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From Experiments to Experiences…

Originally posted in February 2012

Unlike a whole lot of people, who are usually pretty clear about having their own food blogs or more specifically a baking blog, I for one, practically tottered and stumbled in that direction and how so!

For the first 27-28 years of my life I haven’t really been cooking seriously – at best it was passable to sustain me through my days in Mumbai. Sometimes I cooked to survive, sometimes because I was bored and in the middle of those two situations, there were those rare occasions when I cooked for fun or out of curiosity! That really was the initiation into cooking.

As with cooking, baking really was an experiment and I didn’t try to learn it by design. For those with a keen interest on the subject, they want to do it the right way – learn the skill of baking through comprehensive classes and then begin to bring the goodies out of their ovens! For me, it’s the reverse and which is why I called it an experiment – I began to bake and learned the skill along the way, so I can’t say that I managed to churn out goodies as soon as I might have if I had undergone the classes…but with some level of honest assessment I can admit to having acquired the skill to a large extent entirely based on my Oven experiences!

The truth was simple – my husband grew up loving baked items, from cakes to muffins to quiche..So I learned to bake for him, without an inkling that it would change soon and I would start baking for myself and for some others! Will share more about that as we go along, on how oven experiments became experiences…

It wasn’t a lot of fun initially – at times I read an original recipe and thought to myself – they have got to be kidding! It really can’t be such a complex process when there are such clear directions about exact measurements…but of course I was wrong! As I trudged along the baking route, I discovered nuances that make it intricate, small mistakes that can culminate into huge disasters, flavours that shine through or those that remain subtle once the oven does its work!

Learning practically everything by sifting the endless resources available online, gauging which might be a better technique or recipe to try even something basic was a long process – but I was certain of one thing. No matter what I made, how many times I had to make it, it had to be done till it turned out to be perfect – and it really wouldn’t be perfect for everyone, but then it had to be close to perfect for even those. That really was the intent with anything I baked…

So armed with loads of downloaded information and old recipe books from my mother , I decided to understanding the basics of baking. For a person who had only just started cooking a while back, it was a daunting task to understand whether the proportions, texture, temperature, ingredients and endless other details were correct or not. What intrigued me was that it is such an interesting combination of science and art, or rather in writing terms -of fiction and non-fiction! Some of it is driven by proportions and some of it by one’s creativity and intuition as is the case with all kind of cooking I presume – but that’s not the key when it comes to baking. The key ( at least the one that applied for me ! ) is maintaining the delicate balance…You could very well have the right proportions and become an expert in those two versions of a cake or you could have a lot of creativity thrown in and keep churning out millions of good ( but not exceptional ) stuff. And I am sure either of these works well for a lot of people. But for me, the best result is when proportion can be matched with creativity in a balanced way…

First came the mammoth task of understanding proportions– the cups, tbsps, tsps, grams,lbs….and the temperature correlation to top it all! For a person like me this is just a lot of information and until I actually put it to use it has no real meaning..

So I began with trying out the time-tested recipes – the usual chocolate cakes, muffins, cupcakes…and then I decided to venture into a more ambitious project ( yeah, it really was a project! ) – a pie , which was what I would refer to as a project because each of its elements had its unique requirements and making a pie in entirety consisted of several phases, activities, timelines ! I wasn’t a trained pastry chef who could understand the right texture for a pie-crust and I wasn’t really aspiring to become one. Perhaps I should have purchased a ready-made one. But I wanted to learn how to make it if only to satisfy my curiosity.

And I learn I did – referencing several recipes and methods which were available online I managed to actually make the crust and reveled in my little moment of achievement! Making the pie filling was not as difficult as I had imagined…so I experimented with a Lemon Sponge Pie to do something out of the regular and then with a Chocolate one. That really was the beginning of taking up ‘projects’ which had a fairly high degree of failure for a novice and that’s really fine. If I was actually baking for good grades or for clearing an examination, while I might have given it my best shot, I probably wouldn’t have done it with a carefree, experimental mind that made the entire process so much fun!

More until later..I am sure a lot of us have experiences to share when it comes to the oven…feel free to write and share your ‘ovenderful’ experiences..

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