Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Baking 101

It's funny what touches you, right? This is why I try to compliment as often as the thought pops in my head. Because you never know when one little comment will make a difference.

Like when I was moving. I enlisted the help of my single male friends well in advance. My thinking was simple - single male friends are strong, they are more likely to have weekend days free of commitments (sorry guys,) and they can be easily bought with promises of free food (and a healthy dose of "poor little me. The single girl with all this furniture to move...") I didn't ask anyone else for help because, well....moving sucks. One day about a week before the move, one of my married male friends (let's call him....well, how about "Brad"... because that's his real name and if I use a pseudonym I'll probably screw up and call him Brad anyway) nearly brought me to tears when he found out when I was moving (I thought he was asking out of idle curiosity) and said, "I'm free that day." I was almost speechless. I think I may have even stuttered in response. This was an offer that I totally didn't expect since he has a wife and a child and myriad other responsibilities that I'm sure take up plenty of his time, and again, let's face it, moving furniture is no party.

That sort of thing sticks with me.

So Brad has this particular obsession with all things pumpkin. In keeping with this "buy presents when they make you think of people" thing my mother raised me on, I tend to see a lot of recipes in the fall that involve pumpkin and immediately think of Brad. Last year it was actually a decadent "ooey gooey pumpkin cake" that my mother made that I just HAD to make for Brad. I don't even LIKE pumpkin and I thought this cake was excellent. (The reviews on the cake that I made were favorable as well. Woo Hoo!)

After the help with moving, well, I decided that the pumpkin treats will be an annual tradition. He made an impression on me, the LEAST I can do is bake him something to help curb the pumpkin craving. He seems uncomfortable with it (in that, "don't go to trouble for me" kind of way,) but he really gets no choice in the matter. His wife knows and likes me and doesn't seem to mind the treats (because, DUH, a single girl could get into trouble making baked goods for a married man without permission) so really, Brad is going to have to come to terms with the fact that if you're a good person, good things happen to you, even if you don't expect them, so just accept the damn pumpkin treats.

The problem is that I'm not a baker.

I come from a long line of non-bakers. My mother famously purchased the refrigerated batter from which one merely needs to cut off slices and bake to form cookes, and she ended up with one big pancake-cookie type thing. My mother cooks. She doesn't bake. I don't spend a whole lot of time in the kitchen, but I have definitely had more success cooking than baking. It also helps that I don't really have a sweet tooth, so really, unless someone can teach me to make fabulous sour cream and onion potato chips from scratch, I don't have the need to make my own snacks.

I decided that since I have a gas stove that is entirely new to me, I would start slow. The boy and I were going to dinner at my little brother's house this past weekend, and I decided to make cookies that I could take for desert. (Partially to practice, and partially because I think they need more refined sugar in their diet. ahem.) Since I was starting off slow I purchased the refrigerated batter, and just decided to add my own decorations so it was a little more than putting pre-made batter on a cookie sheet and baking for 20 minutes. Still. Easy peasy. They turned out tasting okay. (But apparently I needed to wait longer to put the icing on the warm cookies since it sort of ran everywhere and made a mess, and the cookies didn't LOOK as pretty as they could have. Meh. I never put a lot of stock in appearances anyway.)

While the Emily-proof cookies were baking, thoughts of my friend J popped in my head. She bakes. A lot. Specifically, she bakes for the person she's dating. Because, um, apparently that's what people do. (Oh shut up. Do I seem domestic to you?) So I decided to make some blueberry muffins for the boy (his favorite, apparently. Who knew?) These still weren't from scratch, but they involved mixing things in a box and then baking so I considered it one step up from the refrigerated dough cookies.

While the muffins didn't come out looking very pretty - they weren't rounded on top... they were more pointed... and not all of them pointed up. (Again with the ugliness of my baked goods. What is UP with that?) They apparently tasted fine since the boy shoved two in his mouth as we ran out the door, late of course, to get to my brother's for dinner. (And then he took the rest home the next day.)

So after two dubious successes, I decided to tackle the problem of Brad's cookies. They were from scratch (dun dun duuuuuuunnnn.) I had seen the recipe here and it didn't seem all that difficult other than it being from, you know, scratch. I had already mentioned the cookies to Brad, and his wife had said "yes" to the chocolate chips, so I had all the ingredients and prepared to get started.

Until I went to get the flour and realized that I had a bag of sugar, but no flour. Sigh.

(To be continued tomorrow...)


kat(i)e said...

Pumpkin and chocolate, who knew, right? I made pumpkin brownies the other day (pumkin mix and brownie mix swirled together) they were pretty awesome if I don't say so myself. So then I threw chocolate chips in my pumpkin bread and again - way better. I was shocked.

But if I were you I'd stick with the cookies for now. We don't want to stretch your domestic talents too far quite yet.

cgogis said...

Aww... so sweet!

And good thing you realized the sugar wasn't flour BEFORE you started! That would have been... interesting! (But hey, that means you know a *little* about baking!) :)

Jaclyn said...

I made a great pumpkin chocolate-chip cookie with leftover pumpkin from Thanksgiving. Yummy! They were a bit simpler than your recipe so if you'd like me to send, let me know. (P.S. They still require flour. ;) And, while I do bake for my boy because I like to spoil him, I also bake for him to insure that I can at least sort of pretend to keep up with his level of physical fitness.

zlionsfan said...

It's surprising how many ingredients you might need for baking you can keep around the house if you think of it when you're in the store. (If you store them properly, of course.)

You know, like "oh, I might need X some day, might as well pick some up." Plus then you have them around for other things. For example, now that you have flour, you can make gravy.

Baking isn't hard, it just takes a little practice. Baking well takes a bit more practice. Baking and improvising, now, that's where you want to be someday. Then you can just whip up random things when you feel like it, and people will say "wow, that's great!" and you can just shrug and pretend it's nothing.

Farmerspice said...

I bake all the time and I love to cook when I have time. I froze about three different meals so far for when the kids are here in a few weeks...and I made my first white chocolate cranberry pecan pie the other night. completely from scratch...dough and all!!!

StaceyJ said...

Mmmmm....baking. Love it, seriously love it. I love making up random recipes to see what works (though trust me, not everything works). Little known fact, if I weren't in my current career, I'd love to open up a bakery and spend all day making cakes, pies, cookies, muffins, etc. Sure you don't have a sweet tooth? You could be my taste-tester!

cgogis said...

Spoiler alert for future blog post... the cookies are great!
The only thing I would do different is... more chocolate! :) But I would always say that!

Seriously - they're really good, Em! Thanks!

AnnD said...

To go off of Stacey's post...I must say: Mmmm...baking. Hate it. Seriously hate it. Very little of what I makes turns out right (though I did make banana bread on Monday and I can make a mean Oats and Honey Granola Pie) but anything else ends up horrible.

Candace said...

The problem with baking is that you need to follow the directions EXACTLY. That is always where I go wrong…you know it says 1.5 cups of water…you can’t just dump some in. It says you need baking powder and all you have is baking soda…it will not work…apparently you cannot substitute ingredients. Good luck!