Adventures in Baking

So if you’ve been following the Magnet on TwitterFacebook, or this blog for any period of time, then you know that I’ve had my fair share of cooking and baking drama. Actually, in the early days of this blog, I wasn’t really cooking or baking at all. But I have started baking, and one thing I’ve learned about baking is that it is very different from cooking. Baking is more of a science and cooking is more of an art. Baking is more specific. And as long as I have explicit instructions to follow, I generally do okay. Generally. With cooking, there is a lot more room for experimenting, and therefore a lot more room for error. But don’t get it twisted…there is still A LOT of room for error in baking. A LOT. So I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned during the time I’ve been baking. I made these mistakes so that you don’t have to! Thank me later…

1) If you’re making cream cheese icing and the recipe calls for powdered sugar, you should probably use powdered sugar. NOT granulated sugar. They are two very different things. If you’re trying to make your icing thicker, substituting the powdered sugar with granulated sugar is NOT the way to go! And don’t think that beating it more will help the sugar dissolve and make the icing less crunchy cuz it won’t.

2) And speaking of beating stuff, if you’re trying to make a whipped topping, DO NOT beat the heavy cream for too long. It doesn’t take much for it to revert. And by revert, I mean turn from cream, to whipped cream, to cottage cheese, to white water. Don’t overdo it. Once you have a little whipped topping, STOP!

3) And speaking of whipped topping, if you’re making it for a Key Lime pie, it is okay to sprinkle some of the lime zest into the whipped topping. It is NOT okay to sprinkle any of the lime JUICE into the whipped topping. See comment above about cottage cheese and white water.

4) Sorry, this is a side note from baking but you need to know this as well. If you’ve made a Key Lime pie, and you have left over Key Lime juice, you probably are NOT gonna wanna put it in your guacamole. Key Lime juice does NOT equal lime juice. And, if at all possible, you should be using real limes for the guacamole and not lime juice anyway.

5) And speaking of stuff that does not equal other stuff, substitutions are okay in some instances. Not okay in other instances. You gotta know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em. And know when to take your butt back to the store to get what the recipe actually calls for. Regular milk does NOT equal condensed milk does NOT equal evaporated milk does NOT equal heavy cream does NOT equal buttermilk.

6) THIS JUST IN! In the same spirit as #5, please know that butter + milk DOES NOT = buttermilk. I know it seems like it would, but it doesn’t. (Apparently, baking is another thing that a Master's degree just can't help you with.) Making your own concoction of butter and milk will leave your cake tasting like you ran out of buttermilk and decided to make your own concoction of butter and milk. So in other words, NOT GOOD.

7) When you put stuff in the fridge, particularly stuff like whipped topping, please know that it has a tendency to soak up the scent (and even the flavor) of other things in the fridge. So don’t be shocked when you have a mouthful of Key Lime pie that tastes like baked chicken. Or worse, like a combination of baked chicken, garlic mashed potatoes, and turnip greens!

8) If you’re making a Red Velvet cake, don’t forget to add the red food coloring to the batter. Because if you don’t remember it until the cake comes OUT of the oven, it’s probably too late then.

9) Also, please be mindful of how high of a setting you have your hand mixer on when mixing your batter for a Red Velvet cake. Or any cake for that matter, but especially a Red Velvet cake. Because if you start out too high and don’t know what you’re doing, it won’t take long for you to have an entire Red Velvet kitchen!

10) And speaking of messy kitchens, when icing any two layer cake (or three or four or anything other than one) PLEASE let the cake and the icing cool sufficiently before you ice the cake. If you don’t, you will be very, VERY sorry. I’ve made the mistake of placing a second layer of cake on top of some very warm caramel icing…and the top layer slid away. I tried to catch it and pull it back into place, but it was such a mess! I had caramel icing from head to toe fighting with that cake. And there was icing on the stovetop, the counters, the floor, the cabinets, and everywhere else you can imagine. And the cake wound up looking like this...

But it was good, though.

11) If you’re trying to be a serious baker, please don’t use disposable tin pans. Go ahead and invest in a real, sturdy, REAL pan. Cuz there is a possibility that the cake might explode all over your oven. There is also a possibility that the cake exploding has nothing at all to do with the tin pans. But I don’t know what else to attribute it to.

12) If a recipe calls for vanilla, that typically means vanilla extract and not vanilla bean. That might be obvious to an experienced baker, but not to a novice. I personally think that if they mean vanilla extract, they should flippin’ SAY vanilla extract! But whatever…

13) If you’re grocery shopping for cake ingredients and a recipe calls for a “T” of something and a “t” of something else, it is perfectly fine to accost a little old lady in the store and ask her to explain the difference between “T” and “t”. It is also perfectly okay to google this BEFORE you begin baking. I don’t know why people can’t just say tablespoon or teaspoon. It’s like they want you to fail at life.

14) When the cake is done baking, be sure to let it cool COMPLETELY before trying to remove it from the pan. This is another area where I can’t understand why they can’t just tell you that “completely” could mean hours as opposed to minutes. And letting it cool “completely” is especially important if you noticed before you poured the batter that you ran out of wax paper, but decided to proceed with the cake anyway.  Oh yeah, here’s another tip: If you run out of wax paper, don’t pour the batter until you go to the store and buy some wax paper. In your mind, you might think, “If I grease this pan REALLY good with Pam + butter + Crisco and say a quick prayer, SURELY the cake will slide right out of the pan the way I want it to.” But in your heart, you know that you should probably go to the store and get that wax paper.  The mind can deceive us; the heart never will. Go with your heart on this one. Because if you don’t, you may wind up having to put your cake back together like a jigsaw puzzle. Kinda like this...

The icing couldn’t save this one. Doesn’t this look like a map of the world? I’ve spotted South America, Africa…

I have more to share, but I think this is enough for one post. Do you have any baking or cooking horror stories or lessons learned? Share them with me in the comments section.

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