I was very young when I became interested in baking. Cooking, not so much. In the past several years, with the emergence of televised über-chefs and the home-cooking craze, I have become more inclined to upgrade my usual (read that boring) dishes with some gourmet touches. Such as using more herbs, or some combinations I may not have thought of before.
Still, I prefer the science of baking. The precision. The ingredients. Flour, sugar, butter, eggs — I get a warm feeling inside when I think of these things. Some people like puppies, some like motorcycles. I like a good large egg, and a perfectly measured cup of flour, topped neatly with a straight spatula. Packing brown sugar, creaming butter, whipping egg whites to a glossy sheen—these things give me a thrill. Scraping vanilla beans—ah! There’s nothing like the aroma of cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg, lemons zested! Nuts toasting in a skillet, permeating the air with an earthy warmth. Yeast bread rising, adding a peculiarly homey aroma to the ménage.
I love to chop nuts, and fruits; set raisins to plump in warm water spiked with a little rum; to sip a bit of brandy while I “measure” it for chocolate truffles. Sifting, stirring, beating, whisking: the music and rhythm of the baking kitchen is my niche.
Searing beef or steaming vegetables just doesn’t do the same thing for me—although the browned, caramelized crust on a roast ready for the oven, the gentle crispness of a perfectly cooked vegetable, does make me want to pull up a plate. I like to make Hollandaise, and dark gravy, as well as to eat these sauces with vegetables and meats. Mixing smooth creamy bases for soufflés or a gratin; I like the combination of ingredients. Butter, flour, eggs. . .
In short, I love the elaboration of the measuring, mincing, mixing; the science of baking soda and baking powder and eggs used to lighten; the denseness from sour cream, the short flakiness of butter, the perfect layering from shortening. It isn’t the actual baking, or forming the cookies (tedious, to say the least) or decorating I love—it’s the combination of ingredients which fuse and form a complete change to produce those fantastic pastries and desserts for others to enjoy without a thought of what went into them.