What a week! Ours was a large class for SFBI, but small compared to my classes at SBCC. Our teacher, Brian, spent the first half of the first day introducing us to the ingredients and methods we would be using. Then we headed downstairs from the classroom to the lab. We split up into groups of two or three. All of our equipment was ready for us to pick up and get started... no time spent running around trying to figure out where the tool we needed was kept.
Before each hands-on project Brian gave a detailed demo explaining how and why the ingredients were combined in a particular way. The first three days were spent putting together the bases and creams that we would assemble into cakes and pastries on the last two days.
What I like best about this program is the nurturing environment where even mistakes are treated as good learning experiences. Fortunately most of our mistakes weren't obvious in the finished product... such as the cream of tartar that went into the cake base flour instead of the meringue...oops. Or the vanilla that was still sitting on the counter top when the angel food cake batter was already in the pans. So when the puff pastry tore on its final trip through the sheeter or part of the tart dough landed on the floor instead of rolling onto the rolling pin, we were able to laugh and blame it on the sheeter.
On Thursday afternoon Brian, himself, showed us how a professional responds to a pastry disaster when the gelatin in the cherry cream for our Black Forest Cake refused to gel. Part of the gelatin may have dissolved into the water it was soaked in. Admirably keeping his cool (in a very hot baking environment), he put aside the mixture which might make a good smoothie base but was unlikely to gel in our lifetimes, and whipped us up a really big batch of chocolate whipped cream flavored with kirsch. The finished cakes were delightful--the result of a little baker's magic and some quick thinking!
The most challenging part of the week was actually using the sheeter. Sheeting buttery pastry in a 90-degree plus oven-heated room gave us a clear understanding of the challenges commercial bakers face. But with Brian's help we all succeeded in the end and carried home boxes full of cakes and pastries guaranteed to impress our friends and family... or for those of us staying in hotels, the desk and shuttle staff.