I love to bake. Ever since around middle school, if I was stressed or upset about something, baking was something I turned to as a relaxing activity. It’s not so much that I like to eat the sweets that come out of the oven – I’m not much of a sweet tooth – , it’s just the act that I have always enjoyed. So it stands to reason that, at this point, I should have mastered at least the basic skills that come with baking. Sadly, this is not the case. For one reason or another, things I bake usually tend to come out…odd. I do hit a home run every now again, but I’d say that’s the exception rather than the rule. In an attempt to prevent my mistakes from happening more in the future, for me or anyone who is reading this, here is a list of things I do which may be the culprit of my less than stellar batting average.
As any show on The Food Network will tell you, baking is chemistry. Standard cooking of things like meats and vegetables leave a pretty wide margin of error, as usually the only other ingredients are sauces or spices, and don’t make up the integrity of the dish you are serving. In baking, there is no such cushion. As I have learned through trial and much error, exact measurements are given for a reason. A cup of flour means a cup of flour, not how ever much you happen to have on hand which makes up a cup-ish amount. I once made a batch of cookies where I put in far less butter than was called for. When they came out of the oven and asked my dad for his opinion, he took a bite and said “They taste…brown.” Yeah, not exactly the result I was looking for. This also applies to practical directions, like letting a cake cool completely before icing it. I took this as more of a suggestion than a rule when I was baking late one night and when I woke up the next day, the cake had completely absorbed the icing.
This is one is similar to the point above, but it’s still worth mentioning. Some substitutions are fine, like using applesauce instead of vegetable oil. Now it should be somewhat common sense, but substituting too many things in a recipe makes it, well, not a recipe anymore and more of a random assortment of ingredients mashed together in a bowl and shoved in an oven. Also important is considering the source of information. If it’s reputable recipe with replacements listed in case of dietary needs or allergies, your food will probably turn out okay, if with a slightly different flavor. Going on Yahoo! Answers and searching “what works instead of eggs for French toast?” will often yield less than desirable results, as literally anyone can go on these boards and answer however they like. FYI, there really is no substitute for eggs in French toast.
After making enough boxed brownie mixes, you may watch an episode of Masterchef, Jr. and think that you can make anything. After all, those 9 year olds can do it, why not you? Well, those kids are insane wunderkinds who will most likely be able to out bake you for the rest of their lives (Sidenote: watch it if you haven’t. It’s a great show). This is not to say any recipe not pre mixed will be a disaster, but starting small is probably best. For one of my wedding gifts I received a KitchenAid mixer, and I was so excited to use it. One of my very favorite desserts is tiramisu and I thought I’d whip up a batch. I’d like to point out that tiramisu doesn’t even require an oven. You just mix, layer, and refrigerate. Except that “mixing” in this case meant gently and by hand, not with a fancy electric mixer. It turned out more like chocolate and coffee flavored soup. I think I’ll stick to sugar cookies next time.
Thankfully, my recent adventure of whole kernel corn bread (pictured below) turned out great, and I look forward to the next great recipe in my future.
Featured image: Tiffany Terry on Flickr