How your work can be a piece of cake

WORDSWORTH - Mons Romulo - The Philippine Star
How your work can be a piece of cake
Pastry chef Aisa Atilano and her baked masterpieces.

Despite being a graduate of BS Communications technology at the Ateneo De Manila University, Aisa Atilano decided to become a pastry chef and eventually opened her pastry business.

Her passion for baking started with a baking course required in high school and that was enough to get her hooked. “From then on, I found baking to be therapeutic. Long before ‘procrastibaking’ was coined, I was already doing it!” says Aisa.

After a year in the corporate world, Aisa decided to go back to pastry school, where she took an 18-month course in Pastry and Bakery Arts and Kitchen Management at ISCAHM (International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management). She also took up short courses in London, where she got interested in making flowers; Seoul, where she took classes in sugar craft; LA, and Singapore.

When asked what made her decide to go fulltime, she replied, “It was a gradual shift towards cake design, when my nieces would ask for special cakes for their birthdays. Then friends of siblings started to order for their children. Then my other siblings and friends got married, which pushed me more towards wedding cakes!”

It is hard for Aisa to choose her favorite cake or pie. A constant is always chocolate cream pie — there is something comforting about the mix of chocolate, cream and graham-cracker crust. More recently, Aisa has been craving for and making tiramisu — just as it is served in sidewalk cafes in Rome. The mix of coffee, mascarpone, and a bit of chocolate is absolutely the best “pick-me-up” (Tiramisu is italian for “pick me up,” referring to chocolate and coffee).

She is inspired by chef Ernie Babaran for his work ethic, humility, and willingness to share his knowledge and would love to meet Cedric Grolet for his ability to make his pastries look clean and simple — which to Aisa is a feat in itself!

For those who dream of becoming pastry chefs, and even for moms and children who want to bake a cake during these times when we’re mostly at home, here are Aisa’s top tips for baking a cake:

1. Be precise… and patient! Baking is an exact science, so measure the ingredients carefully, preheat the oven to the correct temperature, and follow the instructions carefully. In baking, one can’t rush! It takes the exact time it needs to bake.

2. Clean as you go. Food safety is paramount. Always wash hands before handling any ingredients, and make sure all tools, equipment and work surfaces are washed down with soap and water prior to use. I always keep a big stainless bowl and freshly laundered rag nearby for easy cleanup.

3. Use quality ingredients. Now more than ever, it should be worth the calories! Start with good quality butter and good quality chocolate — and it’s already halfway to a great chocolate cake. It just tastes better!

4. Always have a group of willing taste-testers. This is critical. They will be the ones giving a critique on what was made while still enjoying the occasional burnt bit or lopsided cake.

5. Make sure all your wet ingredients are the same temperature before mixing. I learned this the hard way! For example, if the recipe calls for melted butter, cool it down to room temperature before using it. And make sure the eggs and milk are room temperature, too. This way, they will blend together correctly and avoid curdling. Better batter equals better cake.

6. Cool the cake — it is worth the wait! Wait for the cake to cool down before removing it from the pan. Then cool it, and cool some more before icing. Otherwise, it will just collapse!

7. Re-whisk the icing. This will make sure that the icing will glide perfectly on the cake. It may be an added step, but it keeps the icing from clumping together or dragging too much on the cake.

8. Keep at it! In baking (as in life), things sometimes just do not go as planned, no matter how much preparation or planning is done. It’s all part of learning! Try again, then pay attention to the details and learn where it went wrong. And then try again and learn. Before you know it, it’s a signature cake or cookie.

9. Sharing is caring. There is nothing better than sharing the calories with the same group of trusted taste-testers who were there through the burnt edges and the lopsided cakes. Baking the cake may be “me time,” but eating the cake is best when shared with loved ones.

10. Enjoy the process. It really is a learning experience with a delicious result! And if it isn’t on the first try, go back to No. 8 and keep at it!

(We welcome your suggestions and comments. Please e-mail me at monsrt@gmail.com. Follow me on Instagram @monsromulo.)

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