Lessons 15-19: The Sweetest Thing

Things are changing. Chef Nicole warned us that it would happen.  is becoming part of our daily lives. I find myself thinking about how many pints are in a quart while buying milk. Or telling my parents to defrost frozen food in the refrigerator instead of leaving it out. The fact that pastry is on my mind all the time now is something that has changed for me, a person who rarely stepped into her kitchen. I now can look at the world from a pastry perspective.

This past week, our focus was on sugar, not surprising for a pastry class I suppose. Just as my experience of eggs prior to the program has been scrambling them for breakfast, my experience of using sugar is not much more than putting it in my coffee cup each morning. But here I was learning the different stages and functions of cooking it. It may just look like a hot boiling syrup, but when you dip a small amount in cold water you can shape it and see how it transforms as it cooks — soft ball for fudge, hard ball for divinity or hard crack for peanut brittle.

I never knew the term soft ball referred to the fact that when you cooked sugar to a certain temperature it would form a soft ball that didn’t hold its shape. A few degrees more and the sugar could form a hard ball. It was also really cool to see the sugar transform from liquid syrup through the various stages all to become a dark amber caramel. And then there were the different desserts we made with sugar and caramel! For example, we made crème brûlée and other custards. In my Portuguese-Spanish family, custard-based desserts are plentiful. I’ve watched my mom make my grandmother’s flan recipe so many times.

Now when we make them in class, it feels special to cook something that means something to me. Suddenly, I had a new understanding of what Chef Nicole meant when she said that yes, eggs and sugar are important ingredients but making something with love is the most important. As I experience the emotional aspect of cooking, I’m amazed, honestly, at how much cooking triggers memories or feelings. It’s the passion that is so clear in the people I have met who work in kitchens, as well as the students I have advised. I really love that about the food industry. It can be intimately connected to who you are.

Simply pouring a mixture from a pot through a strainer into a bowl helped me know that those unscaleable ingredients of passion, love and confidence are what makes the food you make in the kitchen special. Next up: We are closing out our first module with cheesecakes and frozen desserts, perfectly timed for this NYC heat wave!

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