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.
You often hear that cooking and pastry are two different worlds. Isn't that something you often hear? I think it is.
It certainly felt that way after last night's class. The difference between Tuesday night's cooking class and last night's baking and pastry class was like the difference between a Transformers movie and a quiet French film. Maybe that's a bad example because Transformers movies (what number are we on? 29?) are loud and clangy and you forget about them ten minutes after you watch them, while cooking is loud and clangy but at least you can enjoy a delicious French onion soup when you are finished. What am I talking about? I think I'm tired. Cooking > Transformers. But what isn't?
Anyway, in Tuesday's cooking class it was basically, "There's no time! Put on your coats, here's how you cut an onion, go make some stock." We were cooking about 15 minutes into the class, getting pots of this and that going, rushing around the kitchen, figuring out the best order to do everything and sprinting to get it all plated and on the table by the end. Last night's baking and pastry class, on the other hand, started with a lengthy introduction to the ingredients and science behind pastries and baked goods, a thorough demonstration of the recipe and a slower, more methodical cooking experience. One isn't necessarily better than the other; they are just different. Isn't that what parents tell their children?
There is still an unbelievable amount to learn, but that two hours of introduction alone has changed my baking forever. For instance, did you know that baking soda only reacts with an acid? So unless you have an acidic ingredient in a recipe, there is no reason to have baking soda. And, because baking soda reacts as soon as it hits the liquid in your recipe, you have to put your batter in the oven immediately after the two meet. There is no point in adding baking soda to some buttermilk pancake batter and letting it sit in the refrigerator overnight.
Did you already know this? Well, good for you. We went through all of the types of fat, all of the types of sugar, and so on and so forth, from where they came from to how to use them to how to substitute them. You think you know it, but until you really think about a list of all of the options when it comes to fat, and how those fats react with gluten, for instance, can you really read a recipe or create your own.
Last night we started pretty easy - crepes. We used Jacques Pepin's recipe, which was excellent, of course. But all of those crepes were turned into gateau de crepes a la Normande. Basically you cook some apples down, mix them with sugar, almond extract, apple liqueur and cream, spread them between layers of crepes with some ground almonds, and keep doing that until you have a nice tall stack. Then you pour melted butter and sugar over the whole thing, sprinkle with sliced almonds and bake it.
We burned our first batches of apples. Getting to know the burners is taking some getting used to - they basically have two settings: giant flames licking the ceiling or off. But we were able to get another batch going and ready without any problems. Luckily, to make up for that misstep, we were the only group that added the correct amount of sugar to the apples.
Instead of sitting down together to dinner like in the cooking class, in baking we line up the finished products on a table in the kitchen and critique them together. We talk about how they look, what is different about them, what we like, what went wrong, what we might do differently in the future and, of course, how they taste. Despite essentially following the same recipe, each group of two ended up with a different end product. Group 1 had more crepes, so they doubled them up on some layers, resulting in a taller, more crepe-y cake. Group 2 had a much more pronounced almond flavor. Group 3 (my group) was the sweetest (because I dipped my finger in the batter). Group 4, if I remember correctly, had everything else according to the recipe but with less sugar.
They were all good. "Not better - just different!" I think if I was serving this as a dessert I would do what our group did again, with more sugar. Bias! It was the only one that tasted like a classic dessert, I thought. But because it was 9:45pm and none of us had eaten dinner, I think we were all more than happy to have the less-sweet versions.
So, day two down. Tonight, cookies and crackers, including sables, graham crackers and hardtack.
From now on I'm bringing my good camera to class, so hopefully this will be the last of my crappy iPhone photos: