The Challenge of Getting My Culinary Students into the Kitchen and Relaxing with Shortbread Cherry Blondie Candles

Starting this past Monday, all of my Culinary II and III students were supposed to have been in the kitchen. As of Friday of last week half of them had still not submitted their lab fees or waiver requests. Since I teach Culinary Arts at a rural Title I (low income) high school, the principal has set aside funds to pay for lab fees for those students whose families are having financial challenges. In order to get the $40 annual fee waived, students have to bring me a signed letter from a parent or guardian asking to be excused from lab fee payments due to financial hardship. These letters will serve as documentation to justify this allocation of funds in the event our school’s finances are ever audited.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been as candid as possible with each class. I’ve told them that the $40 lab fees may be paid in cash to the school bank or by a written waiver request. Since the waiver requests can be turned into money, either method of payment works for me. The bottom line is that I need funds to pay for food supplies and I can’t do this if students aren’t responsible about meeting their financial obligations to this program.

Information about lab fees and waiver requests were discussed during the first day of school. Additional information is available on the internet via our Canvas instructional platform which is accessible to all students through their district issued Chrome books. As part of my daily announcements, I’ve been reminding students about this deadline everyday for the first two weeks of school. Information has also been posted on our smartboard which I use everyday as a visual aid for all class announcements.

This past Monday was the start of our third week of school and it should have been our first full week in the kitchen. Even though the deadline had passed and I had already gone grocery shopping after work on the previous Friday, I told students last week that they could still be in the kitchen if they turned in receipts or waiver requests before the start of class.

While most of the remaining students got their fees paid at the proverbial last minute, I was disappointed when George (not his real name) blinked in confusion at the start of my 2nd period class.

“Lab fee? What lab fee?”

“What do you mean, ‘What lab fee?’ I’ve only been talking about this everyday over the past two weeks. It’s in your course expectations. It’s posted on the board. I can’t buy food supplies for this class without lab fees or a waiver request.”

“What’s a waiver request?”

Stephanie (not her real name) saved my sanity by snapping at George. “You’re an idiot! How did you even make it into Culinary II?”

George sniffed. “I’m actually a Culinary III student.”

“Then that’s WORSE! If you’ve already had two years of Culinary Arts, you should know all about lab fees and waiver requests. It’s not like you’re a freshman.”

George stared at his feet. “Well excuse me if I forgot to tell my parents.”

“If you forgot, then that’s on you! Stop messing with Chef and acting as though you don’t know what lab fees and waiver requests are. It’s rude and irresponsible and annoying!”

I felt like applauding but professional ethics constrained me from doing so. I couldn’t even tell Stephanie that she was now my new favorite student for having articulated comments in a manner and tone that I could never use.

Having anticipated that I would have students like George, I assigned him to work on an instructional module using his Chromebook. While the rest of his classmates were in the kitchen producing chocolate chip cookies, George had to read a PDF chapter on food contamination and to then answer ten short answer questions.

Within the kitchen, the students organized themselves into groups of 3-4. Each group went to a different station where they followed a recipe to produce and bake chocolate chip cookies. After measuring all of their ingredients, they used mixers with paddle attachments to make the dough. They then formed the dough into cookies, placed them on sheet pans lined with parchment paper, and baked them in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for about 12 minutes.

The air was soon filled with the aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Even though my district has a mask mandate, I could still smell the aroma of these baking cookies through the mask. Pictured below are the cookies that Stephanie’s group produced.

Chocolate chip cookies produced by my culinary students

Although baking cookies is something that I teach my Culinary I students, I chose to kick off the year with the remedial instruction of technical skills that students should have mastered during the previous year. Since we spent most of last year in virtual classrooms due to the Covid pandemic, my current students never developed the hands-on skills that they would have learned if we had been in the kitchen. They don’t have any knife skills. They haven’t made mother sauces and derivatives. They haven’t read recipes, measured ingredients, or followed the sequential steps to produce anything. While most of them can tell me about the difference between a dropped cookie and a rolled cookie, few have had the experience of actually producing cookies from scratch.

This lack of experience was demonstrated when one group got butter for their chocolate chip cookies.

“What are you doing?” I asked Flo (not her real name) as she placed three solid measuring cups beside a container of butter.

“I’m getting 3 cups of butter.”

“Three cups?” I raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure that’s what your recipe called for?”

“I TOLD YOU TO GET 3/4ths OF A CUP!” called Brenda (not her real name) from across the kitchen at station 1.


“Why would I tell you to get three cups?” Brenda waved the recipe overhead. “The recipe says 3/4th of a cup.”

“Whatever!” After putting away the three measuring cups, Flo spent several minutes at a supply shelf sorting through a plastic bin.

“CHEF!” complained the student. “I can’t find a 3/4th cup measuring cup.”

“That’s because we don’t have a 3/4th cup measuring cup.”

“Then how am I supposed to measure 3/4th of a cup?”

“How indeed?” I directed Flo to find a 1/4th measuring cup. “How can we use a 1/4th measuring cup to measure 3/4th of a cup?”

The teenager sighed. “If I knew, I wouldn’t be asking.”

“OMG!” shouted George from the back of the kitchen. “It’s BASIC MATH! We learned this in the 4th grade! 1/4th + 1/4th + 1/4th = 3/4th. Use a 1/4th measuring cup three times to get 3/4th!”

“Nobody asked you!” snapped Flo who began looking for three 1/4th measuring cups.

“YOU’RE WELCOME!” called George. “And if you really want to thank me, you’ll give me a cookie.”

In the end all of the groups in second period were successful. Even though the students were wearing masks, I could sense that everyone in 2nd period was smiling when the bell rang . Their plastic wrapped plates of cookies attracted immediate attention in the hallway because everyone wanted one.

“Do you remember when we were in the 2nd grade and I gave you a lollipop?” asked one student of Flo.

Flo stared at her friend. “Really? 2nd grade? You’re calling dibs on a cookie because of a lollipop from seven years ago?”

The student shrugged. “I dunno,” he said. “Did the guilt trip work?”

Flo sighed and handed him a cookie.

“SWEET!” exclaimed her friend.

“HEY! What about me?” asked George. “I helped you measure the butter!”

Flo reluctantly handed over another cookie.

Passing students saw this and began begging for cookies.

Flo curved a protective arm around her cookies and hurried away. She was closely followed by a half dozen students who were all clamoring for cookies.


real cherry blondie

To relax and unwind after returning home on Monday, I decided to make a new candle. Having recently found a picture of a shortbread cherry blondie on PinInterest, I decided to see if I could make a candle version of this product.

A blondie looks like a brownie but uses vanilla and brown sugar instead of cocoa. After mixing a yellow-brown wax that was scented with shortbread cookie and cherry aroma oils, I poured the mixture into a silicone brownie mold.

As soon as the wax had set, I popped it out of the mold and painted the top with melted white soy wax that had been scented with a vanilla toffee crunch aroma. I then added the wick. To build vertical height and to make the candle even more visually interesting, I topped it with three cherries and coated the fruit with a cherry syrup that was made using medium density candle gel. Pictured below is my production test model.

The cherries were made using a silicone mold from FoodMoldMania on Etsy. Having made over a dozen of these cherries, I spent part of each evening over the rest of the week making additional shortbread cherry blondie candles.

As to why I chose cherries, aside from having found a picture of this pastry on the internet, I learned from market research that cherry is one of the most popular food fragrances purchased by customers.

The use of a cherry garnish really made this candle pop. Placed against a backdrop of white icing, the cherries look scrumptiously moist and juicy.

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