Saturday, January 15, 2011

Your mission: become a baker

 Are you worthy?

Baking is scary. You don't use recipes; you have formulas. It's not "a dash of this..." it's 38 grams. There's no seat of the pants stuff in baking. This is science. Chemistry. Crystalline precision with no room for error.

There are things considered baking that I love: puff pastry, croissant dough, breads. Then there are the other things that I've never liked, even when I was a wee bairn. Cakes. Sugary things with no mouthfeel, no oomph, not enough chocolate or fruit or whatever. Cakes in the USA, or at least California, bore me because they seem to be not much more than sugar held in a flour matrix with more sugar on top. This is not the case in France, but the norm here seems to be a dessert desert comprised of drifting dunes of pure sugar. At least as far as most cakes I've tried here. Now, I'll be the creator. Making these things, responsible for their quality, interest and beauty. The question is, can I do better than the typical supermarket slab of sweetness and rise into the heights of wonderful European desserts?

All baking experiments will be scrutinized in minute detail, subject to professional review. Making things I may not even enjoy eating, sugary, puffy concoctions that are usually just a substrate for some ceremonial decoration. Things that often have more chemicals than your local refinery, glowing with all the colors of an unnatural rainbow. So, from sustainable cooking and wholesome, natural ingredients I pass to the dark side of numbered food coloring agents, massive amounts of sugar, and about the same nutritional content as your favorite free newspaper.

Hopefully, when I emerge in March at the other end of the tunnel, I will know how to make really wonderful bread that puts the stuff in the markets to shame. Big ears, wonderful crumb, light, crackling crust, subtle and complex flavor. But will I have managed to create a cake that I really enjoy eating?

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