By Paul Suplee,
MBA, CEC, PC-3
Reprint from Dec. 8, 2022
Recently I started my 15th year in teaching. Four years at Worcester Technical High School was followed by 10 years at Wor-Wic.
Now, I find myself on the beautiful campus of University of Maryland Eastern Shore. It has been quite a journey, but I have enjoyed every step of it. Well, most of it, but that’s for a different day.
One of my favorite stories as a culinary educator goes way back to my first year at the high school. The kids knew everything, they were belligerent and angry that they had to deal with the “new guy”, and instruction was not necessarily something that they were about to take from me.
So, they floundered in the kitchen. I would try to correct them, and they would snap back in their wonderfully angsty way. So, I did what any self-respecting high school lab teacher would do. I gave them enough rope. More precisely, I broke them into 10 groups of two, facing each other across stainless steel tables that I had strategically lined up.
Between each pair of two students, there was a pan with pan spray, butter, cream, eggs, sugar, cocoa powder and anything else they would need to make a simple brownie using the creaming method.
Each student had a recipe with thorough instructions, and I calmly announced “you guys apparently know what you’re doing, so make me brownies. They are due in an hour and 15 minutes. Oh, and it’s worth a hundred points.”
They all stared blankly at me as I sat in a chair and reminded them of the time restraint. And then it happened. One kid, who obviously did not take the time to read the recipe, unwrapped the pound of butter and placed it in the pan. Then he poured cream on top. Now, no one was laughing, as they were taking this challenge quite seriously. One by one, each group mimicked the actions of the first and poured the cream on the butter.
Then came the sugar, and the first group was banging on the butter with their spoons to get it to mix. Suffice it to say, by the time the eggs, sugar, cocoa powder et al had been added (incorrectly I might add), it was painfully obvious to the students that they perhaps should listen to the new guy. I waited for them patiently, and at last a young lady from Snow Hill announced, “We give up, Chef. What are we supposed to do?”
And that was the beginning of an incredibly productive year for all of us. Did I process-shame them? Yes, I did. Were they better for it? Yes, they were. Was I able to teach them some invaluable skills that semester? Absolutely.
All they had to do was cream the butter and sugar together first. If they had done that, meaning that if they had read the recipe and followed instructions, they would have had a much easier time achieving their goals.
The creaming method is the basic start for muffin batters, and in this case coffee cake batters. It is a rather sophisticated method, so pay attention and let me know if I need to back up and explain it further.
Step one is to soften the butter and place it in a stand mixer, or a bowl with a hand mixer. It doesn’t really matter which one. Next you add the sugar, and then you mix it until it is what? You got it! Creamy. As butter is a water and fat emulsion, the sugar and butter mix and the sugar eventually dissolves in the water in the butter and the homogenized mixture is smooth and creamy. And then you add the other ingredients and Bob’s your uncle.
Ah, the halcyon years of instructing. I can only hope that they continue to be as entertaining as they have always been.
And now that you have this process burnt into your brain, you may want to try this cake for your holiday guests and friends. It is the season for entertaining, after all.
makes 1 tube cake
1 1/2 Tbsp. AP Flour
1 Tbsp. Ground cinnamon
6 oz. Brown sugar
4 oz. Pecans, chopped
1 oz. Butter, melted
4 oz. Butter, softened
8 oz. Granulated sugar
2 large eggs
8 oz. Sour cream
7 oz. Cake flour, sifted2
1/4 Tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Baking powder
1 tsp. Baking soda
1 tsp. Vanilla extract
Blend the first five ingredients together in a bowl and set aside while you make your batter.
For the batter, cream the butter and sugar together until they are … yes, creamy.
Add the eggs one at a time while incorporating well.
Add sour cream and beat until smooth.
Add the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and vanilla and mix well.
Spoon half of the batter into a greased tube pan. Top with half of the filling that you set aside earlier.
Put remaining batter in the pan, and top with the remaining filling.
Bake at 350F for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
From On Baking 3rd edition by Sarah R. Labensky.
If you don’t have cake flour, add a Tbsp. of cornstarch to each cup of AP flour. This increases the starch content and decreases the protein content, thus making it more suitable for tender cakes
Paul Suplee is the owner of Boxcar40 in Pittsville
and senior lecturer of culinary arts at UMES.