Rhymes With Fuchsia

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Baking With Grumpy

Some years ago, after enjoying a fabulously decadent dessert at a holiday potluck, at the recommendation of the coworker who baked it I bought the world's most wonderful dessert cookbook. Truly, it is wonderful. It's almost entirely due to this cookbook that I enjoy a reputation for baking yummy things.

You can tell that the lovely cookbook writer (LCW) really loves to bake, nay, is obsessed with baking much as I am with knitting, because of the way she writes. Her recipes are full of detailed instructions and helpful little hints that you know are the result of many sweaty years' experience. LCW at one point held a job at a local bakery concocting goodies behind a glass wall so that patrons could observe her at work — food prep theater, if you will — so if anyone is entitled to give aspiring bakers the benefit of her accumulated wisdom, it is LCW.

At the end of a long day, however, immediately after a stupid argument with her husband (the kind of argument that spouses have because annoying things have happened and there's no one else around to be annoyed with: really, that's all you need to know), when a dessert is absolutely required for the company potluck tomorrow, a certain aspiring baker, that would be me, finds this style of cookbook writing unbelievably persnickety and irritating.

Look over my shoulder as I read the recipe. (I am not telling you the name of the cookbook nor even what I'm baking, as I have no wish to infringe copyright or badmouth LCW, who is hardly to blame for my current frame of mind. If you happen to be a fellow LCW fan and to recognize the book or the recipe, don't give me away, huh?)

1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons... all right, every cookbook in the world does this, but why do recipes not simply say 1 5/8 cups? Probably because a lot of people don't know that 1 cup = 16 tablespoons, and 1/8 cup = 2 tablespoons. Also, I am the sort of person who measures out the first cup, then fills it my best guess at halfway between 1/2 and 3/4 (which may or may not be marked on the cup I'm using) and calls that good enough. This technique would probably send LCW into apoplexy were she standing next to me, since if an approximation were good enough she could call it 1 2/3 cups and leave it at that. But let's move on.

4 large eggs, lightly beaten with a fork, at room temperature... LCW mentions elsewhere in the book that ingredients combine better at room temperature. Well and good, I'm sure she knows whereof she writes, but if I waited around for eggs to come to room temperature — how do I know when they have reached that blessed state? should I use a thermometer? — I would never get any baking done. I am content to beat the eggs lightly with a fork and let them sit until I'm ready to add them to the mix, by which time they've probably gotten at least a little warmer.

OK, I have all of my ingredients, and I'm ready to start the assembly process.

1. Place the pie crust in the pie plate and refrigerate it until ready to use... well, all right, not quite all of my ingredients, because I was instructed to have a single pie crust, rolled out. Why would I have done this beforehand, pray tell? LCW assumes a level of preparedness I do not possess at the best of times. Besides, later in the recipe I am told to let something sit for 8-10 minutes, which seems to me the ideal time to be rolling out the crust. (In this case I did happen to have a ball of dough sitting in the fridge, but even this is an anomaly.)

3. Heat the (first two ingredients) in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a medium-size bowl... um, why am I dirtying both a pan and a bowl when I could simply use a bigger pan and mix all the ingredients in it? Probably this has something to do with that 8-10-minute cooling process I mentioned, but for heaven's sake, the mixture will get cool enough to add the rest of the ingredients if I just take the pan off the stove, and everything's going to get heated up again when I put it in the oven.

5. Add the (next two ingredients) to the cooled mixture while beating constantly with a whisk... I'm sorry, this is way more hand-eye coordination than I have at this time of night. Or at any other time, for that matter. As far as I can see I will arrive at exactly the same place by dumping the ingredients in and then beating everything together.

I happen to know, having used this recipe before, that it comes out quite well even with the sundry shortcuts. Still, it's probably a really good thing LCW doesn't live here.


  • don't feel too bad about it,
    I'm in the process of writing a cook book, and in the writing I follow all the baking rules, but when I actually bake I vary rarely follow even my own recipes to the letter.

    (btw, I don't recognize your recipe or author, but my favorite baking author is Lauren Chattman, I have "mom's big book of baking" and love it so much, her other books are on my wish list for the day when I have the space and money to expand my library)

    By Blogger Abigail, at 9:13 AM  

  • There are levels of discretion. Someone who doesn't knit can't tell if there's a knit where there should be a purl. People who are totally into baking analyze the crumbs fercrysakes. Most people can't tell the fine differences.

    By Blogger Roxie, at 9:28 AM  

  • You know, one of the reasons I don't bake is that I've always thought so much precision was necessary. I've learned something today!


    By Blogger claudia, at 9:48 AM  

  • My pie crusts are always cold... they come in a book labeled Pillbury.

    By Anonymous Lynne, at 11:09 AM  

  • sorry for the typo - book should read BOX

    By Anonymous Lynne, at 11:10 AM  

  • I bake pretty much the same. Which is why I probably never got better than a red ribbon in 4-H!

    Whateva! There are hardly any leftovers when the kids come for dinner, and they are always asking me how I make stuff!

    By Blogger Iron Needles, at 11:29 AM  

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