in the frosting is highly flexible depending on the occasions. Recipe can be found here:

Guinness cupcakes with whisky buttercream frosting.

I love how the rose technique originating from, now a Wilton cake class staple, always add sophistication to the cake for a really quick method of frosting the cake. I did run into some issues with the first set of roses that I made where I didn’t have a firm enough buttercream, so I remade a batch of American buttercream with enough icing sugar to set them.

Texan-rose cowgirl's mocha cake

I contemplated using a ganache under the white frosting for this Hello Kitty cake, but decided to keep it dairy-free and made a white buttercream which was smoothed several times before applying the fondant over top. I used the ganache for the filling instead. 😉

Chocolate Hello Kitty cake

My favourite go-to chocolate cake recipe after trying many different dairy-free and egg-free options has been Chloe Coscarelli’s. You can find some of her recipes here. Her cookbook is one of my favourite in the kitchen, and I highly recommend you picking one up too.

Baking sugar-free with Xylitol

Last weekend I had the honour to make cupcakes for a mom-to-be who was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. To help accommodate her taste buds and that of the party guests, I did a bit of research in using sugar alternatives for the cakes. With GD, it is important for the mom-to-be to be watching her sugar intake and spikes in insulin levels, but most importantly carbohydrates consumption. Luckily, GD goes always after the baby is born, but being a GD mom requires extra vigilance with your diet.*

*You should always seek health advice from a medical professional. Since I have an asterisk here, I might as well note that in the above picture, fondant decorations were used and fondant is 100% not sugar-free.

There are many natural options to sweeten baked goods from the use of apple sauce, dates, agave and sugar derived from palm or coconut. Stevia (derived from the leaves of a plant with the same name) is becoming a popular choice also. You cannot bake cakes without some form of it being sweet. I would usually cut down the amount of sugar which the recipe calls for by about 20%. Sugar not only adds to the flavours, but also to the tenderness and volume of the cake as it bakes. The opposite of natural would be synthetic such as sucrulose (sold as Splenda), saccharin (Sweet ‘n Low) or asparatame (Equal).

What was important for me as I looked for a sugar-substitute was for something that would not change my end results to much in terms of mouth-feel, structure and flavour, which led me to xylitol. Xylitol can be found in fine grocery such as Sobeys and IGA with the brand name of Xyla. I bought mine from Choices Market. Xyla derives xylitol from North American hardwood, and is GMO-free. It is marketed as “Sweet without the Guilt”, and comes with low carb and low calorie. There are also no after taste. 1 cup of Xyla is a straight replacement for 1 cup of sugar, which makes it a lot easier for me to use my regular recipe without playing around with adjusting ratios with the other ingredients. xylitol_on_green_plateThe xylitol grains are also much coarser than sugar, but lighter. 1 teaspoon of xylitol weighs 4 grams, whereas 1 teaspoon of sugar is 4.2 grams.

Some precautions when using xylitol (as marked on the package) includes not using xylitol excessively as it may cause a mild laxative effect and also to keep it away from your family pets. Xyla as an ingredient is not cheap, the cost of 1 cup of xylitol for me was 10 times the cost of using 1 cup of sugar.

On to the baking part!

I made two versions of lemon cakes – a regular version with eggs and dairy, and a vegan version without eggs or dairy. For both versions of the cupcakes I used the exact amount of sugar that the recipes called for. Both cakes baked perfectly. The results were fluffy cupcakes which you could not tell that a sugar substitute was used.

For the frosting, I made a Swiss meringue buttercream for the regular cupcakes and a vegan frosting using the flour method for the vegan cupcakes. Both of these methods uses granulated sugar rather than icing sugar and both recipes worked well with xylitol. There were no issues to pipe the frosting and tasted smooth. In the Swiss meringue, you would dissolve the sugar in with the egg whites as you whisk it over boiling water and xylitol had no trouble incorporating into the egg whites. Again, you could not taste the sugar alternative in the swiss meringue buttercream. For the flour method frosting I did have some concerns due to the larger size of the xylitol grains since the granulated sugar is beat into submission in a thick paste of cooked flour and milk. This frosting did spend a bit longer in my mixer but the xylitol grains did dissolved into it eventually. (For next time, I’ll choose to melt the sugar in with the flour and milk as it cooks).

Taste test results from my two little testers gave the cupcakes thumbs up although both did not like the flour method frosting (they were only allowed to try the vegan versions) due to it not being as sweet as the American buttercream (made with icing sugar) which they would prefer. But for the more sophisticated palettes who are taller than 4 feet, the flour method works fine.

Xylitol is a great alternative when a sugar-free substitute is needed.