Hello again everyone! This is my third blog post for my In-Depth 2021: cake decorating!
For these last two weeks, I have continued working on the cake I discussed in my previous post, as well as a few other skills. Because we are nearing Valentine’s Day, my mentor Cassandra has been super busy with her own baking business, so I was only able to meet with her once these past weeks, but I tried a few skills on my own when we were not meeting.
For my ongoing cake, I made swiss meringue buttercream that will be used to fill the layers of the cake. This buttercream only used five ingredients: eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt, and a LOT of butter. For reference, one and a half cups of butter were added to the buttercream, while 400 grams of sugar was used. Making the buttercream took much longer than I thought it would, mostly because there were so many steps that had to be completed with precision, or else the recipe would not work.
To start, I had to separate the seven egg whites from the yolks, something I had never done before. This took some practice – and quite a few mistakes – to get right. From there I made a meringue by mixing the eggs with sugar and beating it for much longer than I thought would be necessary. At this stage, the icing had formed stiff peaks and was a bit glossy (and I might have tried some, and it was delicious 😊)
The second stage of making the icing included adding the butter to the icing in small increments so that the meringue could absorb the butter and because a smoother consistency. Unfortunately, I had not allowed the butter to soften enough, and the buttercream had a bit of a grainy texture – although it still tasted incredible! After a lot more beating, the butter broke into smaller pieces, and while it was still not the perfect consistency, it was much closer, and it really did taste amazing!
The following week, Cassandra and I were not able to meet up, so I decided to start just playing around with different icing techniques. I used a recipe that I found online (Vanilla Buttercream Frosting Recipe – BettyCrocker.com), and it turned out pretty tasty! Once the frosting was made, I started just trying out the different piping tips I had. I had a lot of fun – and made a huge mess! – just piping different designs with the icing.
Once I had tried a few piping tips, I decided to use food colouring to make different colours. I chose one tip that I really liked and started piping a bunch of flowers on parchment paper.
To make flowers that were multi-coloured, I placed a bit of icing of one colour, and bit of another, into the same piping bag. I was scared at first that the colours would combine to create a murky, brown colour, but it worked out better than I thought! I feel like this was a really fun and helpful way to begin learning some piping techniques!
How to Have a Beautiful Mind
During these past two weeks, I read and applied two more chapters of “How to Have a Beautiful Mind” into our conversations. This time, the chapters were “How to be interesting” and “How to respond.”
First of all, “How to be interesting.” In this chapter, de Bono explained several ways to keep conversations interesting: using “what if” statements, suggesting alternate possibilities, speculating, putting new ideas forward, and using the phrase “Well that’s interesting.” A quote that really stood out to me was this: “Being interested and interesting go together” (50). To me, this means that to fully engage in a conversation, you first need to be interested in it. Once you are fully immersed in a conversation, you can then make the conversation really interesting.
During meeting with my mentor, I did the following:
Found and made connections that link matters together and generate interest
When I was melting some chocolate in the microwave, I placed all the chocolate into a bowl. Cassandra explained that since the bowl I was using was glass, the chocolate would melt faster than if the bowl was made of another material. We connected this to the fact that glass conducts heat easier. From there, we were able to discuss questions like “how much faster will it melt in a glass bowl rather to a metal one?” This generated more interest in the topic and the conversation as a whole.
Explored, elaborated, and pulled interest out of the matter
When making the swiss buttercream, is was, at first, rather grainy. This was odd, and I was trying to figure out what I had done wrong in the recipe. Had I used the wrong amount of one of the ingredients? Had I missed a step? With some conversation, I realized that I had not allowed the butter to soften enough, and this was likely the cause of the bizarre texture. Through exploring the matter, I was able to solve the problem and attempt to fix it.
Used “what if” statements to get to now lines of thought
For the buttercream, seven egg whites were required. I asked, “what if I don’t have egg whites,” and Cassandra explained that I would then have to separate the egg whites from the yolks by hand. By using “what if” statements, I was able to learn a new skill and reach a new line of thought.
This week’s second chapter was “How to respond.” In this chapter, Edward de Bono gives some tips for responding to statements and questions during conversations. He says to always ask for clarification before responding, to ensure that you are not arguing against a different point that the other person was making. You can also support other’s ideas by relating them to a way you act or feel, or to something you have experienced. A few other tips discussed were to avoid “case making” arguments (where you only consider the point of view of one side), providing stories as possibilities but not guarantees, extending ideas, carrying forward ideas by looking at it from all angles, and also modifying any ideas to made then more agreeable to you. A quote to sum up the chapter: “support goes beyond agreement. You can support a point that has been made from statistics, from your own experience, from a shared set of values and so on” (64).
During my meetings with Cassandra, I did this following:
Asked for clarification when I was in doubt about something
When mixing all my ingredients together while baking, I was unsure about the consistency of the icing. Because I was uncertain, I showed her and asked if seemed the right consistency. From her feedback, I was able to reach a more accurate consistency.
Supported a point my mentor made
When measuring out ingredients, Cassandra said you can put the cup that has been in the sugar into the flour, but not the other way around. To support this point, I said, “because the flour sticks to the measuring cup,” and she added that this would cause contamination of the ingredients.
Shared a personal story that illustrates the conversation topic
When talking about different ways to package and freeze cakes, Cassandra said “My method, so that I don’t have to bake ten thousand cakes in a day, is I wrap them in a special way when they come out of the oven, and then I freeze them, so that the moisture stays inside.” By sharing a story to illustrate the situation, I could see how this could be applied to real life situations. Then, I was able to add that this strategy would be very helpful for this project because I am then able to work on cakes over a span of a few weeks. This is especially helpful for when I am just starting to learn the skills and techniques.
Modified an idea to make it more acceptable, stronger, or practical
When cracking eggs for the buttercream, Cassandra told me to always crack them into a separate bowl first so that if I accidentally get some yolk into the egg whites, it will only be one egg wasted, not all of them. Instead of cracking it into a clean bowl, I modified the idea and asked if it was alright if I instead cracked it into a measuring cup that I had already used. Because the measuring cups had been used to measure the sugar, and I was about to combine the eggs with the sugar anyways, cracking eggs into the measuring cup instead was a good way of not dirtying an extra bowl.