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A Student's Career Change Creates Awesome Brownies

Florinda Friend

It was three years ago.

“Are you crazy?!” my mother yelled from the other end of the phone.

“Mom, it’s time for me to do something different with my life,” I tried to explain.

“You have a good job in an office. Why would you want to work on your feet all day in a kitchen?”

I think she could hear me roll my eyes on the other side of the receiver. “Do you hear me?” she continued. “You have a good thing. Don’t mess it up.”

I shouldn’t be surprised by her response. My mother worked her entire life as a cook, housekeeper and seamstress. To her, working in an office meant you were successful and well -educated. But after 20 years of sitting behind a computer, it was no longer what I wanted out of life.

My journey for a new degree and career started with one very bad day at work. I remember going home, opening the refrigerator, pouring a glass of iced tea and walking out to the back patio. I fell into a plastic lawn chair. I thought to myself, there has to be more than this. I want to do something that matters with my life.

So, I decided to change my life. I assessed my strengths and weaknesses. I thought about what I like to do, concerts, traveling, baking, and decided that I would become a baker. I want to start an organization selling baked goods and donate the proceeds to a worthy cause.

A quick search for culinary schools on Google and I found one five minutes away. Rowan College at Burlington County (it was called Burlington County College at that time) had a state-of-the-art culinary facility in Mount Holly. They offered classes during the day and at night. And, compared to other culinary schools, it was relatively inexpensive. I contacted the director of the culinary program and made an appointment to discuss my new and exciting future.

On the day of my 41st birthday, I met with the culinary director. She gave me a tour of the beautiful facility, including the kitchen labs and the school’s restaurant. She explained how the classes were heavily lab-based and most classes were five to six hours long. The culinary school also offered several degrees including culinary, hospitality and pastry arts. I was sold. I went directly to the admissions department and enrolled.

I am so happy that I made that decision. My experience has included helpful, supportive instructors with real-life experience within the field, small classes in which you knew your teacher and classmates, and a wealth of resources to help you succeed after you graduate. I met students like me who were returning to school. There was the single mother trying to make a better life for her children, the retired military person pursuing his next career and the lawyer who simply loved to make beautiful cakes.

Going back to school was a marathon. It was three years of working full-time, taking care of a family, classwork and exams. I graduated this May with high honors and a pastry arts degree. And now, I can start my new life and business.

This is a recipe given to first-year baking students from the instructor’s personal selection of recipes. My family and friends love these brownies so much they call them, “Those Awesome Brownies.”

Those Awesome Brownies

Yield: One cookie sheet

4 cups sugar

2 cups unsalted butter – room temperature

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

1 cup corn syrup

3 tsp salt

2 cups flour

6 large eggs

4 Tbsp whole milk

3 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Put butter and sugar into standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Beat on medium low speed until the sugar and butter are evenly incorporated.

Scrape the bowl and cream on medium-high speed until the mixture is noticeably lighter in color and is very fluffy. This could take from 10 to 12 minutes or so. Scrape the bowl once or twice every 5 minutes or so.

Add cocoa and corn syrup. Beat until blended.

In one bowl, sift and combine salt and flour. In a separate bowl, combine eggs, milk and vanilla.

Add your dry and wet ingredients alternately, beginning and ending with dry. Mix at medium speed. Make sure to scrape down sides between additions of ingredients.

Pour batter onto parchment paper. Spread evenly.

Bake for 30-40 minutes. Time will vary depending on oven. The brownies are done when they do not spring back when touched.

Remove from oven and let brownie completely cool (about 1-2 hours) before cutting into pieces.

Article is written by Rowan College at Burlington County pastry arts graduate Florinda Friend for the college's monthly Courier-Post culinary column.