It was a sudden decision, the final one, that propelled me to call Instituto Gastronómico Mucho Gusto to take a pastry class. Gustavo's aunt, Vanessa, had told me about it a couple of weeks ago at the baby shower, but I had put off calling. But yesterday, the first day of classes, I worked up the nerve to call.
And there were only good signs right from the beginning; the secretary picked up on the third ring (most of the time business' phones here just ring and ring), and she pleasantly told me she would reserve my spot without a deposit, as long as I was sure I would attend.
Arriving from the darkening and slightly wet evening, I found myself outside of a garage door. Peeking in, it appeared to be something like an auto body shop with some offices along one side. After calling out upe, a man who did not look very much like a chef appeared, and was not surprised at my startled look. He let me in and directed me towards a white wall at the back of the shop, and told me to take a right there.
Immediately I entered in a totally new environment, a clean and modern one with aesthetically-pleasing lighting. Inside of the "classroom" (that's too boring of a description for this place- it looks like it could be the TV setup for a cooking show), there was a long, slightly curved bar-like counter with stools, and in front was the professional kitchen. It was somewhat dimly lit, especially where the students were supposed to sit, but your eyes adjusted easily.
I was however, taken aback when I noticed imitation vanilla extract and margarine on the work surface. The professor herself was a middle-aged, more than plump señora, who, when up close, I realized was wearing colored contact lenses. Her black apron was covered with patches of spilled flour, sugar and whatnot. She was something motherly in not such an endearing way, and somehow vaguely reminded me of the dean of psychology at the university I got my Bachelor's at (possibly because she favored all of the male students). And curiously enough, her assistant (whom she never introduced to us), had a striking physical resemblance to the assistant at my King Arthur Flour class.
I was quite disappointed when I found out the class was to be demonstration only. I was expecting a similar class style to the one I took at King Arthur Flour, where everyone watched as the instructor demonstrated, and then went back to their individual stations where they replicated what they had been shown. My Costa Rican counterparts, however, were not at all surprised by this, which makes me think it's somewhat cultural.
Because of this demonstration-only style, I, without thinking twice, volunteered to participate at the first chance I got. But (disappointment #2), I realized once up close that she was not a very natural teacher. She went along doing her thing, but sometimes I felt like she was impatient, short with explanations, and didn't include me very much in the process. I felt a little silly for having volunteered, but at the same time wanted to get out of the course as much as possible. After the rest of the class had participated, I no longer felt so silly.
Well, we made a jellyroll filled with lemon-flavored pastry cream, mini tartlets with pineapple and coconut, puff pastry, and ham and cheese muffin-like creations. Overall, I was not impressed with the ingredients used (am I a snob? No, I just believe that using quality ingredients produces higher quality products (ok, not products, that sounds impersonal and food is very impersonal)), which were mainly easy-to-find (a plus), and I won't lie, I was somewhat disappointed about the demonstration style of the class. I personally learn a lot more when I am actively participating in what I am learning. However, I loved being in my environment, which is this one, and I know I'm going to learn much more.
To top off a wonderful evening, I had a very sketchy, bordering-on-scary cab driver. He was middle-aged with grayish hair, but a face full of young craziness. As he drove me speedily to my home, I prayed that I would get home safe and sound. There was something very heavy in the trunk that kept hitting me in the back every time he would suddenly break (or break at all), and that moved clunkily around back there. I made up in my mind that it was a dead body. And then he received a phone call and his cell phone flashed blue lights. Alvaro was calling, but he couldn't meet with him right away because he had a compromiso (engagement) with someone at 10. No, it would only take 10 minutes. Could he be dropping the dead body off? Is 10 minutes enough o bury a body in an already-dug grave? My imagination went wild.
Thankfully, I arrived home (rather quickly), screeched to a stop in front of my house (dead body thumping against my the back of my seat), and told in a very hyper-pleasant tone after handing him the cash I had prepared blocks ahead of time, "I hope to be able to serve you again!" I muttered something like "Ok…" (thinking, I really hope you won't be able to serve me again) and quickly hopped out of the freaky taxi.
Here is one of my favorite "for your sweet tooth" recipes. According to Gustavo, at the time I made them, they were the best dessert I had made yet. Served cold, they are paradise on a plate.
Black bottom cupcakes
(See photo above)
From the Joy of Baking- makes 12 large cupcakes
Cream cheese filling:
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
⅓ cup sugar
1 large egg
½ tsp pure vanilla extract (none of that imitation stuff)
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
⅓ cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 cup water
⅓ cup corn or canola oil
1 TBSP white vinegar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Preheat your oven to 350F. Grease a 12 muffin cup pan very well, or line the cups with paper liners.
To make the cream cheese filling: in your stand mixer or with a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar, egg, and vanilla. Beat until creamy and smooth. Set aside.
To make the chocolate cupcakes: In a large bowl sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl mix together the liquid ingredients: water, oil, vinegar and vanilla. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the wet ones until smooth. Divide the batter evenly between the muffin cups. Spoon a few tablespoons of the cream cheese filling into the center of each cupcake.
Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the cream cheese filling is slightly browned and cupcakes feel springy. Cool on a wire rack. These taste best cold!