Baking with Engineers

Programs for this blog post

Aerospace Engineering

Authored By:

Kyle Rader

Baking is all about following the recipe, and engineers are supposed to be good at paying attention to details, so baking should be no problem for us!  We are in France, home of the fancy pastry, so it only seemed appropriate that for one of our cultural activities, we learned how to bake some pastries.  Our workshop took place in a teaching kitchen, but wasn't big enough for all 16 students, so we split into two groups.

The first group baking made a Framboisier, which is essentially a fancy raspberry cake.  We began making the cake layers, whipping egg whites and folding in a handful of types of flour and other dry ingredients.  After spreading that into thin layers and putting it in the oven, we moved on to making the italian meringue.  This was a little bit tricky, as you had to whip egg whites while simultaneously cooking a simple syrup to a specific temperature, finishing both at the same time.  The syrup was then mixed into the egg whites and combined together.  Then, we whipped egg yolks (I didn't even know that was a thing!) and repeated the process combining with a syrup.  Next, butter was whipped and combined with vanilla, and then mixed with the egg yolk preparation.  Once that was complete, it was combined together with the egg whites to form a fancy type of buttercream frosting.

We finally began assembly, which consisted of punching out rectangles from our sheet of cake, soaking them with a simply syrup, putting one in a mold, adding buttercream, raspberries, buttercream, and another layer of cake.  It was topped with some powdered sugar and decorated to our own liking.  After finishing, it was amazing to see how they all turned out - they were spectacular!

For the second group, they made Pasteis de Nata, which is a custard filled puff pastry from Portugal.  This group began by making puff pastry dough, something I've seen before but never made.  Turns out, it's harder than it looks!  We took a simple dough, rolled it out to a specific size, and sandwiched some butter (okay, a lot of butter) in the middle.  It was then chilled, rolled out, folded over itself, chilled, rolled out, folded over itself, and chilled again, giving us the nice layered dough.  Once that was finished, we formed it into a big sheet and then rolled it into a log shape and chilled it again.  Next came the custard preparation.  That was pretty straightforward, and consisted of creating a simple syrup with some aromatics, boiling some milk and sugar, and the combining the two.  Then, once that cooled down a bit, egg yolks were added.

Finally, to assemble the pastries, the logs were cut into small strips, pressed into a mold, and then filled with the custard liquid.  Once everyone had made their pastries, they were baked.  Once demolded, the amazing buttery layers in the spiral shape were visible on the bottoms of each of them - so pretty!

Overall, we had a really successful afternoon making some rather complicated (at least for me!) pastries.  That evening, I ate both of them, and they were delicious!  The Pasteis de Nata were super buttery and flaky, and the custard was really tasty.  And the Framboisier was really good.  The texture of the top and bottom was both crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, sort of like a macaron, and the buttercream with the raspberries was really flavorful.  I'm partial to anything raspberry, so this definitely was my favorite.  Our instructor said that the raspberry pastry each of us made was meant for four people, but I ate mine all by myself - don't tell anyone!  I'm definitely a fan of French pastry making now, and hope to learn some more in the future!