When I reflect a bit, I believe my enjoyment of baking is no accident. I don’t mean to say I come from a long line of bakers (though apple pie is always linked to my maternal grandmother, and my paternal grandmother is cook/baker/entertainer, bar none). I more mean that I inherited from my lovely family an inclination for order, method and the need for a logical flow to things. Some may say anal with a touch of compulsiveness. I believe these are at the core of successful baking.
There is most definitely a personality type for those that succeed at baking. I forget what was being discussed, but a coworker once said, “...that’s why cooks are always in a hurry.” I responded, “And that’s why bakers aren’t.” We are an unhurried breed. We like recipes and timings, we enjoy balance and planning, we are patient and recognize the joy of delayed gratification (if you have nursed a sourdough starter from conception to finished loaf, you understand). The baker thrives on measuring things and longs for methods.
Naturally, I cannot just dive in and start posting random recipes. Rather, I should start to by offering some tips and tricks and such. There are, however, so many good books out there that outline methods, ingredients and tricks. I instead just add some to the aether that I have found to be helpful.
Before you set off on a baking adventure (indeed any culinary foray), clean your kitchen. Get the dirty dishes out the sink and the useless stuff off your counter. “But I’m just going to make it dirty again!” you say. If there are dishes left from lunch and other stuff about, you are just going to be adding more stuff to the stuff and you will end up chopping your nuts in the smallest space on the counter that is no where near your mixer. You will be very unhappy and your cats and partner will cower in the other room in fear of your frustration.
Do not memorize recipes, because you will remember them wrong. You’re not proving anything to anyone. And if you are, and it doesn’t turn out right, who’s going to look foolish for having memorized the recipe wrong?
Properly measured ingredients is half the battle for successful baked goods, and measuring by weight is the only accurate way to measure. Invest in a digital scale (they aren’t expensive) and learn to use it. You will be converted to the measure-by-weight cult at your first recipe. What is more frustrating: measuring out six cups of flour and loosing count half way through, or using a scale to fill a bowl with two pounds of flour? Be warned that most of the recipes I will be giving on this site will be by weight.
You do not have to spend an arm and a leg on gadgets. Buy your kitchen tools at your local restaurant supply store. Because the only thing they are good for is pie weights, use black-eyed peas instead of those pretty stainless steel beads. Discover that your hardware and art stores have more pastry supplies than a kitchen gadget store. Buy a butane torch quadruple the size of a “kitchen torch” for half the price at the hardware store. A banding wheel from the pottery supply store is half the price of a “cake decorating turntable”. Do you see the hopes I have for a gadget endorsement contract swirling down the drain?
Your freezer can be as much a tool as your mixer. Bread and cakes come out of the freezer beautifully and easier to cut and deal with. Lots of unbaked products like cookie doughs, scones, biscuits, and pie dough can be made well in advance and frozen and baked off two at a time if needed. You should also be storing your nuts, whole grains and whole flours in the freezer too. But don’t keep things in your freezer for months on end, please.
A watched pot never boils—until you turn your back on it. To keep your dairy from scorching the bottom of the pot, toss in a portion of the sugar from the recipe. You won’t have to stand there and stir it constantly. The sugar won’t stop it from boiling over and making a huge mess though, so don’t turn your back on it.
There are plenty of things to bake that are quick, but none of them can be done successfully in a hurry. Set aside the time and enjoy the process. I find the process of baking to be relaxing and meditative. When I bake, I am only concentrating on the recipe, everything else is out of my head. People think I am crazy for baking all day at work and then come home and bake for fun. Perhaps they are right.