Gingerbread Bakery


As I recently noted, one of the projects we have to do on behalf of the Vancouver Island University is build a gingerbread house. This is an annual event at the school and is used to showcase the Professional Baking and Pastry Arts Program. It also helps raise funds as these houses are auctioned off while displayed at a couple of different venues. Any funds raised from the auction of the houses goes to the VIU Foundation, and a portion of this is earmarked for our Paris trip next March to help defray some of the costs to the students.

Although “Paris” was the suggested theme for this year’s houses, we were able to pick anything we wanted to do. A few of the students chose to follow along with this. I went in another direction. Below are the construction details (with usual copious photos)  of my chosen house.

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VIU Pastry 101, Weeks 5, 6, 7 and Round Up.

Another hectic couple of weeks in the VIU Pastry section get us into the Savoury Pies, Pastry and Quick Breads parts of the course and ending on the Round Up week.

VIU Pastry: Pastei

For Savoury Pies Week, I made, strangely, savoury pies. Specifically, Chicken Pot Pies, Veggie Pies and Quiches, both Ham and Cheese as well as Veg. I made a LOT of these. Literally, dozens and dozens and dozens, in fact, closer to a hundred. That included making a big-ass pot of chicken filling, and pressing out hundreds of 5 inch pie shells as well as rolling out each individual shell top and applying them. And baking a fair number of them, freezing the rest for baking later that week and next.

Seems meat or veg pies are a popular lunch choice on campus and in fact, we make over 200 of them each week, plus 216 sausage rolls and dozens of Cornish pasties on top of that. (That’s pronounced “past eaze”, by the way, not “paste eaze” which are a whole ‘nuther thing.)

Continue reading “VIU Pastry 101, Weeks 5, 6, 7 and Round Up.”

VIU Pastry 101, Weeks 2, 3 and 4

Well, it’s been a bit since I posted. So let me catch up on what’s happened.

As noted in the previous post, this Pastry section is divided into 6 parts, sandwiched between the intro of week one and the wrap up in week eight. During the last couple of weeks, I’ve gone through Cakes, Sous-Chef and just finishing Deserts (a sort of catch-all part).

During cake week, we made several large sheet cakes for the Vancouver Island University’s 75th Anniversary celebration. Or at least got them started; the cakes were finished and decorated the following week. I also made a a batch of chocolate cupcakes and some cheesecakes. And we made a giant batch of Italian Meringue Buttercream early in the week.


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Professional Baking: Week Four – Pastry!

Another week of Professional Baking School at VIU and this time we turn our focus on pastry with Chef Harper. Again, a bit intense as we’re really just learning the very basics so I have minimal photos. Still, a glimpse of the space and class are available.

Here we are in the Food Lab with individual work stations and (off on the sides) cooking elements, stoves, etc. All very high tech.

The stove top elements in the Lab are induction and are wonderful to work on. Watch a video explaining how they work here. Note how fast the water in the pot boils!  And you can put your hand on the element without burning yourself – the heat is ‘created’ in the pan itself. Amazing. Why these aren’t in every kitchen already, I do not understand. SOOOO much better than annoying ceramic/glass tops that are either on full blast or off.

OK, on to the class itself.

We tackled the following:

  • Choux Paste
  • Crème Anglaise
  • Pastry Crème
  • Diplomat Cème
  • Bavarian Crème
  • Sugar Cookies
  • Icebox Cookies
  • Spritz Cookies
  • Biscotti

Bavarian Crème was used to fill little puff pastry balls we made from the Choux Paste, the latter being an exercise in piping consistent sized balls of the paste.

These were later drizzled with chocolate.

The Diplomat Crème was made using Pastry Cream mixed with whipped cream, gelatin and raspberry purée and poured into small cups. Much like a mousse.

We cooked sugar and water to the point of burning, taking little samples of the syrup as it heated up to see what sugar syrup colour/temp we would want to achieve before it became rather bitter. Surprisingly, it needed to be just light golden yellow to be a nice flavour, and very quickly started to become bitter at the light caramel point. Darker was very bitter and inedible. Clear or nearly so had almost no flavour. Pro Tips: burnt sugar will stink up your house; even very burnt sugar is easily washed off dishes by giving it a long soak in water.

On the cookie side: We made sugar cookie dough which we later rolled out and baked, according to what Chef showed once but without any further instructions (temp, actual thickness, time, etc.). I failed: mine were too thin and not baked long enough. Many folk got it spot on, though.

We made checkered cookies (following about the same process as the Christmas cookies I made last winter) using white and chocolate doughs. Very pretty. Sorry, no pics 🙁

Spritz Cookies are piped cookies, made in part using almond paste. Again, the goal here was piping technique to emulate the sample shown, as it would be in a “real life” bakery situation: “Here’s the cookie we want, make 500 exactly like it!” In such a situation, you do not want much variance; they all need to be just as tall and wide as the sample. Too big or short means they won’t cook right and the final count will be off.


It took several goes – fortunately, you can scrape off the failed ones and re-pipe them – but I eventually got some nice looking ones. Above, a shot of a couple of them. In fact, lots of people’s cookies came out really well. Nice job, everyone!

Back in the bakery for the last day, we baked off some of our goods, packaged and set out for sale the cookies and puff pastry. Lauren and I also got to stack a couple of big cakes for a special order – no pics again. But here we are anyway, just to close out the post.

Next week: Chocolate!

Plus: Mr B asked for a Saturday (Oct 1) volunteer to get some items baked out for a special event. Not sure what we’ll be handling but I stepped up for that. Making dozens and dozens of one thing is excellent practice, since you can improve your technique as you go. So much better than just three at a time like at home.

CIVI Pro Baking Class, Week One

Finally! Yes, it’s finally Aug 29th and day one of baking class at the CIVI* begin for my 2011-2012 session. I’ve been looking forward to this day with great excitement for a while now and it’s really, actually here.


Can I get a “Woohoo!!”*

* What is CIVI? The official name for the baking end of VIU is actually “The Culinary Institute of Vancouver Island” Pretty fancy, eh?

Being that the first couple of days are mostly orientation, we spend the majority of days one and two just going through the basic inauguration into the University: After introductions from our teachers, Mr Martin Barnett and Chef Ken Harper, we meet a few of the important people in the bureaucratic background, taken for a quick tour of the corners we’ll haunt, such as the Food Lab, got our Student Cards, hit up the bookstore to spend more money, etc.. Wednesday we had off (but lots of reading homework) due to the Uni having a “pre-class” staff meeting. Since Pro Baking is starting almost 2 weeks early in order to be ready to pump out breakfast goodies when school officially opens, our teachers are taken away for that day.

At last, Thursday came along and we are now actually, really, ready to bake! Continue reading “CIVI Pro Baking Class, Week One”