day three - cookies and crackers

Note: For six weeks, July 5 - August 11, I will be enrolled in the culinary arts cooking and pastry/baking certificate programs at Boston University. Cooking is Monday and Tuesday, baking is Wednesday and Thursday. We have to keep a daily journal of the experience, so I'll be blogging about the class every day.

Have you ever seen the movie Gosford Park? You should! It's a great movie. I've probably seen that movie more than any other movie. It's the movie I always turn on, just when you want a movie playing, you know? You know. My sister's movie is Catch Me If You Can.

Anyway, there is a scene in that movie where the snobby, catty Aunt Constance, played by Maggie Smith, I mean DAME Maggie Smith, sits down to breakfast in bed, peers into the jam jar and says, "Bought marmalade? Oh dear, I call that very feeble."

So the lesson from last night's cookie and crackers class is, "Bought graham crackers? Oh dear, I call that very feeble."

I know, I know, I know. People who go on and on and on about not buying things from the store and making everything from scratch and all that are the worst. But last night we made graham crackers in class. And they were seriously delicious. But then we got a bag of store-bought graham crackers to compare and I don't think I can ever buy them again. Compared to the homemade they were cardboard.

I'm serious! I know, you hear things like this all the time. Grow your own vegetables, make your own stock, create your own water, blah blah blah. Too bad. You should do all of those things.

No, no, I know, sometimes dinner is going to be Kraft macaroni and cheese and sorry about it. I love Totino's pizza. I love ramen. There was an article in yesterday's New York Times about how soda jerks are the "in" thing now and of course in the picture they are all wearing suspenders and mustaches. All of a sudden modern is bad and everything must be canned by hand. Unless you are Ferran Adrià.

But, homemade graham crackers? Excellent. They taste like honey. Real honey! And brown sugar. And graham, I think. Is graham a flavor? Sure. Anyway, I'm going to try to make some more this weekend and put the recipe from our instructor on the blog.

In addition, we also made sable cookies and biscotti. The sables were the favorites of most people in the class. These were simple French sugar sables, like a tender and crumbly shortbread. A constant problem in the kitchen was the heat - our butter was melting so fast we had to constantly put things in the fridge to firm up. Also, a tip from Janine, our instructor, on rolling the dough into a log: roll up and down, moving your fingers in and out, very, very lightly. You are barely pressing the dough. You also want to use only the splayed tips of your fingers.

We also rolled our graham cracker dough between sheets of parchment and then just removed the top parchment and placed the rolled and cut crackers, still on the bottom parchment, directly onto the cookie sheet. Because the dough is so sticky, trying to use a spatula to get them to the oven would have been ridiculous. Another tip for rolling: to get an even dough that doesn't thin out at the ends, don't roll the dough all the way to the end. Place your pin in the middle of the dough and roll either toward or away from you, but stopping just before you get to the end. This will give you a lip. Now give the dough a quarter turn and do it again - the new roll will press down the lip. When your dough is the desired thickness, very lightly press down any remaining raised edges. Now your dough is an even thickness!

As far as biscotti go, our dough was weirdly wet when we went to roll it into logs. Maybe the eggs were abnormally large? But we just added some extra flour until they were the desired consistency and baked them off. Nobody could taste the difference in the end. This works for many cookies, but for cakes, if your batter is the wrong consistency, just start over.

Again, they were both delicious. This was the best class so far, I think. We are all getting more comfortable in the kitchen. We are getting to know each other. The recipes are turning out.

One more day to finish off the week - back to cooking. Sauces tonight. And I'm giving a presentation on bechamel.