Monday, October 5, 2009

Does Baking Make One "Domestic"?

So baking and I don't get along. At all. When I attempted to make my Grandmother's Apple Twists (a recipe that she got from the 1958 Pillsbury Bake Off) I went to pour boiling water into the baking dish, and this happened.

Yeah. I exploded stuff in my kitchen. Screw you Isaac Newton, what with your laws of thermodynamics. Regular readers will also remember the blueberry muffin disaster. In a way I held my inability to bake as a point of pride. When people (Stef) would mock me for my domestic side, I would insist that I was not a domestic little Martha Stewart or Giada type, I was an Iron Chef goddammit. The dishes I cooked were forms of high art, challenges, gourmet, not comfort food. To illustrate this point, I would point out that I couldn't possibly be domestic, as I can't bake. I have a very bad habit of tooling around with ingredients and trying to be creative, which apparently your not supposed to do when playing with what is essentially chemistry. I'm a mad scientist, I suppose. I even tried to convince Will that he could bake, despite the fact that I had no evidence of this, so that I could have baked goods without actually having to put the work in myself. He pulled off this supremely decent batch of cheesecake marbled brownies.

Then a childhood friend sent me, as a wedding present, a book. How to be a Domestic Goddess, Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking by Nigella Lawson. Uh oh. At first I was ready to file the book on the shelf, but then I started reading the recipes. They looked yummy. Really really yummy. And since Will was working that weekend, the only way I was going to get to eat them was if I buckled down and tried this baking thing again. Plus citing lack of knowledge or ability as a point of pride is something I try not to make a habit of. Scanning the book I decided I should start with something on the less complex side. I also decided it would be nice if I made something that could be eaten as a breakfast treat alongside some coffee. I selected, from the very first section of the book, the Lemon-Syrup Loaf Cake.

For this I needed to actually purchase a 9x5 inch loaf pan. I told you, I haven't tried baking much. Once Amazon dropped that off, I had to settle the difficulty of "Self-Rising Cake Flour." Nigella Lawson is British, so I have to assume this is a product available in London--damned if I could find it in New York City. Since there are a number of websites explaining how baking powder and a bit of salt can be used to convert regular flour to self-rising, I simply applied the same principals to cake flour. I was crossing my fingers pretty hard on this part, since changes like this are usually where I chemically fuck up my baking.

The Ingredients for the Cake:
  • 1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter
  • 1/2 Cup plus 1 Tablespoon Sugar
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • Zest of 1 Lemon
  • 1 Cup plus 1 Tablespoon Self-Rising Cake Flour (or Normal Cake Flour with conversion)
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 4 Tablespoons Milk
The Ingredients for the Syrup
  • Juice of 1 1/2 Lemons (about 4 Tablespoons)
  • 1/2 Cup Confectioner's Sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and butter and line you loaf pan with parchment or wax paper. Make sure the lining comes an inch or so up the sides of the pan for easier unmolding later.

Cream together the butter and sugar, and add the eggs and lemon zest, beating them in well. Add the flour and salt, folding in gently but thoroughly, and then then the milk. Spoon into the prepared loaf pan and put in the oven. While the cake is baking, get on with the syrup: put the lemon juice and sugar into a small saucepan and heat gently so that the sugar dissolves.

Bake the cake for 45 minutes, or until golden, risen in the middle (though it will sink a little on cooling), and an inserted cake tester comes out clean. As soon as the cake is out of the oven, puncture the top of the loaf all over with the cake tester or suitable implement. Pour over the syrup, trying to let the middle absorb it as well as the sides, then leave it to soak up the rest. Don't try to take the cake out of the pan until it is completely cold, as it will be sodden with syrup and might crumble.
Serves 8-10

Yeah, that "cake tester"? I've never owned one. My mother always used a wooden toothpick. I don't even own those, we just have fancy cocktail toothpicks made out of bamboo that we had to order off a website, a testament to how shmancy Will gets with his cocktails, so I used one of those. I also didn't pour on the entirety of the syrup, as once you stare at a 1/2 cup of confectioner's sugar, which you know is in addition to the 1/2 cup of normal sugar you put in the batter, it starts to seem pretty damn bad for you. How did this current attempt at baking turn out? You tell me!

And it tasted pretty good too. I love lemon a lot, so this was the perfect treat, and was breakfast for both and Will and me for three days. I got through a baking project without giving Isaac Newton the finger. Good for me. Now I just have to deal with the complex I've developed now that I'm a "Baker." Now I'll never live down the vintage aprons I'm partial to. I'm not domestic dammit! I'm an artist! And an adventurer! I'm hoping to bring to cooking what Indiana Jones brought to archaeology--danger, intrigue,...who knows? Maybe I can kill a couple of Nazis in the process.


Kate S said...

Well, I bake pretty well, so if you make the dinner, I promise to bring dessert...

TheChocolatePriestess said...

Baking and cooking are slightly different skill sets with different concerns. Domestic? Bah! Worry about being happy and feeding people something they enjoy and forget labels like domestic.

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