Monday, April 21, 2014

What’s cooking in the oven? Pastries and cakes, yum!

To a non-cooker, breads seem a lot simpler and more ordinary than cakes.

The cakes look so dainty and special. Besides, you eat bread almost every day. It's a staple.

Cakes are for important tea parties or meetings, and of course milestone occasions like birthdays and anniversaries.

I was always cooking on nonstick pots and pans so I was a little nervous when I went into pastry and baking.

Well, to be honest, with pancakes, waffles and crepes I remember using stainless steel pans and burning them. I was a bit leery when venturing in baking.

Today, there are waffle griddle pans that don’t need turning over, but I love my ancient stainless steel pans now that I know how to use them properly. Also, I seldom cook waffles now so I didn’t feel I needed the modern cookware.

But writing so now, I think breakfast tomorrow should include my old-fashioned waffle. I sprinkle herbs with the waffle batter, and they’re always a hit at the breakfast table.

But back to baking, I’ve levelled up a notch from pans to the oven. I started with muffins and they are great takeaways for school. I sneak in grated carrots, fruit cubes and nuts; it is empowering to know that I get a say to what my son puts in his stomach while snacking in school.

Not so long after, I’ve been baking really marvellous cakes. My co-workers get a kick every time I bring in a big box. They are not ordinarily helpful; but when they see me juggling a box and a case, they are quick to fall in step beside me and help with the stuff.

The real challenge with baking came with breads. I didn’t succeed with my first dough, and not much on the second. I was ready to dismiss bread as not a part of my repertoire. I consoled myself that I already had a wide range of food I was good at and it wouldn’t be such a big gap if the range didn’t include breads.

For a while that was okay, but every day I and my family ate bread and it wasn’t helping that I couldn’t bake a good one. I became very discriminating about breads, maybe due to my inability to produce a decent one I had to find fault on the bread’s maker. Being a quintessential kitchen-person, I had to keep poking on bread recipes and tips. Not a few samples went to the bin under the sink; only those slightly off the “failed bread” samples got to see the breakfast table.

And then I found the right mix of ingredients (the secret lies in the right combination of flour and grains), techniques, and temperature; my breads began to see the light.

I had to invest in a high-quality baker’s thermometer and learn about how yeast does its work. I can’t say that I bake breads as well as I do cakes, but now my family enjoys home-made breads with handpicked ingredients kneaded with care and love. I don’t think any bread around can compete with that.