Bad Bagels    

September 13 1998
Your brain must be this tall
to ride this ride.

The task of the day:

Laundry & Reflecting

Sat in the laundr-o-mat again, eating a very sub-par bagel and drinking industrial coffee. And I don't mean industrial in any of the positive ways, like industrial music, or industrial strength, or even "hard working." I mean, the kind of coffee that must be made in a factory rather than grown. The same factory also probably produces Liquid Floor Cleaner and Snapple (Motto: Made from the worst stuff on earth).

I hate Starbuck's as much as the next person, but I sure would love it if all coffee of this poor quality were suddenly raised to at least their standards. Speaking of Starbuck's, Marla was trying to get some information about them the other day, so she called information for the Seattle area in order to get their customer service number. "I'm sorry, ma'am, but there is no listing for 'Starbuck's'." Uh Beavis, there are only about 1 billion of them, how could there be no listings in the phone directory? Is this some horrible plot? Maybe Starbuck's is more evil than I realized.

* * *

Working the bakeshop yesterday was pretty interesting from the standpoint of getting another perspective on the school. All of the other students working were in the Baking and Pastry program, which is a different program from the basic Culinary. Some students go through both programs, but most go through one or the other. All Baking students still must take some Culinary classes, just as all Culinary must do some baking. But the overlap is very slight.

Calvin was probably the funniest of the lot. He can't cook at all, and his idea of fine dining is Taco Bell. I asked him if when he opens a bakeshop, he'll be making Twinkies. I don't think he quite got the irony of a fine pastry student not also understanding fine dining in general.

One thing all of the students seem to have in common is a distain for people at the CIA who "don't get it." Like any university, there are plenty of students in this because it's the hot career, or because their parents told them to get a job, or because they couldn't think of anything else to do. These folks have the minimum of culinary experience they needed to get into school, and shirk work and classes as much as they can. But unlike a university, just about all daily work is done in groups. And slackers make your own work and learning more difficult -- sometimes impossible. And you are stuck with the same group of people pretty much for the entire time you are at school.

* * *

I've also run into my share of folks who really want to get it, but just won't ever understand. For whatever reason, they just don't have the mindset needed to understand the cooking principles. I had one person ask me on three different days "What's this?" (holding up a bowl of sourdough starter). If you have ever stuck your nose in a bowl of starter, you know that the smell is pretty much unmistakable. "Sourdough starter," I said. "What's in that?" said they. "Flour and water," said I. Rinse. Repeat.

Bread baking isn't all that hard. There are a few pretty simple principles, and all of the bread follows the same patterns. If you choose to, you can spend the rest of your life being completely dependant upon recipes. Or, you can learn the principles as they are taught. In fact, most recipes in baking are actually called "formulas" because you just get a list of ingredients and some basic info about how they are to be combined. Sometimes, not even that -- as just the order of the list and ratios gives you enough information about what you are making.

Here are all of the major ways to bake cakes, pies, cookies, breads, etc:

  • creaming - butter and sugar together first, then wet, then dry. Example, cookies
  • foaming (hot, cold, separated) - eggs and sugar first, whip like crazy, then fold in dry, then fold wet. Example, sponge cake.
  • rubbing - flour and fat first, then wet. Example, pie crust, biscuits, scones. s
  • laminated - everything but fat, roll into sheet, fat in middle, fold over a bunch of times. Examples, croissants, danish, puff pastry.
  • straight - water and yeast, flour(s), others (ie, salt, sugar) on top and mix well to form gluten. Example, most breads.
  • sponge or Poolish - 50% of the water plus equal weight flour, plus part of yeast, let sit overnight, continue as straight. Example, breads with more flavor desired, like French.

All of this presupposes that you have a brain and feel like activating it. If you want to, you can read through a formula and wish to blindly follow along. Or, you can think about other things you have been taught to make, and how this new thing might relate.

It's certainly understandable that someone who isn't at culinary school might not feel like engaging their brain when baking. Most people who still bake do it to relax, and haven't been taught the basic principles. Nothing wrong with that. But why would you be spending all of this time and money and not want to concentrate on the task at hand?

* * *

Shawn has been using my Mac to work on his menus class. They have to design an entire restaurant and cost out the menu. For reasons that strike me with incredibly hillarity, his templates from school (which is all a bunch of crappy Dell machines) don't work on his Dell portable, but do work on my Macintosh. Ha. Get some real computers.

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Copyright 1998 Tom Dowdy