It was my first time in this part of Amara Hotel - a cosy little room function room with neatly arranged tables fitted with baking equipment. Today's class was going to be packed; a large group of 25, mostly students too, all eager to whip up a storm under the guidance of award-winning Chef Lim Jia Ching. We arrived early to talk to the Chef at first, but it appeared that Chef Lim was still back in the kitchen handling matters, while the kitchen helps called to aid this event were busy touching up the place, setting it up perfectly for their guests. Instead, we were greeted by Amara's Executive Chef Charles Goh who introduced us to the area and helped the few other participants to their seats. Shortly after the warm introduction and final words on the preparation to the kitchen helps, the man of the hour arrived.
Chef Lim may look young, but don't let his demeanor fool you- he has over a decade of experience under his belt, working his way up to being the head pastry chef of Amara Hotels Singapore. While soufflés are generally not meant for the first-time baker, Chef Lim adapted his professional recipe to become a soufflé pancake - a far more manageable version of the complicated dessert. With the final preparations done and the recipes prepared, all there was was to await the arrival of the participants.
The students came in as a huge group - all 22 of them, and quickly settled down in the empty tables. Now that all the participants were present, Chef Lim began his class. We were split into 2 per table, with each team sharing a professional mixer and an assortment of baking essentials. The assistant chefs quickly came round to assist us, issuing us pre-packed ingredients as well as to teach us how to operate the machine - one that most of us novice bakers have never seen before. It was pretty comical at first when we tried inserting the kneading attachments without locking it in place, so it kept dropping out halfway into our half-mixed bowl of egg, flour, sugar and butter, creating a lot of mess in the process (though it wasn't us who cleared the mess in the end oops). Eventually, we all got the hang of it, attaching and removing the accessories with ease.
The chefs routinely came around to help us with the mixing, dropping us tips on how to test for the consistency of the mixture and even how to add the ingredients efficiently. Once that was done, we sent our butter cake to the oven and let it bake.
Now here is where the fun starts. We were a demo on how to make the souffle pancakes, starting with the mixing of the flour, butter etc. then piping the mixture into a pan to fry. Also, Chef Lim showed us how he makes the cheese sauce to pair with the pancake and the strawberry with raspberry puree on the side for the contrasting light and sour taste, as well as some bite to further juxtapose with the soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture of the pancake. With that, we went off to try and emulate all that he tried to teach us...
... but to no avail. Well, to be fair we made it past the first stage, which was to mix the ingredients properly and then to funnel that into the piping bag without spilling (much) of the precious batter. However when it was time to fry, well lets just say there were more issues than expected. After we sprayed our oil and turned the heat up on our induction cooker, we sat and waited for the pan to heat up to add the batter. 5 minutes... 10 minutes... almost 15 minutes later the pan was barely even hot. All around us, the students were already done with their first batch of pancakes and on to their second! We quickly sounded off and the chefs came swiftly to rectify the issue. It turned out that the induction cooker we had was faulty, despite being fully functional the day before during their own testing. Within minutes, we had our cooker replaced and the chefs helped us test it by making the first batch for us. It turned out beautiful, the chefs gingerly squeezing out perfect circles of white batter, then dexterously flipping them over to cook the other side. The result was a delicious golden brown, voluminous souffle pancake with slightly charred surface, exactly as how Chef Lim presented his. However when it came to our turn, things didn't really go our way. We made the amateur mistake of squeezing too much batter into the pan and as true blue Singaporeans refused to waste the batter and tried to cook the over sized pancake, praying that it would turn out well. Unfortuantely, the huge pancake broke in half when we tried to flip it over and was also chao tar (burnt) because we left it on for far too long. In the end, we still wasted our pancake, begging the question of why we even bothered to try in the first place sigh
Anyways from that experience, we piped with far more caution, going small rather than going big. We tried to copy the actions of the chefs, from the way they held the piping bag to how they fried the pancake and tried to form circular pancakes. Well I guess I didn't learn my shapes in kindergarten properly because all I formed were triangular blobs of nonsense, nothing close to the shape that the chefs expected us to do. Fortunately, I was blessed with a talented partner who formed perfectly shaped pancakes and so we split the job as such - she pipes it while I try my best not to burn anymore pancakes oops.
When we finally managed to fry all the pancakes (which turned out far better than expected), we went on to plate our food. I think this part was also quite a unique part about the class, where Chef Lim and Executive Chef Charles Goh taught us the basics of plating and designing our work. This, it turned out, was because the students were there on a project for their class that required photographing their bakes at the end of the day. While we won't be posting all of their artworks, do stay tuned to our Instagram or Facebook pages to catch a few snapshots of their beautiful masterpieces!