Lessons from the mixing bowl

One of the things I never thought I’d actually do was learn how to bake. Sure, I love to eat delicious baked goods (who doesn’t?), but after a disastrous attempt to bake my mom a birthday cake when I was 13 years old, I’d stayed as far away from an oven as possible.

Fast forward twenty years later and surprise: baking is now something I do for *gasp* fun! No, really. I bought a small electric oven last Christmas because I wanted to eat healthier and stop frying everything. Little did I know that with the baked vegetables, fish, and chicken would come cookies, cheesecakes, and muffins. Oh, the irony of it all.

Aside from the end goal of actual baked goods to eat, the process of baking lends itself to additional valuable lessons:

1. Be patient. The typical chocolate chip cookie recipe calls for you to scoop the cookie dough onto baking sheets and refrigerating the dough for at least an hour, but best for at least 24 hours. But why? Why have cookies tomorrow when you can have them today? As it turns out, refrigerating the cookies stops them from spreading out too much and also brings out more of the flavor. More patience = more delicious cookies.

2. Learn the ropes first before trying to tweak anything. Baking is that delicious blend of science and art. Unlike dishes where you can play with the recipe on the fly, baked goods need exact recipes because each ingredient reacts with everything else. Yes, substituting 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder with 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda when you change the recipe from 1 cup of milk to 1 cup of yogurt makes an absolute difference. Once you’ve mastered the basics and the ingredients, then you can change the recipe.

I learned this lesson the hard way when I figured hey, two medium eggs were the same as one large egg, right? Wrong. What were supposed to be eight cookies merged into a single huge COOKIE. The batter was too wet and thus spread too much. The cookie tasted fine, but still. Since then, the most off-recipe thing I’ve done so far is double the vanilla extract and cinnamon because I wanted a stronger flavor. I’ll get to the recipe development stage eventually. *crosses fingers*

3. Get a mentor. I owe a large chunk of my (slow) progress to my friend Kris. He’s an HRM grad and my long-distance baking coach. I send him a photo of the finished product and he can tell me exactly what I did wrong and what I should do next time. He’s pretty awesome. Thanks to him, I’ve managed to stop burning my muffins and reduce the cracks in my cheesecake.

4. Get feedback, appreciate it, but remember that you’re doing this to please yourself (unless you’re selling what you’re baking). My family and friends have been the (unfortunate?) taste testers of my baking projects. They will give their feedback because I asked for it, but whether I accept that feedback and change the recipe is up to me.

Who knew that baking was the path to bettering oneself and peace of mind?

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