Baking Class Debrief

Reader Ruth wrote in to ask about the baking class I did over the holiday season at my daughter’s grade school. I meant to follow up on that but didn’t — so thanks, Ruth!

I may have mentioned that the organizer of these after school classes felt that baking was a subject better suited to older kids than to children my daughter’s age, and I had to agree. Fifth and sixth graders were much more responsible around heat sources and hot objects. I expected at least a couple of burns and/or cuts over the course of the six classes, but no one received a single injury. Which is not to say that they kids listened as well as I’d hoped they would. The science mostly passed right by them, and I frequently had to get, shall we say…insistent when it came to impressing the proper procedures on the group. I had only five, but lord, they were handful at times.

I had a Catholic school kitchen at my disposal: a good amount of counter space, two industrial ovens, a refrigerator and freezer, but no mixing bowls and only the most rudimentary implements. That was to be expected since the kitchen isn’t used much these days, primarily to reheat pre-made meals. I brought in everything I needed from home. I also printed out recipes and procedures for everyone. There’s no mixer there, so as an added constraint everything we made had to be mixed by hand.

I knew time would pass fast, but wow, 75 minutes is nothing when you’re baking. I employed many of the suggestions I received after my call for help/cri de coeur. We made biscuits (American), corn muffins, coconut macaroons, graham crackers, pretzels and the last week I had the flu. I didn’t bring in any prepared items except for the pretzel week, since there was no way let the dough rise and still have time for boiling, salting and baking.

I’d classify the whole thing as a success, though as anyone who knows early adolescents can tell you, there’s no real way of knowing what they actually pick up. Overall I think the kids came away with an understanding of what over-mixing is and the damage it can do to sweet breads and pastries. They also seemed impressed with the concept of weighing ingredients versus simply scooping and dumping them. I’d hoped they’d also come away with a basic understanding of the various mixing methods and types of leavening (I structured the curriculum for that purpose), but alas I think most of that content just escaped out their ears.

On the other hand they ate really well. We made plenty of everything every class, so the kids got to take the fruits of their labors home. The exception was pretzel day, when they finished off almost everything. Now some of the parents want a baking class of their own…which is pretty funny. Who knows? Maybe the Joe Pastry International School of Baking Arts & Sciences has a shot!

For my part I learned that teaching is hard work! It was depressing to discover that even three years from now little Jo won’t listen much better than she does right now. I also learned what a short attention span these kids have even though they’re older. Granted the timing might have had something to do with it. Fresh from school they’re pretty juiced up. I think I’ll probably do the class again starting at the end of February, though two of the kids want to come back again, which means I won’t be able to simply repeat last term’s class like a tenured college professor. I don’t want to have to work…it’s work!

But I confess the whole thing was pretty fun, too.

8 thoughts on “Baking Class Debrief”

  1. I feel for you. Last summer I co-taught a class of 30 (!?!) a basic cooking class for a week. I have not been so exhausted before or since. And the hardest part is trying to create a lesson plan that you can actually execute. We were doing everything outdoors (!?!?!?), though we had limited use of two ovens, a BBQ occasionally, and some griddles. My favorite part was teaching the kids how to properly use a knife…and alas…no injuries either! The boys didn’t get the whole “make it look pretty” concept and often chose to chop everything up into tiny pieces, then pile it in the middle of their table. We had an “Iron Chef” competition on the last day…that made the whole thing worth it, I think. Good luck on your next class!

    1. I have enough trouble with five or six, so I can’t imagine what 30 would be like. But to your point, indeed it is the lesson planning that’s the hardest. I do a lot of things at the last minute, so on more than one day I found myself with an hour or two to go, but no idea how I’d get the project completed. Very ME. I’m not sure I’m cut out to be a teacher, but it sure is an interesting experiment.

      – Joe

  2. Hi Joe,
    For the next go-round, can you get someone to be your assistant? It would make it much easier to keep everyone focused and your stress level down 🙂
    If you can come up with another set of recipes, you can just alternate the two classes (Baking I and Baking II) going forward.
    Would the school let you branch out and offer a simple cooking class? That would expand your options for projects each week.
    Can you get the class time extended to 90 minutes??

    Good luck and remember to KIS-MIF,

    1. An assistant you say…very interesting. There’s one young fellow who really wants to come back to the next class. That might be a good job for him. Thanks, Ruth!

      – Joe

  3. Even though the kids didn’t pay attention ideally, or didn’t seem to retain any of your baking wisdom, I am positive that they had a awesome time and remembered all the hard work you put into teaching them. It may not look like it, but I am sure it’s there in the recesses of their minds! I love Ruth’s suggestion above about having an assistant!

    1. I like to think so, anyway! It can be so hard to read kids. But thanks, Ann!

      – Joe

  4. My mom was a grade-school librarian and a teacher for nearly 40 years, I grew up helping with all the ‘behind the scenes’ work – of which there is much, much more than any non-teacher can imagine – and, as an adult, got called in often to teach a special-subject class. I’d say YES, upgrade those 1 or 2 ‘returning’ students to ‘assistant’ status, AND teach essentially the same plan you did before – they’ll get the status and confidence-boost of being ‘old hands’ with the projects, able to actually offer some helpful coaching to the first-timers, and further refine their own skills to boot. And you’ll be more confident too – and really, holding kids’ attention boils down to (some measure of) confidence plus real enthusiasm for your subject. You can change up the lesson for the last day, so your assistants get something new in the bargain – and perhaps make it a bit of a daring choice, since EVERYbody will be in good shape for it by then.

    …Orrr, here’s Mom’s standard pep/prep talk: Oh, don’t worry *airy wave of the hand* you’ll do GREAT!

    It’s awesome you’re doing this – odds are at least one or two will discover a life-long interest they may never have discovered otherwise. =)

    1. Thanks for the very helpful note, Missy. I shall take your advice. Thanks also for the pep talk, I needed it!

      – Joe

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *