The mission

The purpose of this blog is to report on my experiences with various parenting-related issues. Reviews of advice, crafts, and whatever else comes my way. (Originally this was meant to be a Glass Explorer project, but I was unable to procure funding... in case you're wondering about the title. Pending retail release..................)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Is it hard to make a cake? And other questions based on fear.

So, I was making this mayonnaise chocolate cake from this other blog when I got to thinking about certain cultural misapprehensions about food.
For example, I always grew up hearing about how insanely difficult it is to make cake. If you believe the legends, cake is so notoriously fickle at coming out correctly that even the tiniest discrepancy in the Perfectly Crafted Flawless Recipiness that is cake will cause an unmitigated dry disgusting crumbling apart disaster. Actually, come to think about it, the nefarious darkness of failure was never actually described. It was more like some Lovecraftian horror... if the description was given to you it would be either insufficient to express the enormity of the horror you created in your arrogant ignorance or immediately turn you into a suicidal drug addict willing to do anything to escape the pain in your soul.
But listen here... while I won't deny there aren't difficult recipes out there, there's no reason to turn to box cake if you just want some cake. In Bitman's book, "How to Cook Nearly Everything", Bitman laments how divorced Americans have become from the kitchen that premade pancake mix was ever able to find a place on grocery store shelves.
But honestly, I think pancakes are more difficult than the cake recipe I linked above, in some ways. Or close to equal. Which is to say... easy!
Part of your fear of cooking these things may have more to do with fears given to you culturally and timid failures than anything substantial. I mean, yes, it is easy to have a burned, dried out cake... pancake... chicken... whatever. The key is, you just have to practice. Get used to how your oven works.
If you're rolling your eyes at that, think about your microwave. How many times did you make microwave popcorn before learning to maximize the corn and minimize the burn and unpopped kernels? It's like that.
When I decided that I was determined to learn to use my new crockpot I started simple. I kept buying the same kind and roughly same size chicken. I tested the temperature at different times and finally found the right balance between cooked and dryness. I really only took 2 or 3 chickens before I mastered it and nothing was really wasted (even an overcooked chicken is great for soup stock, or shredded for quesadillas or something and with the cheap meat thermometer I never undercooked one). So, in a way I never "failed" I just got better.
When you start more complex recipes the risk of wasting a bunch of food by turning it into a completely inedible pile of slop increases. So don't jump in to completely grandiose recipes. Master the little things. For example, I used to make chocolate chip cookies by dumping all the ingredients at once into my mixer. They came out OK but not great and I couldn't figure out why. Well, guess what? There's a reason some recipes have you cream the butter and sugar first! It will totally affect the fluffiness and texture. So feel free to play around once you've got the basic recipe down. You'll find other techniques and explanations for what they do all over the Internet. And it's fun to see the changes!
And as you become more familiar with the basic techniques and what their role is, the more you can improvise and make your own recipes.

Now, as for making a cake look pretty... I'll get back to you on that.