Today was just sheer delight.
I arrived to class exhausted as I had not slept well the night before. However, as soon as I walked into the kitchen and saw my classmate’s bright faces, my tiredness, my worry melted away like butter over a hot flame.
Today was COOKIE DAY.
I just could not wait to get started.
Baker Janine Sciarappa, our head baking instructor, owner of Sweet Lessons, and also a graduate of our program (she had the opportunity to take the program when it was being taught by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin!) was here to take us on a sweet adventure.
Baker Janine was awesome, attentive, very clear, and very detailed. She spent the beginning of class going through each important ingredient of baking – flours, nut flours, sugars, fats, dairy, eggs, leavening agents, and so much more. I appreciated these in-depth explanations because she helped me understand the role that each ingredient played in the recipe. She also created pictures of the concepts she was introducing. For instance, to describe gluten, she gave the comical example of rolling a pizza dough that kept springing back together, as if it were held by rubber bands – gluten in action.
She also discussed how to measure ingredients in weight and provided us with common conversions from cups/tbsp/tsp to grams and ounces. My goal for this semester is to master these conversions as soon as possible – they really do change the recipe for the better. Yes, it is math time!
Baker Janine ran a clean, precise, and fast-paced kitchen. Yet despite the speed and precision, today, I felt so much more relaxed. I was in my comfort zone, with my homies.
Good old brown sugah, b-powda, AP flour, and of course butter-the-man.
Cookie making brings me back to happy childhood days. After school, I would whip up a batch of Ultimate Chocolate Chip cookies from the Crisco shortening label. My brothers and their video gaming friends would drop their Nintendo controllers for once and swarm towards the kitchen as I took them out of the oven. What fun.
I had completely forgotten how powerful cookie-making could be – it is something that really cheers me up. As the day progressed on, my smile became wider and I was singing to myself in the stockroom about cookies and such.
Our tasks were to create four different cookies:
- Cantucci (bar cookie) – A classic almond biscotti, or twice baked cookie. These are a favorite in my family and I’ve made them about a hundred times, so today, this was quite a familiar bake for me. Slicing them with a serrated knife on the bias was key.
- Diamond Sable Cookies (icebox cookie) – A new cookie that I have never tried! These were so much fun to make as they did not require a bowl. We had to work the batter on the counter-top by sliding the dough forward with the heel of our hand. This is what created the sable, which is French for “sandy” texture of the cookie.
- Graham Crackers (rolled cookie) – It was exciting to make this iconic favorite from scratch. These were rich in flavor, with cinnamon, honey, and a generous sprinkling of cinnamon sugar. We tasted them in comparison to store bought graham crackers – how can you ever turn back?
- Chocolate Macadamia Nut (drop cookies) – These are your classic, super fudgy, chocolaty, and nutty drop cookie. They took about five minutes to whip up, once the chocolate was melted.
Baker Janine also whipped up some Viennese Sable Cookies (piped cookies) – light and sandy chocolate cookies which you must pipe onto your baking sheet. We all got to take turns piping the traditional W shape. These were my favorite in flavor.
Some things I learned today:
- The harder the wheat, higher the protein content – this is good for breads and pastas. The softer the wheat, lower the protein – this is good for cakes.
- Gluten provides structure. Baker Janine came up with a great formula to understand gluten: Flour + water (or any liquid) + mechanical action (kneading, rolling) = gluten. Now that is math I understand.
- Brown sugar is a combination of molasses and white sugar. This makes sense but I never thought about it before.
- Whole milk is 3% fat. It doesn’t write on the carton.
- Whipping cream is 30-40% fat, and you get more volume from less pasteurized versions.
- Eggs are porous and will take on flavors that surround them. It can be a good thing.
- Acidic ingredients in baking include coffee, cocoa, chocolate, molasses, and buttermilk.
- Always taste your chocolate before baking. You don’t want to accidentally use unsweetened baking chocolate in the place of semi-sweetened or vice versa. (I have no problem with following this suggestion!)
At the end of class, we plated our cookies and enjoyed tasting the different textures and flavors of each others’ bakes.
Post-clean up, armed with a sack of cookies slung over my shoulders, I found it hard to part with my new friends. I have a strong feeling that these people are soon to become my family.