Updated: Jan 26
This article was written with the intention of taking a step back from the colorful fun to touch base on the professional aspect of what it takes to become a gluten free baker and pastry chef like I did. Before I created Colored in Flour, I have worked as a pastry cook in restaurants as well as in various bakeries and have even been offered positions as a Pastry Cook at Michelin Star restaurants for the work that I can do, but I love what I do here the most at Colored in Flour because I can actually eat what I create here!
Fun Fact before we begin: The original appeal of Colored in Flour was not going to be colorful at all! (Haha, what?) It was going to have a more natural image, much like what you see in the pictures here in this article. I decided to have WAY more fun though with what I do, because creating food art is like arts and crafts to me... and I LOVE arts and crafts! Come on!
So, many of you who are going to be reading Colored in Flour will be wondering how I got started in the world of baking and pastry arts.
Wow! Wait. Everything you make is gluten free?
The answer is yes! Everything I make is gluten free. It has actually been my passion for quite some time now to take gluten free baking to the next level. Essentially, it has been my goal to make gluten free not even look or taste gluten free at all.
It all started in my kitchen over 12 years ago after my diagnosis of Celiac Disease where I began experimenting with ingredients and making it a place for taste-testing and baking. My Celiac Disease is how I ultimately became a self-taught gluten free baker and pastry chef. Well, that, in addition to being brought up in a family of good cooks and bakers on both sides who I learned a lot from as well.
You will be surprised to learn that I hadn’t realized up until very recently that creative baking and writing my own recipes was just exactly what I was meant to do with my life. I mean, have you ever worked in a career that you were not happy with or just knew you didn’t belong in? Well, that was me for a few solid years. Baking and pastry arts is what I am truly passionate about.
Many people who have the desire to become a Pastry Chef will attend culinary school to learn all that entails of baking, working with food, experimenting with ingredients, and putting together their own masterpiece. I know that many culinary schools offer dessert programs where you learn about making various desserts and pastries so that for your final project you are ready to create your own presentation of dessert in order to graduate. Whether it’s a layered cake or a brand new concoction you created, they are always looking to discover new talent whether it’s to hire the next executive pastry chef at a high-end restaurant or a private chef for high-end celebrities and clientele etc.
If I could attend the best pastry school in the world, that’s what I would eventually do. Unfortunately, I have not found a pastry school that offers an entirely gluten free program, which actually surprises me because it is such a major need. There are few programs who do briefly touch basis on the subject of gluten free baking throughout the programs they offer, but I am yet to find a dedicated gluten free baking program.
In reality, there are so many people in this world who are gluten free. Have you seen the number of hashtags on Instagram that are #glutenfree? The number is in the millions! There are people who are gluten free for many different reasons and I have actually yet to meet a person who is doing the gluten free diet to be “cool”. I think there is a misunderstanding by most who assume people are on the diet to be “cool” and if you ask someone why they are gluten free, they will more than likely tell you it is due to health reasons. I have never met a single person who says they do it because they want to be "cool"- The world does not operate like a middle school popularity contest like it did back in the 90s where you're judged for being "cool or not" for what you wear, what you say, and what you eat. People are not like that unless they're an extreme exception. Otherwise, I haven't the slightest clue how the misconception got started. I say if it makes you feel better, then enjoy! Either way, my point is that millions and millions of people are on the gluten free diet and still I am yet to find even a dedicated gluten free baking class anywhere.
I am definitely still on the lookout as I write this post, however! I might have to open a dedicated gluten free baking facility of my own so I can teach baking classes myself!
So, instead of attending pastry school, I am all self-taught for the most part. When I was much younger, my grandmother on my Mom's side of the family helped me acquire many of my skills in baking. She taught me how to prepare many various cakes, pastries, and desserts at a very young age. And no, none of which were gluten free! (I was undiagnosed back in the 90s).
As you can see below, the proof is in the pudding. There is a picture of me, my baby sister, and my grandmother teaching us how to frost a layered cake. No, it was not a gluten free cake either! But, it is because of her teachings that I can say that I know how to make a mean layered cake and other confections! Gluten free baking really does go hand in hand with "regular" baking and after doing this for years I can definitely vouch for that because I know the difference like the back of my hand. Gluten free baking just takes practice.
It is simply because of the struggles I faced with having to change my diet over 12 years ago that I decided to learn how to bake with gluten free ingredients on my own. Options were extremely limited back then and there was no such thing as a gluten free aisle in a supermarket... you just had to cross your fingers and hope that you were able to find some gluten free flour. It is because of this that I was forced to experiment and work with what I could find. As a result, I only got better and even better at baking and I became my own pastry chef. If you have never tried gluten free baking from scratch before, you must know that there is a whole science behind its ingredients. It’s not the same as working with wheat flour, no, but with practice, you'll discover that it actually really does go hand in hand with one another. It is not easy at first and it comes with a lot of patience, practice, and understanding of the diet as a whole. At this point in my life, I consider myself an expert based on the 12+ years of knowledge and experience that I have working with gluten free ingredients alone. Again, practice!
If you want to become a pastry chef because working with desserts is something that you are really passionate about, I can tell you right now that it is possible! While it does take a lot of hard work and practice, it also takes a lot of persistence and creative thought. There is an entire concept of artistry behind baking, cake decorating, and working with various ingredients and I am a firm believer that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to while not letting anyone or anything get in the way of keeping you from accomplishing your dreams and your passions, because realistically that is truly what it takes. You also have to find your own style and part of the art of baking is being able to express that through your presentation. That's what makes you distinct.
How to Become Your Own Pastry Chef
Step 1: Brainstorming
Becoming your own pastry chef requires a lot of creative thought and brainstorming, especially when it comes to making your own unique dish.
For example, some of my favorite flavors and tastes are chocolate and citrus. Some of my favorite textures include creamy textures, like whipped cream, crème anglaise, and panna cotta. My favorite kinds of desserts are cake, cheesecake, mousse, cookies, and cupcakes (yeah, I have a lot of favorites!)
Tips: After gathering together your favorite flavors, tastes, and textures and seeing what works together, keep in mind what your favorite kinds of desserts are, whether it’s cupcakes, brownies, or cake, for instance. It might even be helpful to write that down.
Fun Fact: When going to trail at restaurants and bakeries to become a potential Pastry Cook, they will see you as professional if you bring your own notepad and take notes along the way. When I trailed at a Michelin Star restaurant in NYC, I was given a challenging task where I was asked to bake over 100 cookies to professionally present to the Pastry Chef on a dessert plate. The fun part about the task was to create a compilation of tastes, textures, and flavors that went well together. Now, if you don't know how to make cookies from scratch let alone know how to get creative with ingredients, you would not have been able to perform this task. After I baked the cookies, I presented them to the chef and the Chef said they were perfect! It was one of the happiest moments of my entire life. I was ultimately given the job, and I am not even Pastry School trained.
Step 2: Testing Ingredients
After you have gathered together all of your favorite combinations of flavors, tastes, and textures, you can further brainstorm a list of ingredients that pair well together. Then, you can determine if those ingredients work well together at all.
For example, my favorite types of chocolate are: White and Milk Chocolate
Favorite type of Citrus: Fresh Zesty Lemons
Favorite type of Creamy texture: Panna Cotta or Cheesecake or both!
With the ingredients listed above, you can create a chocolate, lemon and cream dessert, which are flavors, tastes, and textures that work really well together. If you find that certain tastes that do not pair well together, I can suggest experimenting with more ingredients. The key is to keep working with food until you have come up with something you find a good combination of.
Step 3: Visualization
When it comes to creating your own dessert dish, sometimes it’s best to visualize in your head how you want your dessert to appear on plate or even on a cake stand.
Sometimes even drawing it out helps! I am an artist so I love drawing and painting. Again though, this comes with a lot of practice.
Here are is a sample sketch below I created that may help you when you go to create a sketch of your own.
Step 4: Gather together your supplies and ingredients needed to see it all come together!
As soon as you have decided what it is you want to make, now you can start gathering together all of the supplies needed to make your dessert!
There are many places where you can buy pastry and cake decorating supplies online. You may even have a store near you such as a cake or restaurant supply store where they provide a wide array of assortments necessary to create your masterpiece.
Step 5: Start Baking!
Once you have all of your creative thoughts together, have tested your ingredients, visualized how you want your presentation to look, and you have all of your supplies and ingredients needed, you are ready to start baking and putting your masterpiece together.
Step 6: Enjoy!
Now that you have learned the very basics about what it takes to become your own pastry chef and baker, you can use these steps to create even more desserts! After all, the more desserts the better, right?
This is what I created below with my step-by-step process:
Click link above for recipe.
And here it is on a plate:
Oh and don’t forget… this really does take a lot of hard work and practice. The key is to never give up!
Also, feel free to upload your creations to social media with the steps from this article as I would love to see your masterpiece! Just hashtag my name @coloredinflour and #coloredinflour so I can see what you have created using this guide!
*Disclaimer: My opinions are my own, of course! Additionally, I am not affiliated with any of the names mentioned or featured in this post, if any.