Baking Like Lightning (or How I Passed My Practical)

At the end of the last block of classes, after we had finished Basic and Classical Cakes, my group of baking and pastry students took our 2nd Term Practical Exam, of which we had been terrified for many months. This is the test that evaluates the baking and pastry students’ competence at the basics: pate a choux, pastry cream, tempering chocolate, sponge cake, Italian buttercream, working with fondant, puff pastry–in short, what we should know how to do before the CIA trusts us not to embarass ourselves during our externships out in the industry. More importantly, this test evaluates our speed and accuracy under pressure. By the time you reach the 2nd term practical, you know how to do all of the above. The real question is can you do it with a clock ticking? Can you do it even when something goes wrong? Can you do it when your externship is riding on it?

We had 2 days, with 3 hours of production time for each day. On Day 1 my plan was to make my puff, bake my sponge cakes, make pate a choux and bake my eclairs, cook my pastry cream, make Italian buttercream, and make tempered chocolate decor pieces for my finished cake. Yes, all of that in 3 hours. If you are a full-fledged pastry chef reading this, that might not sound like such a big deal. But for us, it was a very big deal indeed. And I made it through everything!

Sort of. Not really.

Yes, I got through everything, but my pastry cream and my tempered chocolate did not work. I’d made pastry cream probably 8 or 9 times and tempered chocolate probably 4 or 5–and this, of course, was the first time either of them had been a problem for me. Because this was The Practical, and that’s just how life goes.

When my pastry cream looked separated, and my chocolate refused to do anything I wanted it to, I took a deep breath and moved on to the next thing, deciding I would worry about it later. Later meant Day 2.

On Day 2, I baked like lightning–faster than I’ve ever baked before, and faster than I knew I could bake. I drew up a brand new timeline that looked totally impossible to me. In those three hours I would have to remake my pastry cream, redo my chocolate, fill and glaze eclairs, bake a puff pastry apple strip (a kind of rectangular tart), and assemble and decorate a cake. I still don’t remember how I did it except that I never looked at the clock. I didn’t have time to worry about time! I just moved as fast as I possibly could and didn’t waste a thought on how I was doing or whether I would finish. I didn’t even care whether I would finish because I didn’t think I would. I cared about getting as far as I could. If I was going to fail, I was going to fail trying.

But I didn’t fail. I finished. Out of the 14 people in my group, 5 of us passed, and I was fortunate enough to be one of them. Yes, only 5 out of 14–the grading criteria for these products are that high. I do feel that I earned my grade because I prepared myself as well as I possibly could for this exam. At the same time, preparation isn’t everything (although the CIA’s motto claims the contrary). When the unexpected happens, as it inevitably does, I have learned how to take my mind off what’s wrong and focus all my energy on how to recover from it–and I think that might be the most important thing the CIA has taught me yet.

Browse Baking and Pastry Arts Schools & Colleges

Refine School Matches
Hide filters
  • SUBJECT

    See More

  • DEGREE

    See More

  • PROGRAM TYPE

  • START TIME

    LOCATION
    Please enter valid US or Canada Zip.
            Results open in new window

            Searching Searching ...

            Matching School Ads
            5 Program(s) Found
            • Alumni have appeared in reality competition shows such as Top Chef and Project Runway.
            • Has a team of about 4,000 faculty members focused on helping students tap opportunities in a marketplace driven by ideas.
            • Offers programs in design, media arts, fashion, and culinary.
            • Provides program coordinators who work with students to ensure they have the learning materials, assignments, facilities, and faculty to get the most out of the program.
            • Over 50 campus locations nationwide.
            Show more [+]
            Good for Working Adults
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Financial Aid
            • Transferable Credits
            1 Program(s) Found
            • Ranked among the Best Online Bachelor’s Programs in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
            • Lets undergrad students try classes before paying any tuition.
            • Has an average class sizes of 18 for undergraduate and 13 for graduate-level courses.
            • Offers numerous scholarship opportunities that can help students save up to $750 per term on their tuition.
            • Tends to educate degree-seeking online and campus-based students who are adult learners with families and students who work while pursuing higher education.
            Show more [+]
            • Online Courses
            • Financial Aid
            1 Program(s) Found
            • Provides students the opportunity to train at home in their spare time to get their high school diploma, train for a new career, or enhance current skills.
            • Offers programs in psychology/social work, business management, medical billing, criminal justice, and more.
            • Member of the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA), the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education (CNIE), and the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE).
            • Features a fully flexible schedule with no classes to attend, leaving the study pace up to the student.
            Show more [+]
            • Online Courses
            5 Program(s) Found
            • Received the 2013 “Cooking School of the Year” Award of Excellence from the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP).
            • Accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC).
            • Externship opportunities are available at numerous famous New York City restaurants.
            • Campus is located near downtown Manhattan, within walking distance of many popular attractions such as the Radio City Music Hall.
            Show more [+]
            Good for Working Adults
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Financial Aid
            4 Program(s) Found
            Star Career Academy , Philadelphia
            • Founded in 1979 as the Star Technical Institute school group, offering career training in drafting and design.
            • Provides education and training towards employment in the healthcare, culinary, baking, beauty, and hospitality career fields.
            • Their Fast Track Diploma/Certificate Programs can enable students to be job-ready in as little as eight months.
            • A Career Services Office helps match graduates with potential employers.
            • Accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Career Schools and Colleges and approved by the U.S. Department of Education.
            Show more [+]
            • Financial Aid
            3 Program(s) Found
            • Culinary Arts program includes the 3-week Farm To Table® Experience, where students gain a direct, in-depth look at where food comes from.
            • Numerous scholarship opportunities and financial aid are available to students who qualify.
            • Accreditation from the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET), and the Council on Occupational Education (COE).
            • 2 campuses located in Boulder, Colorado and Austin, Texas.
            Show more [+]
            Good for Working Adults
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Financial Aid
            2 Program(s) Found
            • Recognized on the President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll every year from 2010-2014
            • Day and evening classes are available for flexible scheduling.
            • Offers bachelor’s, associate, and diploma programs in business, culinary arts, criminal justice, cosmetology, and more.
            • Takes a unique “Focused Learning” approach, where students typically take only one class per month to concentrate on one subject with one faculty member at a time.
            • Accredited by the Accrediting Council on Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS).
            Show more [+]
            Good for Working Adults
            • Accredited
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Financial Aid