Posted by: njbrown | September 4, 2009

Passionate pastry-making 1975


September 4, 2009

I arrived at George Brown College in 1975 for my evening course in basic pastry-making not having a clue what I was getting into. The industrial kitchen classroom was huge, and some of the mixers standing on the floor were almost as tall as I. Clearly, I was in for some serious instruction! My friend from work had accompanied me, otherwise I might have bolted from sheer intimidation.

Our pastry chef instructor was Mr. Nolte. He was one of the very few people I have had the privilege of spending time with who was a true master of his profession. With Teutonic efficiency and skill, and with an almost unique economy of motion, he produced and helped us to try to produce a wide array of pastries made in commercial kitchen/bakery quantities. I was in awe of the way he could take a pinch of flour and with one deft flick of his wrist distribute it perfectly on the surface where he would make his pastry. He was a genius with a rolling pin, and he taught us how to keep the circle of dough uniform through the rolling process by using both hands to push it into shape after each rolling, and then rotating the circle. Using a pastry bag to pipe, each thing he made was perfect, whether it was decorations or piped cookies. He was truly a joy to watch, an inspiring teacher, and a chef who was clearly passionate.

When we got to working with chocolate – perhaps in the next level course – I thought I had died and gone to heaven. While living in New Jersey, I had worked on making chocolate curls, cigarettes, and tried to replicate the chocolate ruffles I had seen on beautiful pastries. Mr. Nolte taught us how to temper chocolate so that it almost instantly hardened when poured over a French pastry, etc. (Previously, I had only known to put things into the refrigerator.) He introduced us to making chocolate curls using courverture chocolate. No more dinky vegetable peelers and small bars of chocolate! With a slab of couverture about an inch thick and almost twelve inches tall, I learned to rapidly make beautiful, fat chocolate curls by just running the back of my chef’s knife up and down the narrow side. In 1975, I paid $30 for a block of couverture chocolate – big money. A cheap price for progress!

George was very happy during my time studying at George Brown. Each week after class (and I think I took two classes a week), I’d bring home at least one bakery box filled with the evening’s products – a dozen Danish pastries, a couple of pies, numerous cookies, etc. George’s weight, unfortunately, increased rapidly, and after the two pastry courses, I took a general chef’s course where I didn’t have as much high-calorie temptation to bring home.

Nancy

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