We’ve recently experienced a mini-flurry of people in my office baking homemade goodies and bringing them in to share (lucky us!). This appears to have caused a moment of mild panic for the new guy, though, who perhaps thought he would be called upon to do likewise and would, as he put it, have to face his fear of baking. Now, while there is no pressure being exerted on anyone to come up with the (baked) goods (honest!), it did get me thinking that he is by no means alone in being daunted by the thought of that particular task.
Baking does seem to me to be approached by the uninitiated with more trepidation than cooking. Perhaps when you’re cooking something on the stove-top there’s a certain amount of reassurance in being able to see and test what you’re cooking as it happens, rather than producing a doughy mixture and then relying on a series of chemical reactions in the heat of an oven to work some apparent magic.
For many people it may simply be a fear of the unknown. Through lack of experience (or possibly some bad experiences) it takes on the semblance of a black art. Even some who rate themselves good cooks will baulk at baking (and, to be fair, there are a different set of skills and techniques at play). Though by no means an expert baker myself, I have, fortunately, no particular fear of baking (and, as you can see below, neither does my Australian niece, who, when I last visited, liked nothing better than to throw together batches of chocolate muffins before going to school).
I guess I was also lucky to have been given the opportunity to try my hand at baking from a very early age. I watched my mother as she made bread, scones, tarts, cakes, biscuits and buns and I wanted to do likewise. At that age, fear didn’t enter into the equation, just the prize of being able to produce something warm and sweet to eat (not to mention the opportunity to partake of sugary mixtures before they went into the oven). Ginger, for some reason, became a particular obsession, so I would make ginger cake, gingerbread and ginger biscuits, as well as the regulation apple tarts. My baked output was not always particularly edible but my father would very kindly eat whatever it was anyway and say that it was nice. With a lot of kids in the family, he had to eat his way through many years of junior baking!
Of course, it is by no means a requirement to start young. Some enthusiasm, a decent introductory book (or willing instructor) and a bit of bravery will take you a long way. As I was musing upon all of this last night, I was also (as it happens) at work in the kitchen, baking some seasonal mince pies to bring in as a contribution to our Christmas office party. To be more precise, I made Delia Smith’s Caramelised Mincemeat Ravioli (recipe here) – a title that would, in all likelihood, strike fear into the heart of a reluctant baker – and while they’re not actually that complicated to make, they’re probably not the place to start!