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!
I consider myself a reasonably competent baker but there is one thing I hesitate to do, mainly because of uncertainty about my skills, a risk-aversion to failure, and plain old impatience. I’ve never made bread or other yeast-y item by hand – I opt for quick breads or use a bread machine. If I made bread from scratch, will I knead it properly? Know when it’s risen sufficiently? Will it come out like a brick or a glob of Play-Doh? Sigh.
Still, I think I could get over my hesitation with some guidance – perhaps from my mother-in-law who is a seasoned baker. And it’s not as bad as my greatest cooking fear: DEEP FRYING!! Visions of hot oil splattering on delicate skin [shudder]. My very last attempt at deep frying involved trying to make tempura ice cream. Very ugly, very traumatizing scene.
I myself saved ‘baking’ class for the last and final part of my culinary school adventure…why?…because I felt like Tangled Noodle…my mother could bake at the snap of the idea from someone…but she also was a plain/bland cook for me, and that is why I am the Chef de’cuisine…will never apply for a pastry chef position…leave that to you wonderful guys…although I made a carrot cake yesterday…but as little as I do it…I somehow pull out the wildcard and it works…it did fall over due to over moistness, but the guest all ate it last night!
Baking is always learnt in your mother’s kitchen. I never made anything but I was always the su-chef for my mom. Now that I have my own kitchen, my main past-time is baking. I keep experimenting with all sorts of recipes trying to hit on that one particular one to which Hubby Dear would nod and give approval to make again…he he he.
Tangled Noodle: there’s nothing more disheartening than yeast bread that doesn’t rise, especially as there’s such an investment of time and kneading effort involved – on the other hand, I think I’m always a little surprised when it *does* rise and delighted by the natural processes at work!
Chef E: I reckon that the true measure of baking (and cooking) success is when the guests happily clear their plates of whatever it is you have served them (regardless of whether it fell over beforehand or not!)
Samahita: a mother’s kitchen can indeed be a great training ground – it’s great to have the confidence to go on and be able to experiment freely (both for yourself and for Hubby Dear :) )
I agree that starting early is essential. I started baking before I was aware that messing up was a dire mistake, not just something that happened when one was learning. I’m constantly amazed that people are afraid of baking, in addition to being shocked at the number who just don’t cook. I always tell people they should start with cookies, where the biggest mistake is usually not using a timer and burning them. Cookies tend to be more forgiving to other ‘errors’.
Bake happy. :D
Thanks so much for stopping by Mavynn. Cookies are indeed a great place to start and it doesn’t take much convincing to persuade a little person that it’s a good idea to bake some :)