Last week, I taught a cookie class at Kitchen Outfitters. This class was a demo class – me on one side of the workbench, everyone else seated on the other side, watching. As I pulled my hair back into a ponytail, it suddenly occurred to me: Wow. I think I’m about to do a live cooking show. Enter stress, stage left.
I shrugged off the momentary panic and reminded myself that I was prepared. I had a plan for the class and knew how much time I had to complete everything. I had my watch to track the time, I had notes, I had ingredients. I liked how my apron matched my shirt. These things matter. I walked everyone through the four recipes, carefully explained each nuanced step, and answered every question that came up during the demo. I finished right on time & thanked everyone for joining me. Big sigh of relief. The perfect class.
That would have been a good story, except that’s not exactly how the class went. Why? Because even real bakers struggle sometimes.
Here’s what really happened: One of the recipes I demonstrated which had given me trouble at the bakery when I originally made it was a complete failure. And when I say failure, I am not exaggerating. Complete. Public. Fail. Here I was, a ‘real pastry chef’, trying to show how to whip together a filling for sandwich cookies, and all I seem to be able to create is a curdled mess. My brain was swirling with negative thoughts that may or may not have included a couple of choice swear words. I started to beat myself up for disappointing everyone watching me when someone in the class said something that stopped the downward spiral:
It makes me so relieved to see that even real bakers struggle.
This one comment made me realize that I actually was teaching everyone a lesson. It just wasn’t the lesson I had intended to teach. I was demonstrating that even people who consider themselves well-versed in their areas of expertise, can struggle. Sometimes things happen. Pastry chefs burn chocolate in the double boiler. We over-bake cookies, we under-bake cakes, we forget to add baking soda to the cookie dough. Sometimes, hopefully not too frequently, we forget that the mixer is on the highest speed, and when we turn it on, everything that only moments before was inside the mixing bowl is now splattered. Everywhere. Sometimes, we choose to demonstrate recipes that just don’t work.
This is where the magic happens, the time when we have the opportunity to figure out what to do next. This is when baking projects become experiments, when new recipes and products are created, when curiosity takes over and leads to problem solving. This is when a great sense of humor can save the moment. A back-up plan always helps too.
I wasn’t able to figure out why that particular recipe didn’t work, and I’m ok with that. I had made it three times by the end of that day, and each time resulted in a different outcome. Some recipes just aren’t great recipes, and this happened to be one of them. Onward.
I learned a couple of valuable lessons last week. I learned that when I’m stressed about finishing something in a certain amount of time, I talk quickly. I also discovered that when I have extra time left over, I can quickly switch from pastry chef to storyteller. And when something doesn’t go as planned, I can roll with it.
May all of your baking experiences teach you something, even if it’s that you prefer to buy rather than bake.