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Wishbone U. classmates study sweet lesson plan


Michele Frommer's family thinks she is one cookie short of a dozen.

At least that's how she opened her plea to win a spot at the fourth annual Wishbone U., the St. Petersburg Times' Thanksgiving cooking boot camp.

"They think I'm crazy for wanting to put thousands of dollars into remodeling my kitchen when I don't even cook," the St. Petersburg woman told us.

They've got a point. And there might even be agreement from the 11 students who recently joined Frommer for an intensive class on holiday sweets at Publix Super Markets' Apron's Cooking School in Tampa.

Frommer gleamed with delight at nearly every piece of equipment that head chef Bil Mitchell pulled from the shelves. She had them all. That included a pricey stand-up mixer and a pizza stone. She was unclear what to do with most of them.

"I don't even know what kind of oven I have because I don't use it," she said. Out loud. In front of everyone.

After three hours of baking tips and hands-on instruction from Mitchell and sous chef Terry Gracie, Frommer has no excuses this year. She is among the Wishbone U. Class of 2008, which graduated with honors in desserts. The 12 students ranged in age from 18 to 79. Some admitted to reputations as the person-most-likely-to-burn-water and others wanted to hone fledgling skills to impress family and friends.

Mitchell selected the recipes, which accompany this story, because each had a lesson to teach about technique. Making homemade cranberry sauce and using pastry were mastered with Cranberry and Apple Empanadas. Pumpkin Streusel Muffins provided tips on measuring spices and other dry ingredients. Two cookie recipes illustrated the importance of correctly mixing ingredients to ensure tenderness in the finished product. For example, cream sugar and butter first, then add the wet ingredients, then the dry.

"No wonder my cookies never turn out," Frommer said. "I just dump everything in at the same time."

As the class progressed, one thing was certain. Many students refuse to follow recipes. Lesson No. 1 from the chef: Read the recipe. Twice. Then make the dish exactly as the recipe says at least one time. This is especially important when baking.

We hope Queenie Reinert of New Port Richey takes this advice to heart. Reinert's reputation as a lousy cook is so widespread that her potluck offerings go untouched. Her husband does the cooking, to the relief of friends and family. "I look at the recipes but then I just do what I want," she said.

Then there's Yvette Rubenzer of Tampa. No fewer than a dozen friends wrote to plead the case of their dear friend.

"She needs help so she can finally use the pots and pans she hasn't touched since her wedding eight years ago," wrote one pal.

"Love her to death but she needs all the help she can get," came a dispatch from Tennessee. Rubenzer's cooking is so underdeveloped that she is the designated drink-bringer to nearly every gathering.

There were other tales of woe:

• Scott Saunders of St. Petersburg tells of a fateful Thanksgiving when he used champagne to put out a turkey that went up in flames on the grill.

• Even Jell-O is a challenge to Charna Lester Bogdany of Sun City Center.

• History teacher Sarah Gurley of Palm Harbor wants to prove to her family she can know as much about baking as she does the Civil War.

• Ashlea Bourke of Pinellas Park hopes that a delicious dessert or two can mend some rifts in the family. Likewise, Robert Wall of St. Petersburg wants to impress family on the other Florida coast and honor the memory of his mother, who died this year.

• Is there anything Susanne Cleckler of Tampa hasn't burned? She recalls green beans, bread and an unfortunate pineapple dessert. An undercooked chicken was one of the few exceptions.

• Nancy Jergins of Brooksville is caught between two great cooks, her mother and mother-in-law. "Please teach me how to make spectacular desserts so I can, at last, earn my place at the grown-ups table."

• Suzanne Rehermann of Hudson is still trying to get over buying snacks at the gas station for her toddlers' preschool class after her homemade dish went flooey.

• Poor Sandy Allessandrini of Tampa. The only living creature who doesn't complain about her cooking is her dog Cosmo. The veterinarian, however, is concerned about his weight. It seems the kids are sneaking food to him to spare mom's feelings.

But back to Frommer and her tricked-out kitchen. This year, she plans to host a big gathering with guests who have never tasted her home cooking.

We hope that Brownie Bottom Cheesecake Bars will erase the past.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8586.

Wishbone U. Instructors: Bil Mitchell, resident head chef, Apron's Cooking School; and Terry Gracie, sous chef, Apron's Cooking School

Students: Ashlea Bourke, 18, Pinellas Park; Nancy Jergins, 45, Brooksville; Suzanne Rehermann, 49, Hudson; Michele L. Frommer, 37, St. Petersburg; Sarah Gurley, 29, Palm Harbor; Susanne Cleckler, 63, Tampa; Sandy Allessandrini, 45, Tampa; Robert Wall, 56, St. Petersburg; Scott A. Saunders, 58, St. Petersburg; Yvette Rubenzer, 38, Tampa; Queenie Reinert, 52, New Port Richey; and Charna Lester Bogdany, 79, Sun City Center

Tips from the chefs

Apron's Cooking School chefs Bil Mitchell and Terry Gracie shared lots of tips about baking with the students of Wishbone U.
Here's a sampling that might help you too:

Use unsalted butter when baking. This allows you to control the amount of salt.

Use the best ingredients you can and always use pure vanilla extract rather than imitation. If you're going to the trouble
of baking, you want it to taste good.

Coat pans with nonstick spray immediately before using. If it's done too far in advance, the coating will slide down the sides and won't cover the entire surface.

Use the ingredients called for in a recipe until you have made it a few times and feel comfortable making substitutions. For instance, some artificial sweeteners can stand in for sugar but not usually in the same amount. Some low-fat products, such as reduced-fat margarine, contain more water and can alter results.

Use light pans over dark. Dark pans absorb more heat and can cause food to burn or dry out when not watched closely.

When mixing batters and cookie dough, bring all ingredients, even eggs, to room temperature.

The more you stir the pot, the longer the mixture inside will take to cook. Don't fuss with cooking food more than the recipe suggests.

In an ingredient list, "One cup flour, sifted" is different than "One cup sifted flour." The former means to measure the flour then sift it; the latter means sift the flour, then measure it. These two techniques will result in different amounts of flour, changing results.

Creaming butter and sugar is one of the most important steps in baking. This helps create tender baked goods.

In baked goods, shortening takes longer to melt than butter and can prevent cookies from spreading. The temperature of butter will alter results and this is why some recipes call for dough to be chilled. Cold butter, like shortening, takes longer to melt. If your cookies spread too much, it might be because the butter is too warm.

Janet K. Keeler

On the cover

Wishbone U. students get help from chefs Bil Mitchell, top, and Terry Gracie, bottom left, on making Cranberry and Apple Empanadas. The students are, clockwise from bottom right, Susanne Cleckler, Robert Wall, Ashlea Bourke, Michele Frommer and Yvette Rubenzer.


Cranberry and Apple Empanadas

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

2 cinnamon sticks or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 (12-ounce) bag fresh cranberries

1 unpeeled Golden Delicious apple, ¼-inch dice

2 boxes (4 shells) ready-made pie crust

1 egg yolk, lightly beaten

3 ounces cream cheese

1 egg, lightly beaten for egg wash

Sweet Orange Cream Topping (recipe at right) or whipped topping

Bring water, sugar and cinnamon sticks to boil in medium saucepan. Add cranberries to the simple syrup, bring back to a boil and lower the heat to simmer for 10 minutes. Add apple and a pinch of salt, and simmer for 3 more minutes. Take the pot off the heat and pour the cranberry sauce into a glass bowl to cool completely.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a nonstick baking sheet with nonstick spray. Roll the pie crust onto a cutting board and, using a
3-inch pastry cutter, cut out seven circles from each dough round.

Arrange dough circles on a work surface. Lightly brush the edge of each wrapper with egg yolk. (The egg yolk helps make a tight seal.) Place ½ teaspoon of cream cheese in the center of the dough and spoon no more than ½ teaspoon of the cooled sauce. Fold in half to make a half-moon shape and crimp the edges with a fork. Place the finished empanadas on the prepared baking sheet as you make the rest.

Brush the tops of the empanadas with egg wash. Bake, turning occasionally, for 10 to 12 minutes, or until crisp and golden brown. Let cool slightly before eating, as they will be very hot in the middle. Serve warm with whipped topping. Makes 28 empanadas.

Note: These are better served warm. They can be made ahead, then warmed on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes.

Source: Apron's Cooking School, Publix Super Markets


Butterscotch Shortbread Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

½ cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 bag butterscotch chips
(11 ounces)

In a separate bowl, whisk the flour with the salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream the butter until smooth (about 1 minute). Add sugar and beat until smooth (about 2 minutes). Beat in the vanilla extract. Gently stir in the flour mixture just until incorporated. Flatten the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour. Remove and roll the disc into a 1- by 12-inch log. Chill for two hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the middle of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Slice the log in 1/3-inch-thick slices. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets, then push three or four chips into each cookie. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until cookies are lightly brown. Cool on rack. Makes about 20 shortbread cookies.

Shortbread will keep in an airtight container for about a week, or frozen for several months.

Source: Apron's Cooking School, Publix Super Markets


Gingerbread Thumbprint Cookies
With Lemon

2/3 cup shortening

½ cup brown sugar, packed

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon cloves

2 teaspoons ground ginger

½ teaspoon salt

1 egg

¾ cup molasses

3 cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

4 tablespoons graham cracker crumbs

6 ounces lemon curd
(see note)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream together the first six ingredients until smooth and fluffy. Add egg and mix slowly. Add the molasses and mix
until combined.

Sift remaining dry ingredients into a large bowl. Add the creamed mixture and stir until well blended. Divide into three equal discs, wrap with plastic wrap and chill at least one hour.

Place the graham cracker crumbs in a shallow dish. Working with one disc
at a time, divide the gingerbread dough into 12 1-inch balls; roll through the cracker crumbs and place
1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake the cookies for 8 to 11 minutes, or until they are almost set. Cool 2 minutes on the cookie sheet. With your thumb, or the back of a small spoon, make a small indentation in the center of each cookie. Place the cookies on a cooling rack and cool completely before placing a small dollop of lemon curd into the indentation of each cookie. Store in the refrigerator.

Makes 36 cookies.

Note: Look for lemon curd near the jellies and jams, or in the aisle with British products.

Source: Apron's Cooking School, Publix Super Markets


Pumpkin Streusel Muffins

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup sugar

¾ cup yellow cornmeal

¼ cup chopped pecans

¼ cup dried cranberries, chopped

3 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup pumpkin puree

2/3 cup milk, room temperature

2 tablespoons canola oil

Streusel topping:

3 tablespoons brown sugar, packed

1 tablespoons pecans, chopped

1 tablespoon butter,

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare standard muffin tin with nonstick spray. Combine dry ingredients (flour, sugar, cornmeal, pecans, dried cranberries, baking powder, salt and nutmeg) in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, combine eggs, pumpkin, milk and oil; mix well by hand and then add to dry ingredients until just combined. Fill muffin cups two-thirds full.

Topping: Combine brown sugar, pecans and butter and sprinkle over the top of the muffins just before baking.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Makes 15 muffins.

Source: Apron's Cooking School, Publix Super Markets


Brownie Bottom Cheesecake Bars

Brownie bottom:

12 ounces semisweet chocolate

3 eggs

¼ cup sugar

½ tablespoon vanilla

¾ cup pecan pieces

1 cup all-purpose flour

Cream cheese topping:

12 ounces cream cheese

2 ounces unsalted butter

¾ cup sugar

3 eggs

8 ounces sour cream

½ tablespoon almond extract

½ cup flour

½ cup milk

For the brownie bottom, melt the chocolate in a double boiler. In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, sugar and vanilla and blend very well. Once the chocolate is melted, add the pecans and the egg mixture. Fold in the flour and pour this mixture into a parchment-lined 9- by 13-inch baking dish.

For the cream cheese topping, in a mixing bowl with a paddle attachment, beat together the cream cheese, butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, sour cream and almond extract. Alternate adding the flour and milk until all ingredients are well combined. Spread the cream cheese mixture on top of the brownie layer and bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Cool before slicing.

Makes 20 to 25 bars.

Source: Apron's Cook School, Publix Super Markets


Sweet Orange Cream Topping

1 cup whipping cream

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

1 teaspoon orange extract or 1/4 cup orange juice
(see note)

1 teaspoon grated fresh orange zest

Additional grated orange zest for garnish, if desired

In a large bowl, beat whipping cream and powdered sugar
with electric mixer on medium speed about 1 minute or until cream begins to thicken, then on high speed until soft peaks form.

Fold in orange extract (or juice) and orange zest. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Garnish with additional orange zest.

Note: The extract will give the whipped cream more
orange flavor.

Source: Adapted from Pillsbury

Wishbone U. classmates study sweet lesson plan 11/18/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 20, 2008 8:15pm]
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