Earlier this month, I taught a holiday confections class at The Brooklyn Kitchen. We made peppermint caramels, maple-glazed hazelnut halva, sugarplums (my favorite) and chocolate toffee brittle.
When I teach, it feels like I learn just as much as the students. For example, while demonstrating the caramel recipe, I became distracted (talking + cooking = sweat) and added the coconut milk all at once. It was supposed to be in two parts; one at the beginning and the rest after the mixture reached 230 degrees. So we also made a second, true-to-recipe batch.
It wasn’t necessary–the first one turned out perfectly.
I should have pretended to do it on purpose. Earlier, I’d told the class how it’s a misconception that baking/pastry/dessert-making is an “exact science.” On the contrary, my best discoveries are sometimes made through improvisation, tinkering and mistakes–and this was a perfect example.
Later in the class, one of the students added some whole hazelnuts to a bowl of confectioner’s sugar to make the maple glaze. I caught her just before she was going to add the syrup and vanilla. After explaining that the hazelnuts were to decorate after glazing, she fished them out of the sugar and placed them aside.
After glazing, each piece of halva was topped with a hazelnut–now coated with a light layer of confectioner’s sugar. The result was more beautiful, elegant halva. The sugar gave the candy a snowy, wintry look and a French patisserie feel.
Just like mutations create beneficial properties so that species can evolve, a chance mistake caused an unforseen improvement I never would have thought of otherwise. Next time I make this recipe, I will incorporate this new step.