(photo: Chinese mantou and my friend and Chinese teacher, Wang Tong)
Baking Class #1: Chocolate Chip Cookies (posted by Jane)
November 5, 2009
This is not a country where people show up late to events. People show up early, consistently. At 6:05, I got 2 phone calls and the door buzzing, with the 12 students already here for a 6:30 start-time! I had to say over the door loudspeaker, “You’re early! It’s not 6:30 yet!” I continued to help the kids finish their dinner, clear dinner up, put papers away, etc. When my friend Zhou Jing arrived at 6:23 (also early, but acceptable, as she was my friend here to help me with the whole situation [Dave’s in Chengdu for the night]), I let her in, and she said there was the whole group waiting downstairs, outside. I then let them in.
Xander had made name-tags, basically little strips of paper, with a line and the word “Name.” Each person wrote their English name and used a safety pin to fasten it onto their clothes.
Next, Xander showed them how to wash hands. Ever since we saw the poster in the bathroom of Chicago grocery store Caputo’s, he’s been quite thorough. Why don’t Chinese people seem to use a towel to dry their hands? I pointed to the 3 or 4 clean, folded towels there, and urged them to use them, but they just wouldn’t.
Explaining the rules: Xander sat by my side as we all sat on couches or chairs in a circle in the living room. The first, main rule was for them not to take pictures of my children, explaining that then it wouldn’t be a baking class anymore and that in our house, our children are not miracle wonders of the West. I forgot to mention for them not to play the piano, so that came up twice later when students began to fiddle around on it. I pointed to where we have the 2 bathrooms, one a squat toilet (which I called the Chinese-style bathroom), and the Western-style bathroom in the back bedroom. One student later told me she wouldn’t characterize the 2 bathrooms into “Western” and “Chinese,” for most Chinese people have the “Western-style” bathroom in their house! I haven’t been here long enough to know if this is true, and I’m sure there’s a big difference between the country and city, but touché.
The students (who now numbered 14, as 2 came late) went around the circle and gave their English names to each other. I asked a few of them why they signed up for this class. Answers ranged from “I’m already good at cooking, so I wanted to learn more” to “I no very little about cooking, so I wanted to learn,” to “I’ve seen you around campus and wanted to have a chance to talk with the Western teacher.”
The students seemed to express that they like whole wheat over white flour; however, the whole wheat bread here is quite Wonder-Bready. Wait ‘til they have a home-made whole wheat loaf of bread! They have a taste for sweet things, which is a growing trend among Chinese people. They all, except one, like walnuts, and, according to Chinese thinking they’re good for the brain and even visually resemble a human brain. Why don’t we Westerners believe walnuts are especially good for the brain? Here, children especially are fed walnuts for their developing brains. You’d better believe I’ve got a stash of walnuts around most times.
The students learned about measuring cups and measuring spoons. I believe that quite a few students’ eyesight is bad and they’re not wearing any or proper corrective eyewear (actually, this is something I’ve thought in passing, but want to bring up with them sometime), so they had a hard time seeing the ¼ or ½ etched into the metal measuring spoons and cups.
Another by the by is that I corrected their pronunciation of the word “supermarket.” Chinese tend to pronounce it with a “sh” at the beginning. Argh! The students tonight explained that it’s because the British say it that way. I’ve got to check up on that. Well, I asked them to say it with just the “s” sound.
Now, on to the main business at hand, that of chocolate chips. I held up the bag of Hershey’s chocolate chips (mailed here by dear Mom), showed that there was a recipe on the back, and passed around the photocopy of the recipe. I showed them a bag of chocolate chips from Sabrina’s, the foreign foods import store in Chengdu. Regular ol’ bag of chips, actually, milk chocolate, and not that great. RMB26. THEN, I pulled out the humongous, bright-yellow, 1.5-pound bag of Nestle chocolate chips that my mom had also mailed, and got the expected “Waaaaaaaahhhhh” response. “Everything in the U.S. is big,” I always say.
I read the list of ingredients, then had Xander run into the kitchen to get the unknown ones like baking soda and vanilla extract. We talked about what they are.
The students then divided into 3 groups of 5 each and headed into my kitchen. There I had 3 stations, each with 2 bowls (one for dry ingredients, the other for wet), a stirring spoon, and some random measuring cups and spoons.
A couple of notes about their actual cookie-making process: First, they stirred in what I realized is a Chinese way. In China, they use chopsticks to whisk things quickly. They were attempting to use chopsticks to mix heavy dough. I had to emphasize using the big wooden or plastic stirring spoons. To the whole group, I explained gluten, and why we don’t want to mix cookie batter (like muffins) too much. (It activates the glutens in the flour and makes everything heavy.)
Second, they didn’t follow the directions like I expected they would, but I learned my expectations were unrealistic. One student dumped the brown sugar into the dry-ingredients bowl (flour, baking soda, salt). While this may seem to make sense, as brown sugar isn’t a wet ingredient, what trumps this line of thought is the explicit line in the recipe saying to mix the sugar with other ingredients (butter, other sugar, vanilla, then egg). It was fun explaining sentence order and how, actually, recipes do assume that you know that something like “Add eggs” means to add it to the stuff in the previous sentence.
Third, we 3 different types of doughs created, since I had butter enough only for one batch. The second batch used oil and the amount of flour that the recipe called for. The third batch used oil and more flour than the recipe called for. I predicted the cookies with oil and less flour would spread out too much.
The cookies made with butter spread out the most! During baking, the butter melts, the dough spreads out, and voila! You have what we Americans know as those round, flat, soft things called cookies. The cookies made with oil and more dough were most perfectly puffy and rounded when they came out of the oven. The oil must bind chemically with the flour mix in such a way that it doesn’t melt, or spread out flat. The students ooohed and aaahed over these! Indeed, they looked like mantou or baozi, which are flour-based puffy little breads sold everywhere. Makes sense that Chinese students would think the most familiar shape would look the cutest. Also makes sense that the Chinese students go for CUTE. This is the land of cute!
In-between batches coming out of the oven, we chatted. The time was well-spent, with students munching from the snacks I had available: broad nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flower tea and milk (actually, I only had one container of milk, so a student ran out to get more).
Tuition for each student was RMB70 for the 4-week class, and was based upon my calculations of the cost of ingredients. Sometime in the evening, the leader gave me a big wad of money. I was surprised to receive this directly, and said I wasn’t sure if I should take it. The leader replied that the teacher liaison had said I should. I pointed to the big wad of money and loudly announced, jokingly, “The money’s right here. Nobody steal the money!”
We took a group photo, upon my suggestion, and, upon their suggestion, I gave enough money to one of the students to develop 15 copies, one for each student.
Somebody asked me about how I manage my time, what with all the books in the house and my children and my teaching. I saved answering it ‘til later on in the evening. Towards the end of the evening, when they were all helping wash and dry dishes, I answered that their help is part of how I managed my time, by asking people to chip in help. I also said I have a schedule, dividing my time into what I need to do: learn Chinese, grade students’ work, plan lessons, teach my children, etc. Hmm, I need to teach time management to them and my other oral English students sometime.
I explained the lending library towards the end. Four students each borrowed a book. Demystifying Tibet was requested a few times, and although the inside flap showed it mostly to be a travel guide, it refers to Tibet as definitely its own country, etc. So I had to say that it was too political and I could get kicked out of the country if I lent it to them, sorry.
The students left late, between 10 and 10:30 p.m. Each got to take home 3 cookies. I need to have them each bring an appropriate take-home container next time. I’m looking forward to next time!
Need to purchase:
4 or 5 containers milk for drinking during class
ice cream (for when we make apple pie)
masking tape for them to be able to label and use a mug or glass in my house (vs. paper cups that end up in a landfill)
Want to serve:
Milk, tea, salty dried snacks (nuts, etc.)
Wash permanent cups
Print out science of baking articles from Internet. Make several copies.
Ask bakery nearby if we can use their oven at around 7:30 p.m.
Do trial run of French baguette, as I’m interested in doing that next.
Change class to Friday, as I want to – and want them to – hear Dave’s lecture
Next class options:
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Baking class #1
(photo: Chinese mantou and my friend and Chinese teacher, Wang Tong)