Sometimes we forget that we were all novices at one point in our lives.
As the great Julia Child once said:
No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.” –My Life in France (2007)
In the last two years, I have been highly fortunate to have unusually long run of baking successes. Of course there has been some failures, the majority of them related to appearances rather than taste. But don’t get me wrong, I have experienced some considerably nasty baking failures. Personally, I think my most memorable failure just so happens to be my first. It was junior year of college, a little more than two years ago. I had only begun seriously baking, having started the summer before. Until that early spring afternoon, I had never known the sensation of failure, at least in a baking context. That was until I decided to take my baking up a notch and try something new. The recipe? S’mores cupcakes. Chocolate cupcakes with a gram-cracker bottom topped with a homemade marshmallow. While the cupcake itself was relatively easy to make, the marshmallow was another story entirely. Going into it, there were three signs that failure was going to be imminent.
1. I didn’t understand how egg whites worked. The whole notion not getting any yolk in the whites was beyond my comprehension.
2. I lacked an small, candy, thermometer. The recipe asked me to heat the eggs to a certain temperature before removing them from the heat. A slightly hard things to do without a thermometer.
3. I didn’t know the difference between over beating and under beating. Even if I had managed to get this far along, I lacked the knowledge to distinguish a difference.
Putting all three things together, it would be safe to say that I was doomed from the start. What resulted was a minor breakdown. Ok, maybe a bit more than minor. But after the tears were done, I was able to step back and take note of where I had gone wrong. I learned something that day: never bite off more than you can chew, especially if you don’t totally understand the task you are about to undertake. It was a lesson that I have since taken to heart.
Its been more than two years since that dark day in my personal baking history and once again, failure has come knocking on my oven door. This time around, I wasn’t trying to make something challenging. It was to be a simple birthday cake for dad, who turned 61 this past Sunday. While the s’mores cupcake fiasco was caused mostly due to ignorance, this time around, it was due to a faulty cake pan and our oven.
Taken from one of my mother’s beloved Cusinart cookbooks, she assured me that this was something that couldn’t go wrong. Well, it did. And boy oh boy was I surprised when the thing crumbled apart. Initially, we thought it was because we only put in 1/3 cup of brewed coffee instead of 1 cup, leaving the batter too dry.
An hour later, we shifted blame to the cake pan it was baked it. “I guess that’s what you get when you buy a cheap pan at the store.” Now my mom mentions that. But it was true, something was wrong with it. After I coated the pan with butter, which I did generously, and later flour, not enough of it seemed to stick. We later compared this to a pan I bought of amazon.com and it was true; her pan seemed unable to be coated correctly.
As for our oven, its quite possibly the slowest oven ever. It takes forever to reach the designated heat and then as soon as you open the door to turn the pan, it has to reheat to get back. When the timer went off and I went to check to see if it was done, my tooth pick came out with moist batter on it. I shut the door and added another five. Second time around, it came out clean. Ten minutes later I went to separate and this was what I got.
Half the cake came out, and the rest stayed in the pan. Not good at all. How about the taste? After all isnt’s what matter’s? Dry. Very dry. Was it the lack of coffee? The recipe also called for sour cream so the batter was plenty wet. Was it the oven? Who really knows? Despite the inopportune timing of this cake fail (9:30pm) it was kind of nice to be reminded of what I learned two years ago. Never underestimate a recipe, ever! Even if it seems simple, read the directions carefully and be prepared for all sorts of outcomes.
Since I started today’s entry with an inspiring quote from one of my personal idols, I think its fitting to end with another quote, one that I think perfectly fits with this post’s theme.
Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy” -Miss. Frizzle.
I think that applies to cooking and baking quite nicely.
Till next time,