I've been baking quite a bit lately, because I want to learn to be a better baker. So many people say that you're either a good cook, or a good baker; you have to enjoy one more, or be better at one than the other. Following this saying, I'm a cook. I like baking, but I never felt a great desire to do it often. Until now.
All of a sudden, I really want to learn to make bread, and cookies and pie crust (hopefully some day by memory). I have no idea what spurred this on. Perhaps because I like to have people over for dinner and I've never been thrilled by my inability to make something other than 5-layer bars for dessert. Perhaps because lately I've wanted to develop my food skills more.
Mind you, I can follow a recipe. It's just that baking is so intimidating. It's often a precise science to produce something edible, let alone tasty, whereas cooking can be more of an "anything goes" endeavor. Of course, the best chefs value precision and perfection, but you don't have to, to produce something good. And also, when I do things, I like to do them well, or not do them at all. I'm a bit of a perfectionist. So, I knew if I began baking, I'd really have to continue baking with mixed results for a long time, until I was satisfied. So you see? Daunting.
Man, can I ramble on. So about the baking....
I made chocolate chip cookies about a month ago. I've made them many times before (usually the ubiquitous Nestle recipe), but I'm trying to develop/find a really good recipe. This time I got directions from Joy of Cooking. I chopped chocolate bars instead of using chocolate chips, which I like because it spreads the chocolate flavor throughout the cookie (though sparely). I am a fan of the cookie dough flavor, but I'm a bigger fan of chocolate. Other than that, they were too crispy for me. I want more butter. Mmmmmm, butter.
Then, for my dad's birthday, I made a Clafouti aux Pruneaux A l'Armegnac. At least, I think that's how you say it. Clafouti with Prunes in Armegnac because he had bought some in France many years ago and wanted to use them, and I wanted to make a clafouti. Again, I got my recipe from Joy of Cooking. And why not? It's basic. It's thorough. It's reliable, right? Unfortunately, not so much with this recipe. It said to start out the clafouti at a high temperature for 10 min or so, and then turn down the heat to finish the baking. I looked at other recipes and they all said to bake it uniformly at a high heat. Interesting. So I tried the JoC way, and it didn't bake. Or, more correctly, the edges puffed and browned, but the middle was still raw. WtF?? I had to cook it for an extra 20 min at a higher temp. And by that time the edges were not as pleasant as they could have been. *sigh* So I guess now I know for the future... Oh, but it still tasted good. Really good.
Moving on, I made a strawberry tart. Now, I've never made pie or tart dough before, but I was hoping that I had some latent ability that I had gained by osmosis by watching my grandmother do it many times over. I maybe helped... once or twice... when I was 5 or 6. I had a hard time finding a recipe for this one, interestingly enough. Finally found one on Epicurious. Also, I don't have a strainer decent enough for the pastry cream, or a rolling pin, and a few other things that might have made the making easier or the outcome better. So the outcome? The flavors were good, helped by leaps and bounds by the amazing farmer's market strawberries I picked up. The pastry cream was a little flour-y, though. And the dough was hard. I don't know where I went wrong there, but I definitely did at some point.
So that's it for the sweet stuff, so far. There will be more coming. It'll be like a mini-series: Failures of Baking. It'll be great, really. I've got my eye on that no-knead bread recipe...