I own an excellent set of baking utensils. It has pans for baking cakes, bundts, muffins, cookies, bread loafs, you name it! It was a wedding gift and was collecting dust in a dingy kitchen niche ……. until recently.
It all started last year around the July 4th holiday. A coworker of mine (who is an excellent baker herself) was selling homemade cookie dough for her daughter’s bake-sale fund raising. She’s pretty famous around here for her baking skills so no one was missing this chance and buying at least a box. Though I had no idea how to bake those crispy yet fudgy chocolate chip cookies, I bought a box and decided to give it a try. How hard could it be, I thought. After all, the dough was already done!
I was too embarrassed to ask anyone about ‘cookie-baking-procedures’ so I turned to Google (kinda obvious) for help. It told me I would need the dough, a cookie sheet-pan, and some parchment paper. That’s it! So I opened the baking set box (yes, it was still packed) and looked for a sheet-pan. I put the parchment on it with 10-12 small rounds of cookie dough. I shoved it in the heated oven for 20 minutes and lo and behold my family had a bunch of cookies to munch on!
It felt great to bake my own cookies. I started spending a minute or two extra in the baking aisle at the grocery store. I have seldom seen a collection of cake and cookie mixes so myriad! I started buying the ready made cake mixes more often. I even tried mixing and matching certain toppings and icings.
They all came out to be nice and delicious! But I still couldn’t call them homemade. They were premixed doughs after all. All I had to do was add butter and eggs, whip and bake. So I decided to go a step further. Recently, I made my own cookie dough and baked fresh homemade chocolate chip cookies. I went on to make a homemade carrot pie (and several times since). Last weekend I made some scones and a banana bread- all from scratch. Recipe courtesies- Google, of course. Those who have tasted my baked goodies can attest that they are delicious (yes, I’m patting my back right now!). I hope they were not just being nice!
Okay. So far so good.
A week or so ago we got an invite. A friend of ours was planning a potluck for the New Year party. I decided to bake a cake! I had recently managed to get a hold of a superb baking recipe book and wanted to try out something new from the low-fat cakes section. First, I thought I would just do something easy, a chocolate-banana cake maybe (yes, it sounds easy to me now!). But then somehow I got a little bolder and set my heart on the ‘Chocolate-Orange Angel Food Cake’. The recipe was right in front of me. How hard could it be, I thought. I hadn’t read the instructions thoroughly at this point.
I fetched all the ingredients needed and started the process in the afternoon for the evening party. I wanted to give myself ample time to work on the icing. Not to get into the recipe details, it basically called for mixing the flour with cocoa and cornstarch, kneaded with whisked egg whites and sugar. Then baked, then frosted. Okay, this sounds easy. So I sifted and mixed the dry ingredients. Now it was time to whisk the egg whites with sugar. It was only now that I was reading the instructions in detail:
‘Whisk the egg whites, adding sugar, till soft peaks form.’ Till WHAT form?
‘Mix the flour mix to the soft peak meringue.’ To the WHAT again? Meringue? How do you even pronounce that?
Anyway, I took some egg whites, added sugar and started whipping it, by hand. Nothing seemed to happen. I checked out Google and YouTube for ‘meringue’ and ‘soft peaks’ with egg whites. Mine didn’t seem even close to what they were coming up with. I was using the packaged egg whites. Maybe I need to use fresh ones, I thought.
So I took some fresh egg whites and mixed again. Same result (or the lack thereof). All I could achieve was a little froth. No soft peaks. No meringue. I mixed and baked anyway. And what a horrible, horrible cake it turned out to be. I had to toss it away. Almost three hours had passed already since I started the process and I was dead tired, not to mention frustrated. And then my hubby (the nicest guy on earth) offered to help. He tried the process with another set of egg whites and used a regular blender to mix and whip. Nothing.
I had already given up. I wanted to toss the rest of the ingredients out and take a nap. I was mad at myself for not reading the instructions fully before starting or for not trying something easier. To be honest, I was a little embarrassed.
Anyway, he had not given up (yet). He went and borrowed an electric egg beater (from the same friend who was hosting, hehehe!). The egg beater did the trick. At last, after half an hour of stirring, blending, whipping and whisking, there it was- a soft peak meringue! Yippee! Okay, so now I mixed the flour in and baked it. We did exactly what the recipe called for (I’m not exaggerating when I say exactly. I mean to the tenth of an ounce and to the second on the oven timer). I also prepared the icing while the cake was baking, with my hubby on my side this time.
While the cake was cooling off (and it was almost 7 PM already), we got ready for the party. I took the cake, which still looked not-so-good by the way- yeah, after all the hard work. I frosted it with icing (or I should say I tried to!). We couldn’t taste it as it was supposed to be cut at midnight. When I showed it to my daughter (who is three) she said, ‘What is it?’ 😦
WE WERE MERINGUED!
Finally, I made an executive decision to buy a store made cake instead. I know that my dear hubby wanted the same but how could he say anything. He knows me too well 🙂
On our way to their place we stopped at the store and I went inside to buy something nice. I saw various cakes one of which was a meringue pie cake. I’m not buying THAT one for sure, I thought and went with a plain and simple chocolate cake instead.
While on our way, I was still ranting and telling my husband how I had wasted almost all day with no results to show. ‘At least we tried EVERYTHING that the recipe called for,’ he said. Simple words with a deep meaning. No stones unturned-no grudges, was his message 🙂
Oh, well. The store bought cake wasn’t too great either but I have realized that baking has taught me a few things about myself that I must learn from:
I take a substantial amount of time to try out something new. When I do and if I get interested in it I continue doing it and I improvise. I’m very much result oriented. I am extremely interested in something as long as I get the desired results. My interest level declines with the lack of results. These are a mix of good and not-so-good qualities that I need to work on.
This new year as I hope to continue to discover my hidden baking talents (wink!) I’m very sure that there are a number of recipes out there to try, to improve upon, to create and to enjoy. At the same time I must accept that cakes may burn, cookies may be too hard, breads may overcook, scones may be soggy and meringues may sag. I should still enjoy the process and must appreciate him who always helps me out when all recipes fail.
Above: A soft peak meringue (whisked egg whites + sugar). Mine did not look anything like this one!
Below: A meringue pie. I hope to bake this all by myself very soon!