Draeger's is pretty well set up for these sorts of classes. It's in a two-story building with the first floor being the grocery store. The second floor has a large hole cut in the middle that's open to the grocery story below, and the second floor itself is actually at several different levels (think of it as a balcony around the edge of the building, about 20' wide, that's sort of saddle shaped). This gives the feeling in the space of lots of cozy areas but still lots of open space. Pretty neat. The upstairs sells kitchen supplies, the expensive kind, and in one third of the area there's a teaching kitchen. That's where we had the class.
Class began with us washing up, donning aprons, and choosing which of the three dessert stations to work at: Sicilian Orange Cake with marzipan oranges (this was Melinda's and my choices), Chocolate Souffle cake, or Mini carrot cupcakes. All these stations were in the same room and it was easy to just look over my shoulder to see what other people were doing. And, in fact, it was easy to wander about to watch Doug and others struggle with whipping enough air into the souffle, to see Wei-Hwa shred the carrots, or to look for Patrick only to see he's absorbed himself into the kitchen on the other side of the counter.
Making the desserts was all pretty simple, and a lot of fun. Probably the most fun was making the marzipan decorations. We first made little oranges. Marzipan is a lot like play-dough, although made of almond paste not flour and cornstarch. Knead in some orange food coloring, roll a little into a ball, then roll the ball over the small holes in a cheese grater. Voila - orange with citrus skin. Knead some green food coloring into some other marzipan, roll it out flat and thin, and carve out a tiny leaf. Skewer the leaf into the orange with a clove and you've got yourself the world's most adorable little orange. We made about a dozen of these, and the rest of the group had fun playing with the marzipan to make other shapes as well (mostly cubes).
Many of the dishes needed a while to bake, so after the first round of everything was done we had one more dish to prepare: chocolate truffles. The Draeger's folks had already prepared the ganache; all that needed doing was rolling it into small balls, rolling those in cocoa powder, and setting on a sheet to cool. Everyone took part in this as well and got lots of chocolatey hands. Fortunately, we were all given gloves to wear, so the chocolate remained food-sanitary and our hands remained, well, clean.
After baking the final step was plating. The Draeger's staff did all this for us, setting out plates for each person. A couple of truffles, a couple of cupcakes, a slice of orange cake and a round of chocolate souffle. A bit of whipped cream for a few things (that we whipped, of course), some of the marzipan decorations (an orange for the orange cake and a little carrot for the cupcake) and we were set. My plate, because it was my birthday, also had "Happy Birthday Corin" written around the edge. Aww. They found a candle, lit it, and I made my wish and blew it out. Everyone can now eat!
We gathered in the little cafe next to the teaching kitchen and ate our desserts. Mmm... I think my favorite was the chocolate souffle. It was rich but not too dense, and it was really good chocolate. The orange cake was a nice change of pace, and the marzipan decorations were as tasty as they were cute. We didn't finish all the truffles or cupcakes among ourselves so I took the remainder home. They didn't last long at my apartment in the days hence.
After dinner we all came back to my apartment (yes, all 12 or so of us) and I opened birthday gifts. Mom and Dad gave me a perfect scale model of a tractor, the same model that Uncle Fred had in Wilmore, KS. Linda gave me a penguin print and candle holder, Grandma and Grandpa gave me slacks. Casey and Mindy gave me a really neat book of rules for card games, published by Hoyle, in 1896, and their kids (not yet 1 and 2!) gave me a remote controlled Mario on a Mario Kart -- neat! Ian promised me that he'd create a puzzle hunt for me given my specs, something I'm sure I'll tap him for later this spring or summer. And Melinda, she gave me a great gift: First, it was a bunch of boxes to open. "Because you like boxes!" Then, there was a puzzle in the form of a couple of restaurant reviews and a tool box with a padlock. The restaurant reviews encoded a message to use the same "cents on credit card slip is our rating of the restaurant" scheme we started using a few months back. In the box was more boxes and another puzzle, this one a cross word. Each answer was a different penguin species (cute!) and one clue told me what to do next. Behind a framed poster in my bedroom Melinda had hidden an envelope. In the envelope were: adoption papers for "Magellan", a magellanic penguin! Melinda adopted me a penguin! Awww....! It lives in a penguin sanctuary between Chile and Argentina, along with a few hundred thousand other breeding pairs. The researchers who look after the sanctuary will send me e-mail periodically with updates on how Magellan is doing. Apparently Magellan and his mate recently had an egg hatch so they're caring for a chick now. Aww...
After opening gifts everyone played some word games for about an hour, then headed home around midnight. Mom and Dad were staying with me for the weekend so we turned over the apartment to get ready for bed. In all it was a great birthday. Melinda did a fantastic job of getting the cooking class set up, getting a bunch of my friends and family there, and then putting together a fun puzzle event and great gift for me. Yay! I like having birthdays!