Looking Ahead to Baking Camp 2017

20160721_133845I can’t believe that it’s only November, but already it’s time to begin to plan for my  16th year Summer Baking Classes for kids at Schenectady County Community College (SCCC).  Above, you can see a picture of my class’s finished carrot cakes from last summer. A triumph!

First, a flashback:

It really all began years ago when my youngest daughter was in 2nd grade. Her teacher asked me to do an afternoon baking demonstration with 22  8 year old kids. Yikes! Do I look nuts?? Well, I said yes and I have been teaching kids ever since– and loving it!!!

It was close to the holidays so I decided to make my own small gingerbread house pieces and bring them in so that each child could make their own gingerbread house. OK, now it is confirmed. I am nuts. However, doing this project with the kids was actually a lot of fun. I made a large bowl of royal icing, the type of icing that acts as a glue and then hardens. It’s typically used to hold gingerbread houses together. If not eaten or nibbled on, these gingerbread houses can last for years.

I brought lots of candies for them to decorate their houses with, and then we displayed them on a huge mirrored tray. We even made  gingerbread Christmas trees and a Hanukah menorah to display in our tiny edible village. We dusted the entire display with confectioner’s sugar. It looked amazing. The school displayed it in the front hallway so everyone could admire it for weeks.

Both the  kids and the teacher were so pleased. The teacher even commended me on my teaching skills with young kids which inspired me to become a chef and teacher as well. Now back to the present:

After graduation from culinary school I was asked to begin a kids baking class which I consider a “camp” of sorts because it takes place in the summer. Not knowing whether there would be any interest I began by offering a one week baking class only. Well, that week filled up almost immediately. It turned out there was lots of interest and from all over the capital district.

Sixteen years later, my program has grown into 3 jam packed weeks of baking for ages 10 through 18. The first two weeks is typically for middle school kids and the last  week is devoted to high school kids. Each child gets LOTS of personal attention from me and is guided throughout the day to create some professional baked goods that they  get to take home and share with their families. My classes are kept to a maximum of 10-12 kids only, in order to give each one the best experience possible.

Not one to dummy down to my own kids in the kitchen or elsewhere, I knew that even young children could absorb relatively complex ideas about baking science and measurement depending on how it is presented to them. Kids in my baking classes follow step- by- step instructions for seemingly complicated recipes like croissants, Danish pastry, all kinds of cakes, cookies pies, yeast breads and even BIG gingerbread houses that make the ones I made in my daughter’s class look puny. Each day of each week different recipes are made  and each summer the recipes vary.

The kitchen becomes the great equalizer. Popular kids are no better than the shy, unassuming kids. Great things happen when all the kids check their egos and their phones at the door before they enter my kitchen.

I become both their teacher and almost a second mom for the week watching over each of my charges and guiding them in the art of great pastry. The kids learn so much about the science of baking including: proper measuring skills, how baked goods rise using both chemical leaveners and yeast. They also learn about how the structure of the baked good forms in the oven, what creates a flaky pastry, how fermentation works, what osmosis is and how emulsions work. All of these things are accomplished while the kids get to use professional kitchen tools in a commercial kitchen. The scientific principles that are taught are communicated in an incidental way where the child does not even realize they are learning real science that they will apply in their science classes during the school year AND throughout their lives.

The kids in my baking classes leave instilled with knowledge and self- confidence.  Many of them become fast friends  before the week is out. Many kids return year after year.. This is so cool because I actually get to watch them grow up, mature and witness how wonderfully adept they have become in the kitchen as the years go by.

So if you know a child turning 10 or older by next summer and who loves to be in the kitchen,  come and join me next summer. I can hardly wait!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail