The Art of Baking

Pdho is very thoughtful… but there are times where I really do wonder what those thoughts are exactly. He knows I have been wanting to cook more and take lessons, so for Christmas, he ends up getting me a gift certificate for baking classes from Baking Arts.  BAKING classes?!?  I kept thinking it was odd, because I’ve never had a sweet tooth… I’ve never expressed an interest to bake….and  I rarely even eat what other people bake.  Nevertheless, it was a nice gift and it was something different, so after 4 months, I finally got around to finding a class that I would enjoy, Croissants!

Baking Arts is located in a work/live loft building in SOMA, so it was a hop, skip and a jump from home.  I love that! From the moment we walked into the elevator, we were immediately enveloped in the most sinfully delicious smell of butter permeating the air and as we drew closer and closer to the loft, it only got more and more intoxicating.  I really feel bad for the neighbors in the building… having to come home and be teased with such a tempting smell but not being able to eat any of the goodies. How tortuous is that?! Talk about cruel and unusual punishment. Hehe!

The class was definitely in a more intimate setting given that we were a group of 7-8 people working inside a regular home kitchen instead of your industrial type kitchen, but it didn’t matter because we didn’t actually bake anything on site. The focus of the class was to learn hands on how to make the croissant dough, and then the instructor demonstrated how we should cut up the dough and roll up the pieces into the individual croissants. We did get some practice on rolling the croissants, but we actually ended up taking our own dough home so we could bake it ourselves later.  As with any good cooking class, you expect to be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor, but in this case, the instructor made some croissants and pain au chocolat before we got there so in between rollings and foldings of the dough, we were thankfully able to snack.  Wow, they were delicious! I really liked the croissants, but I also had a quarter piece of the pain au chocolat.  I had to at least give the pain au chocolat a taste, but it was too sweet for me to have more than a bite.

It is amazing how much butter actually goes  into the dough. I think it was just shy of a pound of butter which was rolled out and folded over several times to create the characteristic layers upon layers of butter goodness that make a croissant what it is.  I couldn’t help but feel a little bit guilty when I saw the huge chunk of butter that I started with. However, after I took a bite of the fluffy yet ever so flaky finished product, I couldn’t help but become a little amnesic…. so much so that I finished off one and scarfed down another for good measure.

The next day, I attempted to roll out one of the two sets of dough we went home with. I even went out and bought some ham and cheese, so I could make ham and cheese croissants. I was really looking forward to having me some of those. I started out really excited, but it ended up being much harder than I expected.

First of all, it’s quite labor intensive having to roll it out, cut it into even isolateral triangular pieces and rolling each individual croissant.  I think I’m not used to handling the dough so it kept sticking to the counter and rolling pin. I kept adding flour and making this mess all over the counter. The more I rolled, the bigger the dough got, and I couldn’t keep the dough evenly shaped. I was a little frustrated at one point.  It was also taking a lot of time.  I almost wanted to give up, because my triangle pieces were a little crooked and weren’t rolling as nicely as the instructor had taught us to in class. I was worried that they weren’t going to turn out right and it was stressing me out.  Pdho was busy taking of some other things, so all he did was laugh at my growing frustration.

Eventually, I finished and  ended up with almost 18 or so croissants of varying sizes, and after baking them, they actually tasted pretty good.  They had the same crisp, buttery flakiness as the ones from class. The big difference was that the croissants weren’t as big and plump-looking as they should have been.  I think it was because I didn’t let them sit for 2-3 hours so they could rise. It was my own impatience that led to my downfall. =( I couldn’t help it. I was so sad by how unattractive my unbaked croissants looked that I just wanted to get it all done and out of the way as soon as I could. So even though they didn’t look as pretty as I would have liked, they did taste pretty good. I really liked my ham and cheese versions. I stuffed them full of ham and cheese (probably more than you’re supposed to), because they ended up pretty fat, but they were delicious!

In the end, I was pretty happy with the overall experience. Although I was a little bit skeptical of whether I was going to enjoy baking, I have to admit it turned out to be pretty fun. In some ways, it is easier than cooking, because it is more precise.  Everything is measured and weighed into exact amounts. I mean the instructor was using a ruler to measure the length and width of the dough. However, I think it is a slower process and probably takes more patience than is naturally in me. So I found that part a little more difficult. I still have a second batch of dough sitting in the freezer, so the next time I get inspired, I still have another opportunity to test my baking skills…. but until that time, I might just get my croissants from the french bakery. =)

Baking Arts
542 Brannan St #410
San Francisco, CA 94107

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