A quote from Wynton Marsalis’ 60 Minutes interview earlier this year. Wynton was talking about jazz, but his sentiment can be applied to anything in your life.
After Tuesday’s post of living like barn animals, we finally broke down and lit a fire in the wood stove. It’s nice & cozy [a relative term for our house], and cozy = baking… but right now, I just need to CHILL OUT because my freezer is loaded with homemade breads (both quick and yeast), cakes, ice cream, sorbet, cookies…. but it doesn’t stop me from thinking about baking and what I’m going to make next.
Like many people, I think about baking a lot. When I read, it’s usually a cookbook or a cooking magazine, and I watch my fair share of cooking shows. I have been baking since elementary school – one of my first cookbooks was a Scholastic Book Club book, Easy to Make Good to Eat*, did anyone else have that?! I loved flipping through my Mom’s tattered copies of Betty Crocker and Good Housekeeping (each had belonged to my Grandmothers), and then somewhere around the age of fourteen, people started to give me my very own cookbooks: Appetizers by the editors of Sunset Books and Magazines, The Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen and Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Julia’s book was a bit heavy for that age, but it helped me learn about different techniques and it pushed me to experiment. When you experiment you risk failure, but with failure you gain experience.
My very first baking failure was a from scratch, not very sweet, under-cooked, collapsed, chocolate layered birthday cake with purple icing – the powdered sugar kind of icing that you would use on sugar cookies – and as I spread the icing around, it took with it bits of the chocolate cake. The cake was for my Mom’s birthday, and I remember being upset because it was not pretty, but I was eight year’s old so my family was obligated to eat it no matter how it turned out.
Another disaster that stands out for me was a bundt cake that I cooled upside down on a bottle – you see where I’m going with this, right?! You cool an angel food cake like this, so why not a bundt cake? But when I returned several hours later to remove the cake from the pan, I found it had fallen from the pan in broken bits onto the counter. This too was a birthday cake and I had guests coming over for a party… so my college quick fix was to further break up the cake into bite-sized pieces, insert toothpicks and serve on a platter with a do-it-yourself bowl of frosting. Today, I would try to come up with something more creative like turn it into a base for a bar cookie or tiramisu, or soak it with berries and their juice and top with fresh whipping cream.
I have also made mistakes with spicing, technique, cook times, ingredient amounts… but over time, your mistakes become fewer and far between and at this stage in my life, I feel confident to call myself a great [and fearless] baker. Thumbing through recipes yesterday, these are the ones that caught my eye:
- Julia’s Chocolate Mougins (thicker than mousse, you scoop it out of the bowl in fat curls and top with a dark chocolate sauce)
- Dark Chocolate Torte with Spiked Blackberry Coulis
- Peanut Dacquoise with Peanut Butter Mousse
- Carmelized Pineapple and Brown Butter Custard Tart
- Lemon Ginger Cake with Pistachios (it’s beautiful, but perhaps too many flavors going on – a layered lemon ginger cake with lemon curd, a white mousse, blackberry preserves, pistachios, candied ginger and white chocolate curls… hmmmm?)
- Pumpkin Date Nut Bread
Now… all I need is an occassion…
*Easy to Make Good to Eat, by Martha Olson Condit, illustrator Beatrice Darwin