Baking Commandments and How-To Avoid Ironies
I have had three official encounters with baking. First was when I was about six or seven years old – I formed different shapes from plain dough (made from scratch by our baker), drizzled butter and sugar on it and had that same baker assist me in sticking it in the oven. When it had risen to perfection, I announced, with much pride, that I had made bread from scratch! – My parents, of course, didn’t help in bursting my bubble; they were too amused and decided to let me believe what I wanted to. (Note to parents: Tell your kids the truth! The poor kid might grow up to be delusional.)
Baking needed not be a regular activity in our home since we lived on top of a bakeshop, so it took a couple of years for me to give it another go. I attempted to make brownies – this time from scratch, not one of those instant just-add-water mixes you can easily buy from a supermarket. It came out as a black flat bread – it kind of looked like a burnt square pancake. Needless to say, my brownie didn’t rise to the occasion. (Note from The Fat Kid Inside – niiiiice)
My third encounter was not so far from my second – I wasn’t about to give up just yet. I decided to make chocolate crinkles. This time, I had my sister help me out to make sure I followed the recipe. Well, it did taste acceptable! It was edible! It’s just that we had to slice them up like a pizza because it came out the size of a charger plate. (And I don’t need to say that I didn’t go through all that trouble to make just one cookie. We could’ve tossed around two dozen Frisbee-looking crinkles if we wanted to.)
Since then, baking has become more of a fear than just a simple skill that I’m not good at. It took me a couple of delusional toddler years and finished products that were just plain wrong to realize that baking needs a keen sense of precision, a sack full patience, and a handful (or two) of obedience.
Not too recently, I decided to take the first step in conquering my fear of baking: Run to my mother, who happens to be a professional baker, (Oh, don’t give me that look! –There are lots of other ironies in this world) and she gave me a few pointers that must be religiously adhered to when it comes to baking:
1) Don’t get too excited, too quickly. Make sure you have everything you need first: a complete set of ingredients, properly measured; all the necessary baking tools and equipment – clean and dry – within arms’ reach; a dirt-free, well-ventilated kitchen; and of course, a really good recipe.
(Side Note: This point also applies to after you’ve done the whole process and you’re now silently waiting for your product to rise and bake in the oven. Stop opening the oven to peek at it! It affects the process, you know? Just wait for the right amount of time as stated in your recipe.)
2) If baking were a religion, the recipe is your bible. Don’t just browse through it. Read it twice or thrice to really absorb what it says. Follow all the measurements and procedures correctly and accurately. Missing a step or a number is a cardinal sin – Obedience really is a commandment. Trust me; I’ve had my share of penance.
3) Brands and types of ingredients matter. It really depends on your preference. Each brand has a special taste. Most people don’t immediately see the difference but it won’t hurt trying different brands of ingredients and choosing what best suits your taste and style. Also, make sure you get fresh ingredients. If there is something you don’t like in the recipe, ensure you get an appropriate substitute for it by understanding the science behind the role of that ingredient in the recipe.
4) Baking is NOT the same as cooking. This is already pretty obvious but it needs to be said. The biggest difference between cooking and baking is what I’d like to call the Taste Test. In cooking, the Taste Test can happen at any given point. Therefore, when you realize it tastes bad in the middle of a boil, you can easily adjust by adding an ingredient or two. In baking, the Taste Test happens only after you’ve gotten your finished product laid out in front of you. You can only realize that bad taste or that mistake at the same time you realize that you can’t undo it. (Repreat 1 and 2).
5) The baker matters. By this I mean the baker’s disposition matters. I’m a strong believer in having the proper mood for every occasion. Our mood, tone and disposition reflect our creations. Baking needs a distinct kind of focus and, well, cheerfulness. (I mean, can you really imagine a sulky, angry man making cupcakes or maybe a pastry?) You just have to be in a good mood when baking – or at least use wanting to be in a good mood as an excuse to bake.
This all sound too basic to even care for. But that is the most basic mistake in baking – taking the simple things for granted. Fearing the discipline is another. So it may take a couple of flat-bread brownies and dozens of humungous crinkles – and a seriously distraught kitchen aftermath – but don’t let that stop you. Don’t be like my brownie; rise to the occasion!
(Note From The Fat Kid Inside – Contrary to popular belief, it is very hard to blow up your kitchen. So go for it, give that recipe a whack.)