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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Baking Class At The Culinary Institute Of America

In my quest to improve my skills and make the “Velveteen Lounge Kitsch-en” the best it can be, I take as many cooking classes as I can. The really great ones are typically pretty expensive, but I did one on Saturday: the Baking At Home: The Desserts class, which is part of the Culinary Institute of America’s Food Enthusiasts continuing education program. I enjoy baking, but it has never been my strong suit, so I signed up and was so glad I did! Here’s what the day was like…

I arrived at the Culinary’s Hyde Park campus at 8:30 AM. The extremely welcoming gate guard (he called me “young lady”) directed me to the correct parking lot and I easily found the hall where a fabulous continental breakfast had already been laid out. I grabbed a delicious concha and some yogurt and was pretty quickly stuffed. We were seated at long tables where it was easy to fall into conversations and I soon met several fabulous ladies who were there for the cake decorating class and a gentleman who was there for the soups class. It turns out there were many classes that day, including Mexican, Mediterranean, and much, much more. I’d honestly love to take all of them at some point. We were soon called and proceeded to our class.

When we arrived at our kitchen we were greeted by the frenzied activity of student assistants running around, preparing everything for the day, along with the site of a large box from Dunkin Donuts. Even Culinary students have to eat in a hurry, I guess! Our instructor, who clearly missed her calling as a comedian, arrived and informed us that she normally has all ladies in the class, so for the guys to not take offense when she referred to the group as “ladies.” I loved her.

I’ve learned in the cooking classes I’ve taken that most chefs give a short demonstration up front, but mainly throw you off the boat and see if you can swim. This class was no exception, although they DO have many assistants around to help you and our chef was extremely forthcoming and had a good sense of humor - always a plus. We started the day making custard for Creme Caramel, followed by chocolate eclairs, a rustic fruit galette and pound cake. Whew! I now feel comfortable piping fabulous eclairs (after several sad attempts) and am on the road to caramelizing sugar like a pro.

Custard for Creme Caramel

Our lunch break involved another lovely meal in the beautiful Farquharson Hall, once a Jesuit chapel and which still features ornate, soaring ceilings and stained glass windows, with a ton of delicious food and nice conversation with fellow students and our instructor. Being at the Culinary Institute of America, I wanted to try at least a bite of as much food as I could fit on my plate, so I finished lunch stuffed, but happy!

After lunch we were almost done with our day. We got back to our kitchen, where we found that our projects had been whisked out of the ovens by assistants. At that point all we needed to do was pipe cream into our eclairs, dunk them in chocolate glaze and box it all up to take home. Each student left with FOUR BOXES of baked goods! Our freezer now boasts plain eclairs, which only need cream and glaze and which I’ll make for a special brunch, an entire apple galette and a mini pound cake. I’ll be sending a bunch of completed eclairs to work with Paul tomorrow and STILL we have Creme Caramel and pound cake in the fridge!

I had such a great day in my baking class. I stepped out of my comfort zone, met some really nice people, learned a lot and am now laden with baked goods! I’ve discovered over the years that I learn best by doing, so I really want to do more of these classes. Books are great, but there is just nothing like trying new skills with an expert instructor around to build your confidence. Thank you Chef Kamen and the Culinary Institute of America! I’ll be back!

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