One unit down, countless to go

School so far has been, in a word, exhausting. It’s probably just an adjustment period, but I am so. exhausted. all. the. time. For those that don’t know, in addition to school, I also work full-time. I knew when I signed up for this that it would be a challenge, that I’d be a little more tired and a lot busier; but I had no idea just how beat I’d be at the end of the week. On weekday class nights I don’t get home until after 11 pm (so that’s eight hours of work and 5 hours of class, plus commuting time), on nights I don’t have class, I have homework to do and some semblance of a social life to keep, and considering I have to be up at 6:30 am to get to work the next day, you can imagine how tired I am after a whole week of that.

So I’m hoping you’ll also understand why it’s taken me a while to post again, given my lack of free time and propensity to spend said free time napping with a cat on my back.

How inviting does this look, though?
How inviting does this look, though?

Our cookie unit finished up in no time. Other than the lunettes and diamants, we made vanilla crescents, spritz cookies, Russian tea cookies, sablés (vanilla and chocolate), almond biscotti, gingersnaps, and brownies. Everything was delicious, but my favorite (and I think everyone’s favorite) was the gingersnap, which was actually more like soft gingerbread cookie. These were chewy, spicy and sweet, and would probably be great in an ice cream sandwich—one of our chefs suggested lemon-ginger ice cream, but I’m more of an egg nog girl, myself. They were also really simple to make, although they do involve molasses, which can be a pain to deal with. (Tip: lightly spray your measuring cup with cooking spray [or butter it] before you measure out the molasses, and less of it will cling to the sides when you pour it into the mixer.)

Ginger "snaps." Soft and chewy and spicy and SO GOOD.
Ginger “snaps.” Soft and chewy and spicy and SO GOOD.

Sorry this post isn’t more exciting. To be honest, this part of school isn’t all that enthralling in terms of what we’re learning—most cookies are fairly easy to make, technically speaking, especially when they don’t involve any meringue or complex techniques. The things we’ve made are similar to other recipes I’ve made in the past (and probably what you’ve made, too, if you’ve ever made a butter, chocolate chip, or sugar cookie), so I’m treating this kind of like a warm-up unit to get me acclimated to being in a professional kitchen and working with a partner (not as easy as you’d think!).

One other subject we’ve been dealing with that was all but totally new for me is food safety and hygiene. Part of our curriculum includes the ServSafe exam, so we’ve been spending part of every class going over things like minimum cooking temperatures, shelf clearance, how to prevent backflow in a kitchen sink, how to check a supply order, and all the different viruses and bacteria that can kill you in your food. FUN STUFF! Well, maybe not fun, but actually really important, even more for someone who wants to own her own business someday. 😉

Study sesh! Go to pastry school and you, too, can spend your free time learning about E. Coli and Hepatitis A!
Study sesh! Go to pastry school and you, too, can spend your free time learning about E. Coli and Hepatitis A!

Next up is our unit on pies and tarts, which I am really looking forward to. I’ve made a pie or two in my day, but tarts are another story—probably best saved for another post—and I’d really love to get better and learn more about them… other than how to eat an entire tart in one sitting, because I’m pretty sure I’ve already got that one down.

On the first day, we created cookies

The first day was, as I expected, chaotic. It was also really fun and beyond exciting to finally start school, but it was first and foremost a kind of trial-by-fire situation.

Once we’d changed into our uniforms and figured out how to tie our neckerchiefs—thanks, seasoned students for helping us!—we were ushered down to our kitchen, where tool sets and handouts were neatly awaiting us at our stations. When we eventually unzipped the bags to inspect them, it was like unlocking a treasure chest. I felt like an anthropologist going through some distant civilization’s tools, trying to figure out what this one was for, where that one went. I knew we’d get to use them all eventually, but it took everything in me not to dump everything out on the table and start figuring it all out on my own.

It’s no surprise, then, that I was a little bummed when we took out the basic stuff I already knew how to use so we could start prepping our recipes for day one. The program I’m in has us in the kitchen and baking from the very beginning, in what I think is an attempt to get us comfortable in a professional kitchen and really immerse us in pastry (not literally, although that sounds like fun, too). On one hand, I absolutely love this. “Here’s a recipe, here’s how you do this, now do it yourself!” YES! I am a professional-in-training and I’m going to make all the cookies by myself now with big grown-up equipment in a REAL kitchen, let’s do this!

On the other hand, “wait, why do you do it this way, what if you did it another way, what is the scientific reason we use this flour, what purpose do the eggs serve, can I sub out X for Y, etc. etc.?” The truth is, while there was a lot of instruction going on, there just wasn’t time for all of the details as we were starting out in the program. Just jump in and start swimming! Those who know me know my interest in things, when I’m really interested, can border on obsession, so I want to know all the things immediately, and I have to keep reminding myself, “in good time, you’ll get there, just master the small stuff now.”

Which brings us to cookies. Now, that’s not to say that cookies are small stuff, although yes, they can be pretty diminutive. But technically speaking, a lot of cookies are pretty simple to make and hard to mess up unless you forget an ingredient or are just plain negligent, and this is probably why we’re starting with them as the first unit in school.

First off, we have Diamants (French for “diamonds”), which get their name from the sparkly sugar they’re rolled in. We made ours using the creaming method (beating butter and sugar together until light and fluffy), a pretty common method for cookies—if you’ve ever made chocolate chip cookies with the recipe from the back of the bag, you’ve done this. The dough gets rolled into a log, rolled in sugar, and then sliced and baked. Pretty simple, right? They come out buttery and golden with just the softest crisp, and they are absolute heaven. Everyone in my office told me to take them away so they wouldn’t eat them all (and trust me, it’s easy to grab a handful of these to munch on with some coffee or tea). Here’s a recipe I found for them if you’re interested in making them yourself. (Tip: make sure that dough is really nice and chilled before you cut it! If you notice the log flattening out a bit on one side, roll it over and start cutting from a different side to help even it out a bit.)

The other cookies from day one are Lunettes (French for “glasses”—are you sensing a theme here?). These are a similar butter-based cookie and very similar to Linzer cookies, but with a hint of spice, and obviously some extra sweet filling in the middle. We got to practice rolling out and cutting dough into shapes, which seems like a fairly basic task, but is actually harder than it looks when you’re making an effort to have everything be uniform. I was also really surprised by how well these held up after a few days. I was saving them for someone and was worried they’d get stale, or the powdered sugar would get soaked up into them, but to my surprise they were just as tasty on the third day as they were when they came out of the oven! This recipe is pretty simple and easy to follow, if you want to give it a shot—I would just suggest not actually kneading the dough (I’ll get to why in another post) when it’s time to gather it all together into a ball/disk (and it will definitely be easier to roll out if you chill it in a disk rather than a ball).

All in all, the first day was a nice transition into starting school. I know things are going to pick up fast, but I think I’m up to it. Really looking forward to learning more and (obviously) getting some more cookies in the oven, so stay tuned!

Look at that sugar sparkle. Just look at it!
Look at that sugar sparkle. Just look at it!