I aspire to be the sort of person who produces freshly baked good each week. Whether it’s tasty cakes or traybakes to offer to guests or colleagues, or fresh bread to enjoy in the morning, I’d love to be making new things and impressing people with my baking skill. Sadly, like many people, when there’s a list of other things to be done baking falls to the bottom of my to-do list and I rarely actually get round to it. However, a day off recently provided me with the perfect opportunity to get stuck in. I planned to spend the day baking in advance, so I wouldn’t feel guilty about doing so, and to make sure I had all the right ingredients (although typically I still ended up doing a mad dash to the shop after running out of something halfway through weighing it), and I’d forgotten how much joy baking can bring.
When I lived at home it was a bit of a joke that if everyone came home and I was baking something, it was because I’d had a stressful day. It was my way of getting that stress out of my system, and providing myself with an opportunity to comfort eat. Who doesn’t want some freshly made cake after a bad day?! My repertoire was somewhat limited, but I would bake favourites that I knew were easy to make, we’d have the ingredients in the cupboard and they would go down well with my family. Muffins, flapjack or chewy chocolate chip cookies tended to be my go-to creations. There’s something soothing about creaming together butter and sugar, or having to produce crumbs of butter and flour using your finger tips. I’m not sure if it’s the physical side of the baking, or the product that you end up with, but it can really help to relieve tension.
Unfortunately, it can also add to stress or create stress of a very different kind! Occasionally I decide that I need to produce something a little more impressive, and will set myself a challenge that I end up struggling with. A few years ago, I decided to make a gingerbread house with James. I should have tried just making gingerbread first, but decided to throw us in at the deep end. Needless to say, it was a pretty collapsed house and didn’t look how I’d hoped, but it tasted great! It did take most of the weekend though…
When I went away to university I stopped baking almost completely. Initially, living in halls I didn’t have the right equipment and so other than the occasional flapjack, I never really bothered. Moving into a shared house I was lucky enough to live with some talented bakers, and so there was usually some fresh cake around and if I’d made anything we would have had far too much. I did set myself a challenge following my dissertation hand-in of producing a rainbow pinata cake… which worked but boy was it sickly sweet (never trust a recipe with 1kg of icing sugar!).
Nowadays, working full time, I just seem to find myself using the age old excuse that I don’t have the time, when the reality is that I could probably make the time if I gave it a little more thought. I’m going to try and make sure that the cupboards are kept stocked with all of the essentials, and start getting back into the habit of producing some fairly simple bakes on an evening. I’d love to try some Biscuiteers style icing (and was given the book to do so!), or some beautiful cakes, but attempting something more elaborate does take time and I probably need to build myself up to it rather than rushing straight in there.
Some of my favourite baking failures
I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had a baking failure. It can be really frustrating. You follow the recipe perfectly and yet your oven is too hot, you rush the finishing touches or there’s too much moisture in the air and suddenly your perfect creation just goes wrong. It can be upsetting at the time (remember what I said about baking being stressful), especially if you’re trying to bake for someone or an occasion, but it can provide some great stories to bond over afterwards.
It’s not necessarily an outright failure, but not having the right size containers can really mess up a baked creation. It’s never been one to deter me but it’s led to some strange products. Don’t have a muffin tray or cases? That’s fine – just make one giant muffin in a cake tin instead! We’ve also attempted steak pie in a cake tin, and I have a friend who once made a banoffee pie in a frying pan. We one also tried to cram a millionaire’s shortbread into a tray that was far too small. It still tasted great, but each layer was about three times the thickness it should have been. You only needed a very small slice!
If you’ve got used to baking on your own, then adding someone else into the equation can also make things entertaining. I hadn’t realised asking James to crush the biscuits for a banoffee pie would result in an explosion of crumbs all over the kitchen! Banoffee Pie around the kitchen. And I think my family are still amazed that our relationship managed to survive our attempt at a gingerbread house – where our frustration at the construction got a little bit too much.
Some baking discoveries…
As well as some of the times it hasn’t quite gone so well, I thought I’d share some of the times that it has or the things that I’ve discovered recently which are worth sharing…
Freezable recipes are one of my new favourite things and I am keen to explore more of these. I’ve got a great recipe for cookies where you can make the dough in advance, when you have the time, and then pop it in the freezer. You then just have to defrost and stick in the over when you have guests over and it makes you look like a bit of a star…
I recently, very dubiously, made my first vegan brownie. However, the recipe was surprisingly easy and the result was really tasty. It didn’t matter at all that there was no dairy in there. I’ll happily make this again.
Silicone muffin moulds are my new latest discovery (a little ate to the party, I’m aware). I wasn’t sure how well they’d work but I was really impressed with how easily the muffins came out, and how easily they washed up as well.
What’s your baking story? Do you love it or hate it?