As you guys know, I love working in the kitchen. A group of my friends and I have been planning a “baking day” where some of the men can learn some new skills and us girls can drink some wine and teach them. We can’t do it right away but I’m hoping in a few months we’ll be able to get together to do it.
I think sharing skills and taking the time to help others learn is incredibly important. Though in this day and age we don’t often have canning days, I think getting together to help each other and to enjoy food and drink is essential. I would encourage everyone to try this whether you are the host, the teacher or the student. Please let me know if you have or will be doing this in the comments!
I’ve been thinking of how to teach when I realized that teaching how to make a recipe is not the issue. Teaching how to change a recipe to better suit you or the environment you are cooking in is. I thought about how most of the recipes I have written in my book aren’t actually how I make the food. As I work with a recipe I adjust it to better suit my taste, my kitchen ware and how I want the final product to come out.
Minor changes are cook times and temperatures, but changing the process for Babka dough to make it fluffier or how to make a chunky chocolate spread into a smooth and creamy one can change the entire product.
So I started asking myself how I learned to manipulate recipes to suit me better and I realized it came from trying new recipes so often. With each new meal, new cultural dish, new process comes more knowledge to draw upon. To be the best home cook requires stepping out of your comfort zone and trying new dishes. Experience also helps. You learn from your mistakes and most recipes don’t include a “absolutely don’t do this” section.
One of the simplest lessons I learned was not to fold warm chocolate into whipped cream as it ruins the texture. You have to let the chocolate cool before folding it in! My first time trying it the whipped cream became a soupy mixture that just wasn’t visually appealing. Lesson learned. Also learned that day that id you sprinkle a mixture of powdered sugar and cocoa powder over a complete chocolate failure, it hides it pretty well even though it can’t fix the texture problem.
The first time I made Babka, a chocolate bread dessert, I just couldn’t figure out why the bread was so dense and chewy. I saw the yeast bloom, I kneaded it for 15 minutes by hand, I did a twelve hour cool rest and I rolled it out evenly. The second time I made it I increased the temperature in the oven from 375 to 415 and the difference was incredible. I didn’t change anything else, just the temperature, but the bread was risen with a better crust and it both tasted and felt better.
I think being able to trouble shoot your own cooking is important. Being able to look at what you don’t like in your finished product and be able to fix it makes you a better cook. Google can often help if you can figure out the specific issue, but it can be tedious to try and find the right answer online, whereas experience and dedication to bettering your skills can lead you down new roads.
I don’t claim to be the best home cook. I still have a lot to learn and I look forward to a lifetime of experimenting and expanding my wheelhouse. This year I have focused more strongly on desserts. I learned how to Deep Fry Oreos, make a Cadbury Egg Cheesecake and how to make a selection of chocolate breads and dessert buns. Last year I focused on broths, steaks and perfecting roasted vegetables. I don’t know what will catch my eye this upcoming year, but I look forward to seeing what will catch my fancy.
Going back to the baking day we have planned I figured out what I’m going to do. I ‘m going to teach a N0-Knead bread recipe that can be customized to each persons preference that relies on the maker being attentive to humidity and dough moisture. I think this bread is a good starting point as it doesn’t require hand kneading (none of us own stand mixers) but does require adjustment which teaches flexibility in baking. I also want to teach how to make Babka, a more finicky dough that will render your wrists into angry stumps by the time you’re done kneading. This one will be to teach technique as well as how to roll out doughs nicely and how to seal the dough as not to let out the filling. The last items will be standard cup cakes with buttercream and whipped cream frosting. We’ll go over how to make the cup cakes, mix and colour the icing, how to load the icing bag and how to use different tips to create different effects. I would also like to show how to bake, stack and decorate a cake that we can all share. In the end, everyone will get two loaves of bread and a dozen cupcakes to take home (and possibly left over cake). For some of my friends this will be more instructive than for others, but it gives those who know more about baking the opportunity to help the others as we all work together to create a small feast.
I hope it will be a good day for everyone and while I am a little more experienced than most of my friends, I think they’ll have their own cultural ways of preparing basic foods. As our group is culturally diverse it’s likely most of us grew up with different methods of doing things so we’ll all get to learn new techniques. Personally I have a French background which shows in my food.
I’ll write about it once we get to have our baking day and I hope it will go well. I would love if you would tell me about your own stories in the kitchen.