NEWARK — What do you get when you put three adults, nine students in fourth through sixth grades and a bunch of ingredients in the kitchen of a local Catholic school?
Delicious chocolate cake, apparently.
At least that seemed to be the consensus among the adults and students who participated in St. Michael School’s first cooking class Jan. 13. That day parent Michelle Malach, her husband Joe and her mother Susie Schrock helped the students make three chocolate truffle cakes.
The cooking classes are just the first set of enrichment opportunities the school hopes to offer this year, said Michelle Malach, cochair of St. Michael’s Parent Relations Committee.
“We sent out a survey to the parents to see where we were meeting needs and where we weren’t meeting needs. We’re trying to make sure that everyone is happy. We heard several comments from parents wanting more afterschool activities,” she said.
St. Michael already offered band, Catholic Youth Organization basketball and piano lessons, as well as rosary, wellness and ski clubs, but still the older students sometimes seemed to fall through the cracks, said Suzanne Tulloch, the school’s public-relations and development coordinator.
“The older kids tend to get less enrichment-type things because of sports, homework and testing. They just fall short on that,” Tulloch said.
To combat that, the Parent Relations Committee decided to increase the school’s extracurricular offerings.
“I sent out a survey to the kids to see what they were interested in. What generated the most interest is what we’re doing,” Michelle Malach said.
The cooking lessons were to be held every Tuesday for five weeks, and in mid-February they’ll be replaced by six weeks of dance and exercise classes, during which the students will learn about hip-hop dance, yoga and kickboxing. In future installments students will be able to learn to play chess, participate in science experiments and compete in a Nintendo Wii tournament, Michelle Malach said.
Several parents were taking turns leading the enrichment sessions, including the cooking sessions. Michelle Malach led the first session, and the next week school secretary Christine Barrett helped the students bake apple pies.
Nine students gathered in the school’s kitchen at 3:15 p.m. Jan. 13 for the first session. Unsure of what to expect, they eagerly tied on their aprons, reluctantly donned their hairnets and looked to the Malachs and Schrock for instructions.
“We’re baking three cakes today,” Michelle Malach announced. “I baked one yesterday, and that’s the one we’ll be decorating. We have to have all the cakes in the oven by 3:45.”
The students broke into three groups and began looking at the recipe, ingredients and utensils at their cooking stations.
“The first thing you should do when you make a recipe is read the whole thing before you start,” Joe Malach told them. “You read the whole thing straight through so you don’t get to step five and say, ‘Oh, man, I was supposed to do this instead.'”
After reading the recipe, the students’ first task was to cover the springform pans — which most students had never seen before — with aluminum foil, then began mixing the ingredients. The resulting chocolatey batter looked temptingly scrumptious, but the students were forbidden to eat it because of the raw eggs it contained.
“I want to lick that so bad!” fourth-grader Katie Stack exclaimed, jumping up and down.
Katie had signed up for the classes with her best friend, fellow fourth-grader Madison Witt.
“Basically we like cooking,” Madison said.
“And we don’t get to do it at home a lot, so this is our chance to do it,” Katie chimed in.
“This is gonna taste so good!” she squealed as she and Madison prepared a chocolate glaze for the cake. “I like chocolate!”
“She has a problem with that. She loves chocolate,” Madison confirmed.
Madison and Katie said they’d made brownies and chocolate-chip cookies in the past, although Katie said one baking experience with a baby-sitter turned sour when they accidentally added an entire bottle of vanilla and too much salt to a chocolate cake.
Sixth-grader Joey Ruffalo said he is taking the cooking classes so he can help out around the house, and classmate Conor Tickner said he decided to take the classes because his friends were already signed up for them. Fifth-grader Kyle Paddock, meanwhile, said he is taking the classes because he already likes to cook. Classmate Taylor Palermo said she likes to cook, too, but she doesn’t usually cook in a kitchen crowded with 12 people.
Despite the crowd in the kitchen, the students managed to get all three cakes in the oven by 3:45 and had finished decorating the cake Michelle Malach made by 4:30.
“It looks gourmet,” Schrock said of the finished product, before Michelle Malach divided it up among the students and adults.
“It was a little crazy,” Michelle Malach said afterward. Nonetheless, “I think it went fairly well. I think they had fun, and that was the important thing.”