Today I attended my first Basic Baking class at George Brown College. I’m hoping that this course will be the beginning of my journey towards a Baking Certificate. Classes are every Saturday morning from 8:30 to 12:30. While we don’t have to wear chef apparel, we are expected to wear an apron and to have all of our equipment for that class at the ready. We’re also expected to have all of our ingredients ready and measured out for the beginning of class.
While it certainly isn’t the same setting as a full-time culinary school course for individuals who want to be chefs, I was surprised at how "professional" it did feel. I mean don’t get me wrong. Upon completion of this course it’s not like the famous pastry shops of the world will be lining up to hire any of us. But still … I really felt like a culinary school student. And as such, I quickly decided that I had to put aside everything that I thought I knew about baking, and open my mind to my first experience in formal culinary instruction.
Today’s class was dedicated mostly to introducing us to food safety rules, the equipment we’ll be using in class, the tools we’ll need to buy and the subject matter we’ll be covering. Eventually though, we did begin our first lesson which focussed on pie dough. While we didn’t actually bake a pie, we practiced the techniques of mixing flour and shortening and rolling out dough.
Because this course is part of the Continuing Education program, the assumption is that most individuals are there to improve their skills as home cooks and bakers. As a result, our instructor indicated that every effort is made to accommodate various cultural and religious requirements, including the rule that we do not use any animal fats in class. This means we didn’t make our pie crust with butter, but rather with vegetable shortening. Now I don’t necessarily have a problem using vegetable shortening, but I do have a bit of a problem with not using butter. I’m not completely certain if this will continue throughout the course, but if it does, you’ll be sure to hear back from me about that!
The lesson in the making of pie dough was very interesting. I consider myself very experienced in making pies as I’ve been making them for years. But already I learned that some of my "technique" wasn’t very good. For example, I realized that I wasn’t using my rolling pin properly. The instructor indicated that a rolling pin should be used lightly to roll the dough from the centre out and that the dough should be turned as you go. I’ve never done that at home. In fact, I have a tendency to press down on the rolling pin when I use it. And I now realize that by pressing down, I would often end up with dough that was not evenly rolled out. I never worried about it much, and I still don’t think it’s a huge deal, but now that I know that there’s a better way to use my rolling pin, I will make every effort to do so.
The other issue that came up for me was my ongoing battle with patience. I often tell people that the reason I like to bake so much is that it’s relaxing. And yet, I can be very impatient in the kitchen. When it came time to make the pie dough today, I rushed through the first steps of mixing in the shortening and adding the water. I did this because I’ve done it so many times before, I just figured I knew what I was doing. It’s almost like I felt like I had to get that dough done as soon as possible so that I could show the instructor that I knew how to do it. Because I rushed I didn’t add the right amount of water. While the dough turned out well, it was a bit on the dry side.
I realized that I tend to do that often. I don’t take the time to measure out ingredients properly. Or worse, I don’t always take the time to read a recipe through. I realized that while I may have finished my pie dough before anyone else, it wasn’t the best pie dough that I could have made. I sacrificed the quality of dough simply to appease my own sense of urgency in getting the job done.
I won’t make that mistake again. I am really going to work hard, both in class and at home, at taking the time to get all the steps right. And hopefully that will really improve the quality of the items I bake.
After rolling out our dough and make a practice "rag pie" (a pie filled with tissue paper), it was time to clean up and say goodbye. We won’t actually begin baking until the second class, which is in two weeks as there is no class over Easter weekend. First up on our list of items to bake is an apple pie!
Our teacher for the course is a full-time baking instructor at the George Brown Culinary School. He’s been a pastry chef for 30 years having graduated from George Brown himself. Pleasant and encouraging, I really liked the way he ran the class. After the introductions and explanations were over, he demonstrated every step of the pie dough process, and did so while mixing in valuable information and a lot of humour.
But there are two other reasons why I know I’m really going to enjoy his instruction. The first reason is his introduction to the pie dough making portion of the class. He talked about apple pie and explained that even after 30 years of pastry-making, he would take a well-made apple pie any day over any other fancy dessert. He pointed out that when a baked good is well-made, the level of difficulty of the recipe or the fanciness of the decoration become insignificant. It’s all about the taste.
The second reason is his response to a woman in our class who asked if she could make pie dough with whole wheat flour in order to make "healthier" pie. After he wiped the look of horror from his face, he politely explained that the best way to "make pie low-fat" is to only eat a slice and not the whole pie.
I can tell I’m going to like this guy.