Basic 1: First impressions

2005-04-10

It was almost a given that I'd show up late for the first class. I ran into the baking lab, 5 minutes late, to find the class had begun. The basement room contains a row of Hobart mixers along one wall, and large steel fridges and freezer along another. Racks of equipment (rolling pins, baking pans, mixer attachments) and staples (giant bulk bins of flours, sugar) are scattered around. A large reel oven is in the midde. Wood-topped benches on wheels serve as our workstations. The demo area for the instructor has an angled mirror above. A quick headcount reveals 18 women and 4 men aged from early 20s to mid-40s.

Our instructor explains that he wants us to learn how to do things his way, not necessarily the way George Brown wants, because he has learned a lot from his 30 years of experience. I like this: it means we won't slavishly follow the course guide, but at the same time, I will have to take notes to refer to later. We quickly go through the bakery lab: safety tips for using the mixer, avoiding burns from the oven, where to bandage sliced fingers, etc. I am pleased that we get to use commercial equipment, but glum because I don't have this kind of setup at home.
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We each grab a bowl of pastry flour and shortening and proceed to make pie dough. Our instructor wants us to mix using our hands: without the crutch of a pastry cutter, I'm a bit apprehensive but it comes together okay. After a brief rest, we start to roll it out. Unexpectedly, I find it to be the easiest dough I've ever worked with. No cracks, no difficulty with sticking. I wonder if it has anything to do with the room temperature shortening. Most recipes call for chilling it so that the pieces remain whole to provide flakiness and so it won't melt as you work it. This is an all shortening crust, no butter at all. We finish by assembling a mock double-crust pie. The instructor's only critique was that I had rolled out the dough a little too thin.

I need to purchase a few items for upcoming classes. Even though I have a pretty well-stocked kitchen, there just really hasn't been a need for a pastry bag up to this point!

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