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Oh, but you should have seen me when I first decided I wanted to cook and bake. I was a trembling little thing, sweating with apprehension as I approached a recipe. Here’s how it went:
- I would decide that I needed to cook a Dish of Some Sort
- I would pour through my cookbooks, trying to find the Perfect Recipe.
- I’d painstakingly copy said recipe onto a wee sheet of paper.
- Paper clutched in sweating hand, I’d head out to the grocery store.
- I’d wander up and down every aisle, searching for the Mandated Ingredients, checking them off (!) as I found them and placing them reverently in my cart.
- Having bought Said Items, I’d go home and follow my recipe blindly.
- Usually, and through no fault of my own, my Dish was generally edible, and even quite tasty.
- I’d breathe a sigh of relief and accept the Kudos of the Masses.
I went along for quite awhile thinking that my Seven Step Process was just the way it was. That’s how to cook. Right?
Wrong. I was so wrong.
I didn’t realize this at first, of course. It took years of obsessively buying and reading cookbooks, watching cooking shows on PBS, experimenting on my own, and finally going to culinary school for baking and pastry before I gradually came to the conclusion that nobody really wants us to learn to cook. Sure, they want us to follow their recipes and then give them full credit when serving to a crowd–“These are She-She-Frou-Fee’s Brownies!” “Why,yes, isn’t it wonderful? It’s Monsieur Hoo Ha’s rack of yak.”
Here’s what I have come to understand over the years, and here’s what I want to share with you, dear readers. And not just share it, I really want you to internalize it: Recipes are Tyrannical. I’ve written about it at great length on many occasions, but it’s impossible to say this too frequently: a recipe isn’t the Word of God Writ Upon a Stone Tablet. It’s just a list of ingredients married to a list of techniques. The most important part is the techniques. Where recipes fall down, and where I pick up, is in explaining that most of the techniques described are applicable to a wide range of dishes. Yup, recipes tell us what to cook and how to cook the particular dish described in the recipe, but I walk you through the techniques, explain them in detail (some might say excruciating detail), and help you internalize the idea that once you’ve learned the techniques, you can apply them to many lists of ingredients.
‘Member back up in the list at the top where I said I’d blindly follow my recipe? Well, recipes tend to keep us in the dark and effectively blind by allowing us to assume that Recipe is Law and must be followed. Blindly. New cooks, especially, fall into this trap, and the myth is perpetuated by the majority of food magazines and cooking shows through omission. It’s not that they are all telling you, “this is the only way to make Dish X.” It’s that they’re not telling you that it isn’t the only way to make Dish X. So, we cook or bake with our lights out, relying on the road map of the recipe to lead us to our destination without really seeing where we’re going. But, if I can show you that it’s the technique part of the recipe that’s the most important part, your lights will come on and you’ll be able to see your way to your destination before you even start cooking. Glory, Hallelujah.
If the recipe rules start off “cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy,” I want you to know that the recipe is describing the creaming method. I also want you to know how to perform the creaming method from start to finish without having to keep referring to your cookbook. Furthermore, I’d like you to know that you can probably use the Two-Stage Method instead, if you’re feeling scrappy. I want you to be able to read through the technique portion of a complicated recipe for Gateau St. Honore and know that you’ll be rolling and folding in butter to make puff pastry, bringing some ingredients to a boil and then adding flour and beating in eggs to make pate a choux and making a starch-thickened custard (pastry cream) for the filling. The rest is just assembly, a craft project.
I am absolutely passionate about this. I share my knowledge freely, from how and why to do the Sneaky Egg Test to The Right Way to Whip Cream. I try to answer all questions, even down to taking a look at the way folks find me in my Great Search Term Round Up posts. Sometimes, I give out certificates, and sometimes I make videos. I also try to knock the snobbery right out of cooking in as many ways as I can.
Baking and cooking should be fun. Unfortunately, most folks get stuck in “fearful,” leaving them unable to advance to “fun.” If I can make you laugh while you’re learning, that might just be the spoonful of sugar you need.
My wee blog might won’t win any awards–yet–for Most Visited, but it is the Next Big Thing. I’m not your typical food blogger. I don’t take the most mouth-watering photographs. I don’t even always rely on my own photos. My goal isn’t necessarily to make you drool (although I give myself a Gold Star if I do), but to give you the confidence to go and make your own family and/or guests drool. I don’t believe in secret recipes. I believe in cooking and baking with real ingredients, and I enjoy Ridiculing fake food. I hate Cool Whip with the burning passion of a thousand suns. I believe in laughter. I believe in knowledge. I believe in this blog.
If you believe in this blog, please vote for Pastry Methods and Techniques in Project Food Blog. Take a look at my Contestant Profile. You can also follow me on twitter, friend me on facebook and/or subscribe to my RSS feed to make sure you know when my challenge posts are up. Here are the challenges and the dates for voting:
- Challenge #1: Ready, Set, Blog! — September 20-23
- Challenge #2: The Classics — September 27-3
- Challenge #3: Discovery Dinner Party — October 4-7
- Challenge #4: Picture Perfect — October 11-14
- Challenge #5: Recipe Remix — October 18-21
- Challenge #6: Road Trip! — October 25-28
- Challenge #7: Video 411 — November 8-11
- Challenge #8: Piece of Cake — November 15-18
- Challenge #9: You’re the Critic — November 28-December 2
- Challenge #10: The Final Post — December 6-9
Thank you, friends.