2011/10/26

Measure twice

I did some baking this afternoon. I made blueberry ricotta squares for this evening's women's wine and book club. Sometimes we meet at a restaurant, but this month we were meeting at a private home, so we had a potluck. Usually I bring a savoury dish, but this time I just felt like making something sweet. You can't have too much dessert, right? And this recipe was made with ricotta cheese, so it was even somewhat nutritious.

Ever since we got Food Network Canada on our cable, I've been watching a lot of cooking shows. Last night on Chopped, one of the chefs who is usually a pastry chef made a remark about how baking required precision measurement. If you're off a little on an ingredient one way or another, whatever you're making might come out all wrong, or even inedible.

As I was making the blueberry squares, what she had said really hit me. Mostly I cook. I don't bake very often. When I cook, I measure when I have to, but if I know a recipe very well, I don't need to measure. And often I'm creating something, so I'm going by feel and taste. With savoury food, you can make adjustments. Often you can adapt a dish to match ingredients you have on hand. Sometimes you can even save a dish that was going horribly wrong.

Baking is something else entirely. Measurements have to be exact, and you rarely substitute ingredients. Not only that; you also have to pay close attention to technique. When I made my first successful pie crust on Thanksgiving, part of that came from the right ingredients properly measured, but even more came from the careful handling of the dough. If I had been careless, the crust might have come out tough or not well blended.

Lately, my bread has been failing. One of those was a recipe failure, I think. It just didn't have enough liquid. But my last failure happened because they are really serious when they say make sure all the liquids are at room temperature. In the case of this bread, that meant milk, water, and eggs. I now know they were too cold, and that prevented the bread from rising properly.

I've never been that good at following directions. I do pretty well as a cook because following directions is less important, and often you can add something you missed earlier. But following directions is paramount for baking. I'd like to do more baking, and I want things to come out right. That means I'm going to have to reform my ways—read the recipe carefully, get all the measurements right, and follow the directions. There is little margin for error in baking. All cooking is chemistry, but baking even more so.

I was careful making the blueberry ricotta squares. The reward was that they came out well and were much appreciated by my fellow wine and book clubbers. And by me too!

3 comments:

Dave said...

You are so right about the chemistry (or some sort of mystery at any rate) involved in the making of bread. The invention of the bread machine was a huge breakthrough for my cooking career! LOL

I am a 'pie man' myself, and have found the making of a decent cream filling to be a bit easier, and a good pastry even less intimidating.

Bon Appétit!

Dave said...

Just a second comment to get the follow up emails... I'm new to this! :)

Véronique said...

I'll admit, using the bread machine again has been a great time saver. I would like, however, to become good at making bread by hand. Need more practice!

I'm no longer intimidated by pie crust. :)