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Patty Viaene, a co-director of the Taher food service at Ridgewater College, right, shows Matti Johnson, 10, of New London, how to apply filling to a pastry. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

Ridgewater summer campers learn about bread-baking, buffets

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First they rolled the pliant bread dough into balls. Then they tied ropes of dough into knots. Filled tea rings were next, followed by small braided loaves.

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After Ridgewater Summer Camp concludes on Thursday, the campers in the Baking, Buffets and Food Service Careers class will take home all that bread and sample it with their families.

On Tuesday, though, there was no tasting to be done. It was all about the work.

Since bread is the specialty of instructor Patty Viaene, she took the lead while instructor Donna McCarthy offered assistance in the kitchen at Ridgewater. Viaene and McCarthy are co-directors of the Taher food service at Ridgewater.

They have taught the summer camp course since the camp started. "It really is fun," Viaene said.

Viaene pulled out a baking sheet filled with mounds of white bread dough to begin the class. The dough, made from scratch, had been prepared ahead of time.

"There's no time to do it all," Viaene said. The instructors would also bake the bread after class, because the dough wouldn't have raised enough to bake by the end of the 90-minute class.

The students got to do the fun part in between mixing and baking.

Viaene showed them how to cup their hands over a chunk of dough and roll it around on the countertop to make a round ball.

They learned how to make a variety of dinner rolls. They used a "karate chop" motion to divide small ropes of dough into three pieces to make pull-apart dinner rolls. They also learned to make rolls and braids using frozen bread dough that had been thawed in the cooler.

"The amazing thing about bread dough is you can use your imagination, cut it, shape it ... do what you want with it," Viaene said.

"It's kinda like Play-Doh, but not really," was Katherine Meyer's assessment of the chilly dough.

Katherine said she took the class because "I really like cooking at home" and her dad works for a food service company.

When they rolled out dough for the tea rings, Viaene reminded them to spray their countertop and their rolling pins with a little non-stick spray. "I think pan spray is the awesomest thing around," she said as she plopped her dough onto the sprayed counter.

After demonstrating how to roll the dough into a rectangle, add filling and then roll it up, she told them to pinch it shut. "Have you ever pinched anyone?" she asked. "Well, now you can pinch the dough, and it's OK."

Some of the students are taking the class this year for the second time. "I really enjoyed it," said Jessica Skindelien, 11, of Willmar, so she signed up again.

Paige Wendt, 12, was a second-timer, too. Both said they are learning new things this year and were glad they'd taken the class again.

"I like at the end, because you get to eat all your food," Paige said with a big smile. At her house, the bread from last year was gone pretty quickly, she said.

The instructors said repeat campers like Jessica and Paige can be helpful to the other students, too.

McCarthy said she was impressed with Paige's tea ring, which they learned to slit using a sharp scissors. As Louis Russell, 11, sliced into his ring with a little advice from Paige, McCarthy said, "Do you guys know I am really horrible at this cutting part? ... When I need to do it again, I'll call you."

Some of the students were more familiar with bread-baking than others. Matti Johnson, 10, of New London, said she has baked rye bread with her grandma. But others, like Kelsie Hanson, 10, of Brooten, have never baked bread. But she and her mom like to bake other things together, she said, so her mom suggested she take the class.

The students learned how to make quick breads on Monday. Today, they will learn to decorate a buffet table, which their fellow campers will use at lunchtime. On Thursday they will be making pizzas or hot sandwiches, depending on what their instructors decide. They'll also show their projects to their families and pack their food to take home.

"It's fun to see them showing off for Mom and Dad," McCarthy said. "It's fun to listen to them explain it." That's when they find out if the kids were actually listening in class, she added.

The Ridgewater camp in Willmar has more than 50 kids at it this year, said organizer Tari Niemeyer. Some of the older kids are also junior camp counselors who play a leadership role with the other campers.

Campers may choose three classes to take during the four-day camp. Some are about career exploration while others are pure fun. The topics include singing, robotics, biology, art, mechanics and health careers.

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