27 Cream Puffs

The other night Chef put his foot down, and I was so glad.

All semester I've been feeling like a flailing fish, with no direction, no instruction, rushing through recipes to get them finished in time without guidance. And after Chef's proclamation during last week's class of: I don't grade you on your cooking and I rarely check your technique, blah, blah,I was starting to get really worried that I might never learn what I set out learn. I'm probably more experienced than the average home cook, but I'm by no means an expert - especially when it comes to baking.

Chef explained that he realized our class is not as advanced as some of the others he's had and we needed to slow down and focus on one recipe rather than several in one night. Um, yeah. It's a first-level baking course. Apparently though, because Valencia's culinary program is considered a career program, they often have students who have been working in the industry for quite some time and are more advanced.

But, based on my own teaching experience for graphic design, I typically give the same set of rules to all of my students on the first day, and then if I see they're more advanced, we kick things up a notch. I feel like we did things a little backwards in baking class.

Chef began the lecture with a list of expectations - something I feel should have been done on the first day – never the less, I'm glad Chef implemented the changes:

  1. This is how I want you to set up your work station
  2. This is how I want you to organize yourselves
  3. This is how I want you to set up your mise
  4. Don't start a recipe until you've read it twice and gathered your mise
  5. Do not substitute ingredients unless I tell you to. If you can't eat it, too bad, make it anyway - just don't eat it.
  6. Do not change the recipe, ever.
  7. Clean as you go – your stations are a complete mess.
  8. Quit screwing around. Get serious about this class.

Ah, finally. Organizational demands via a person of authority.

Numbers 5 and 6 were directed toward me. Or, at least number 6 was for sure. Regarding number 5,I have a lot of food allergies and asked Chef if I could substitute another oil for vegetable oil on a couple of recipes the first day, but never actually did - I just didn't eat what we made that night, so I'm thinking maybe someone else in another class actually did substitute? Not sure. But number 6 was right at me - I messed with the creme brulee recipe last week because I've made it so many damn times before that I wanted to experiment a little bit. Chef was not amused, but I satisfied my "what if" with the experiment and learned something new.No more experimenting though, I promised Chef.

I'm a smart girl. You only have to tell me something once and I get it. And for the most part, I'm a straight shooting, follow the rules person (except for the creme brulee). Others in the class, not so much.Literally, after Chef explained the rules, about 3 students asked the very same questions he just mentioned. Made me want to walk over and bonk them on the head with a wooden spoon.

TR was not in class, so it was just me and R; and then another student joined our group to form a trio again. We focused on pate a choux and made pastry cream, cream puffs, and Gateau St. Honore.

As I'm reading through the recipes, R started, without consult, gathering ingredients for just the pastry cream. In my mind, it made sense to gather everything all at once, rather than having to go back a second time. I'm still reading, reading, and R starts making the pastry cream. I asked him to slow down a bit so we can make sure we have everything.

"Dude," he says to me. "I've made pastry cream like a million frickin' times. It takes two seconds."

Yeah, OK, dude. But I haven't, so slow the f&ck down, OK?

So from there, the night was just as crazy as usual. No one can seem to measure anything right, read a recipe right, follow directions, or slow down. It's frustrating, for sure. We had to make our pate a choux twice because things were not measured correctly. And we had to make our sugar syrup twice because no one bothered to read the quantities of water/sugar I gave them, and they started dumping incorrect amounts in the pan.

There's a lot to be said about the turtle and the hair. Slow and steady makes a perfect cream puff and Gateau St. Honore.

Oh, by the way, I ate 27 cream puffs that night. I'm on my third day of intense workouts to counteract the fat that's about to hit my little Italian butt. And as I've been working out, I've been dreaming of ways to change the pate a choux recipe...but not in class.

I also updated my web site. It’s still a work in progress, but welcome your feedback: www.dawnviola.com