Day 2: Cones. Weight. Butter(s).
After a brief repose on the hardest stools available in Manhattan (seriously, I almost opted to stand on the subway home), we created our first of what will undoubtedly be many of thousands small parchment cones called cornets (pronounced corNAY, in singular or plural). These are generally used for writing, particularly when the ink is made of chocolate. To see me make cornets, you'd think perhaps I'd done a few hundred of them in my day. It went well... quickly, efficiently, correctly. Oh, then we had to fill them halfway with chocolate, cut the barest slice off the tip, and proceed to practice writing and the generation of some basic designs. Here's where the illusion of experience I had presented fell away with little ceremony, leaving me fully exposed as the novice I actually am, rivulets of dark chocolate running up my sleeves, along my apron strings and towels, and on the side of my mouth (and the really screwed up part is I didn't even taste any, something I say not defensively but in complaint - if I had evidence of chocolate-tasting literally written on my face the very least I might have gotten out of it would have been actually tasting some). Only after a fair amount of correction and intense concentration was I able to get my "lines" of chocolate to appear in any way linear and my writing... well, in the Western alphabet if not exactly English.
The confidence of much of the class having suffered such a devastating blow right out of the gate, we undertook a small exercise in culinary math - how many teaspoons in a quart and so forth - which served to relax our nerves, at least for those of us for whom multiplying single digits by other single digits with the aid of a calculator proved a somewhat more accessible task than script in that least forgiving of all inks.
We then set about weighing various ingredients using different types of scales. I must say, getting flour on my hands for the first time in my new kitchen was exhilarating. Nearly as exhilarating as the monolithic fifteen-pound bag of pecans.
Subsequently, we came to the first segment of palate education: Dairy Identification. This wasn't a blindfolded test where we had to ingest something and then say what it was, but rather an open and conversational evaluation of differing dairy products that were passed around the table. We began with spoonfuls of milk of varying fat contents, cream both light and heavy, half and half, evaporated milk, and condensed milk. This sated our appetites for dairy almost as much as it called forth our pity for Heidi, the one lactose-intolerant girl in our class. (Am I the only one to whom the name "Heidi" implies a certain proclivity to dairy products!?)
Then came the butters. Let me tell you about butter. I enjoy butter. I like to use butter in, on, and around things that I eat. I feel that it enhances the quality of just about any food to the point that the very soul-satisfying nature of it counteracts any negative health effects (just let me be delusional and keep reading). Nor have my friends known me to be stingy with it. I have come to realize in a very brief span of time, however, that even I have some level of tolerance for it. Tonight we did some butter tasting. We tasted five unsalted butters including a special one from Denmark that was a first for me and quite remarkable. Then a number of salted butters - and let me tell you, when you've tasted five unsalted butters in a row and then moved on to one even lightly salted one, you will notice the salt. The salt in the first salted butter we tasted was at once repellent, because it seemed so strong, and a boon, because it was any flavor other than unmitigated milk fat. There were an equal number of salted butters passed around before the margarine was introduced. Anyone who knows me at all knows that I take no pains to mask my distaste for this product to begin with, but tasting it after such an inrush of The Real Thing served only to unveil its phony aspects all the more. I really did take a moment to thank God when Chef decided only at the very last second that we didn't have to go through tasting the Country Crock. Seriously. At least all was not in vain; I managed to name a favorite of all these butters - Plugra, the French-style extra-fat butter (surprised, friends?), whose name when properly pronounced is a homonym for plus gras, which translates quite unabashedly to "more fat." It's really, really good. If there were silkcows in the manner that there are silkworms, this would be their product.
To make sure we had enough substance in us, we topped off this light little parade of sixteen products (only two of which were composed of less than 20% fat, and only five under 40%) with some crème fraîche, mascarpone, and cream cheese. A large sundae; a planetary cherry. In all we tasted nineteen dairy products. One very queasy subway ride later, this particular chef-in-training is going to go lay down now.
And dream of unsalted crackers.