I come from a long line of determined, focused, talented and overtly patient, amateur bakers.
They made sweets, treats and breads that would fill their houses with an aroma powerful enough to send the mildest diabetic into a coma through scent alone.
Against all gender odds, I picked up the bug and dove into the world of baking. Looking back, I can see there was not going to be much of a choice in the matter. I had gotten hooked on the “white stuff” since I was a child sneaking into the kitchen and dipping a wet finger into the sugar container for hit to power my next several hours of…whatever I did as a kid.
Here is the thing about baking, though…it is a cruel and fickle lover. Enticing you to a world of heavenly concoctions just beyond the preparation and pages of the recipe while knowing full well the fight it will take to accomplish the proclaimed end product.
Maybe it’s because I barely passed chemistry in high school (to be fair, I was distracted for a full semester by a pretty, dark-haired Hispanic girl who shall remain nameless) which leads me to a basic lack of understanding when it comes to mixing ingredients and activating mixtures in heat, but I tend to have an unusual amount of trouble when it comes to new recipes.
It’s sad too.
I live under this constant, unspoken pressure of amazing family bakers who throw ingredients around without a care for measuring cups or spoons and little regard for recipes in general and yet, they manage to create some the best tasting baked goods.
How is this possible?
Here is the process I go through when approaching a new recipe:
Step 1 – Prep
After giving the ingredient list a double take and pouring over the stages of preparation, I begin the process of measuring out each item and usually have high hopes and confidence as I begin.
“How hard can this be?” I think to myself. “A professional baker, or someone who has obviously perfected this recipe, has given me every step and ingredient to consider. No way I can mess this up.”
I call this the over-confident stage.
Step 2 – Mixing
I begin adding my precisely measured ingredients and mixing and pouring as called for in the directions.
Then, I notice something is not looking right. The dough, mixture or whatever I am dealing with seems to be too thick, thin or even weirdly colored for what it should be.
“It’s ok” I encourage myself. “This is a new recipe and maybe the batter is supposed to appear light grey and have the consistency of wet ashes.”
I call this stage the “slow descent into madness”.
Step 3 – Into the Fire (No, my oven is not wood burning, but I thought this sounded more dramatic.)
With everything arranged correctly and set in its baking container, I place it into the preheated belly of my cooking beast and wait nervously for a result I am starting to believe is not actually going to happen.
I try not to think about it and attempt to convince myself things will magically turn out just like the beautifully captured image on the website or in the book, but deep down, I know better.
As time passes, my anxiety levels rise and my patience for anyone or anything around me rapidly disappears. I start staring at the dusty blinds in my kitchen and just begin to get angry at the way my skin cells slough off and collect there to create more work for me when I have serious baking to mess up with my own incompetence.
I know. It’s starting to get dark, right?
I call this my “pre-rage” stage.
Step 4 – Into the Trash
Once the timer has dinged and my visual inspection has determined this weirdly shaped piece of garbage is technically “done”, I carefully pull it out of the oven and feel the inner explosions of Mt. Chesney starting to erupt.
“Seriously!!! This thing looks awful.” I say to no one in particular because my wife and child have already left the house. Yep, they have experienced this before and know the drill well.
I take a bite and while the taste might be adequate, it does not “wow” me enough to justify the grotesque look of the pastry and I toss it into the trash while filled with burning anger toward the creator of the recipe (who obviously left out a stage in the process) and shame as I have failed again at something that should have been passed down through genetics alone.
This stage is pretty much just a mash up of the 5 stages of grief.
So, as we enter this holiday season filled with more confections than a normal human should consume in a lifetime, I offer up my prayers – and, at times, condolences – to all of the other Part-Time Bakers out there attempting to make a culinary treat both visually stunning and equally pleasing to the palate of the friends and family who get to enjoy it.
Perfection will be a rarity, but love will be experienced in every bite!
Now, strap on those aprons and get to it.