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.