March 19, 2014

The Importance of Organization

By: Ryan Hodros, Pastry Arts Student

DSC_0221I was interviewed Tuesday morning by Caroline Padden for the Escoffier Newsletter, and while the entire conversation was a lot of fun, one of the questions really made me think:  what advice would you give to people starting school at Escoffier?  It was tough because there are a lot of things people need to bring to the kitchen in order to succeed—tenacity, hard work, thick skin, teamwork, etc.

But the most important skill a student at pastry school can bring with them to the very first day is organization.  Talent is all well and good, tenacity is wonderful, and a team spirit will take you a long way, but the difference between someone who is good and someone who is vital in the kitchen is their ability to organize themselves properly.  It’s the difference between a smooth day where everything gets done quickly and efficiently, and a day where you have to stay late to finish the cleaning for the day.

This extends beyond knowing where your spatula is.  One of the things the school requires students to bring to class every day is written or typed out copies of the recipes for the day.  Seem like needless busy work?  Absolutely not.  One of the things writing out the recipes ensures is that you’ve read the recipes, understand how they work and/or prepared you with questions for the chef-instructor before things get started.

Because let me tell you, there is nothing more aggravating than when you’re paired off with someone who is unprepared for class.  I would shudder whenever I would hear the phrase “So what do we need here…” from the person I was working with in class.  I’ve covered the difference between following recipes and understand principles in a previous blog so I won’t bore you that again, but understanding the recipes you’ll be working on is key to success.

Another requirement for class is a production schedule.  This is where you look at what is to be made that day, and figure out the order in which you should make things in order to do it most efficiently.  This can be as simple as “Bake cake, while cake is baking, assemble buttercream” or as complicated as a multi-item schedule with multiple steps, components, sides and sauces, all of which have to be coordinated among a multi-person team.  Sounds complicated, right?  Well, it is, and without a plan you can expect to stay late.

Most important of all though, being organized cuts back on waste.  While we were learning about working with sugar, we were taught (amongst other things) how to make marshmallows.  In case you’ve never seen them made, two of the biggest problems with marshmallows is that they’re the stickiest substance known to man and, once they set, they’re set… so if they’re not where they’re supposed to be, you’re out of luck.  Your success depends greatly on the degree to which you’re organized before you even start.  (The recipe is a variation on the Alton Brown recipe from the food network.)

Marshmallow 1Marshmallows
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar (give or take)
½ cup water
12 ounces sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
¾ oz gelatin
½ cup water
1 teaspoon flavor extract
Pinch salt

Set out a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil.  Use a fine mesh strainer to dust the sheet with the confectioners’ sugar.  If it looks like you’re using too much, that’s probably enough.  (Seriously, you want a lot.)  Set aside.

Place the sugar and water in a sauce pot and turn it on medium high heat.  The ultimate goal is to cook it to roughly 240 degrees, so if you have a candy thermometer, now would be the time to use it.  You can eyeball this part of the recipe if you’re feeling adventurous, but you want to pull the sugar as soon as it loses all signs of having water, which basically means that the bubbles look less like boiling water and more like boiling plastic.

As the sugar water is coming to temperature, place the gelatin and the second portion of water in the bowl of your stand mixer (I won’t say that you can’t make marshmallows without a stand mixer, but I don’t recommend it.)  Let it sit at least ten minutes.

When your sugar reaches temperature, pour it over the bloomed gelatin.  Using the whisk attachment, slowly beat the molten sugar into the gelatin—start slowly and crank the speed by increments so you don’t spray delicious napalm all over your kitchen.  Once you’re up to speed, keep whisking until the bowl is no longer warm to the touch.  It could take a while, so be patient.

Once this is done, you have marshmallows.  If you wanted, you could use a rubber spatula to dump the entire mess into your already prepared cookie sheet, let it set for an hour or two, then cut it into squares with a pizza slicer.  Or you could scoop the mess into a freezer bag, clip a small hole in one corner, and pipe the goo into long thin strips.  Let it set, cut it into inch-long pieces, toss in more confectioners’ sugar, and seal in a plastic bag.

You’ll notice at this point that you have an amazing mess on your hands.  Luckily, the marshmallows melt off in hot water pretty easily, so let everything messy soak for ten minutes before you start clean-up and the whole thing will be much easier.