For the past two months, I shared a classroom with twenty three other people on the same mission I am on, to learn to cook. I wish that I could say that I am a master chef at this point, or at least on my way, but it would be far from the truth. At least I can say I have stopped burning dinner and my take out orders have dwindled to once or twice a week instead of the usual five or six days a week my family is used to. I even had the pleasure of adding one or two new kinds of food to my menu. At least I could be happy about this, and the fact that I am beginning Baking and Pastry this week, I should be ecstatic. Who wouldn’t be? Just the very idea of piping chocolate mousse into tart cups, topping them off with edible gold dusted chocolate leaves, wouldn’t send anyone into seventh heaven than nothing would. But for me baking has turned into a nightmare.
Like most people, I am an amateur baker with a box full of family recipes that I want to try out. I enjoy buying chocolate and extracts and sugar to make cookies. Or browse down the baking aisle at a craft store and dream about frosting a tier cake. In reality baking is far from the my fantasy. Today, I made an artisan bread with sesame seeds and focaccio (fa casha) bread along with an egg pastry. The artisan bread started out like most breads, with a starter that sat overnight in the refrigerator. I took the poolish, the starter out of the refrigerator, and began mixing it with flour, salt and yeast. I set the mixture on low and left to make the egg pastry. Just as I was browning the potatoes for the pastry, the artisan bread was ready to proof. I took it out and set it in the proof box just to find my potatoes withering in the cast iron pan. Just as I was recovering the mess in the pan, we were starting the foccacio, a one bowl mixture, fermentation, proof and bake. How hard can that be?
I gathered the ingredients together and left the mixer to get a bowl, when I realized that I didn’t take out the artisan bread out of the proof box. When I came back into the room, the mixture was running off the rim and the motor sounded like it was dying. The ball of dough entwined the dough hook and was dragging the dough hook around the bowl. This is how the rest of the morning went. My artisan bread baked into a solid brick and the foccacio was so bad it could not be graded. And as for the egg pastry, it was tasteless.
So what is baking and pastry? Baking is about being exact and if you fail, you fail. One strike and you are out. I was always a better baker than a cook. I prided myself on this. Not so anymore. Why? Because everything I have baked went out in the trash and my mother wasn’t there with a smile to tell me it tasted fine. Just a professor with a red pen and a big fat F.