Twelve-year-old Olivia Gossett has no problem whipping up a batch of ricotta. Her mother, Clemence, is a pastry chef and co-owner of the Gourmandise School in Santa Monica. Olivia practically grew up in the kitchen, and the cheese is but one of the recipes she knows by heart. Still, she’s a little nervous today -- Olivia is taping her first video recipe demo.
Quietly watching a pot of cream and milk come to a simmer over the stove, Olivia slowly stirs in some vinegar. She glances first at her mother, then timidly at the cameramen, explaining the simplicity of the recipe. Her mother nods approvingly, and Olivia’s dimples begin to show. She’s almost as tall as her mother now, with long, curly brown hair. They have the same warm smile.
Clemence Gossett is in the Los Angeles Times Test Kitchen to shoot videos demonstrating kid-friendly recipes perfect for Mother’s Day: flaky scones, roasted strawberries and homemade ricotta. She’s brought Olivia and her 3-year-old brother, Xavier, along with 11-year-old Sebastian Huchman -- in glasses and bow tie -- the son of one of the school’s fellow instructors, to help out.
Clemence demonstrates the scones first, with assistance from Sebastian. It’s all about the science of baking, she stresses, alternately addressing Sebastian and the camera while he asks novice baking questions about flour and sugar, how to mix and why it’s important that the dough stays cold. As the two work the dough, Clemence explains how -- and, more important, why -- the scones come together as they do. She discusses how baking powder works and why over-mixing can toughen the scones. As the two follow the recipe, Clemence explains the importance of using cold butter and leaving noticeable bits of it in the dough before baking: Later in the oven, the heat causes the chilled butter bits to steam, creating those characteristic flaky layers.
The dough looks shaggy at first as they pat it into a round before freezing for a bit to further chill the dough. When it’s ready, they cut scones using a biscuit cutter. “Punch out, but do not twist,” Clemence reminds Sebastian, “as this will seal the layers and disrupt the rising of your scones.”
While they watch the scones baking, Clemence cautions against taking them out too early. “Don’t be afraid,” she says. “Color is good. Bake the scones darker for richer flavor.”
Clemence is surrounded by all three kids as she demonstrates roasted strawberries. “This is a great job for little kids,” she says and laughs, as Xavier helps wash and clean the tender berries. The recipe is simple: Remove the leaves and stems from the berries, then roast them on a pan until softened and fragrant. The heat enhances the depth of flavor in the berries as they roast, their aroma filling the kitchen. The kids huddle around the strawberries, eager to taste them with the scones.
As she completes her demo, Olivia drains the fresh ricotta. This will be served as a spread for the scones. “Milk is 90% water with little particles of fats and casein floating around,” Olivia calmly explains to the camera. “When heated, the fat and casein get scared of the water, and when you add acid, the fat and casein huddle up together to create curds.” She looks to her mother for approval, swelling with pride as her mother congratulates her.
“I was never afraid in the kitchen,” says Clemence, describing how her own parents encouraged her early on, always providing ingredients as she experimented in the kitchen. She’s done the same with her kids. “It’s what’s familiar to them.” Beyond understanding the hows and whys behind the science of a recipe, cooking and baking are also about building confidence in others and learning to trust in yourself. Which is true if you’re 3, or 12 -- or any age.