by Buck Reed
Most cooks believe good baking is nothing more than accurately measuring the ingredients, mixing them up, and throwing the finished product in the oven. And, of course, those of us who do bake know these people are wrong in this belief. Armed with nothing more than a good recipe and a few ingredients, these people are like kamikazes; they may get the results they want, but it probably won’t work out too well for them along the way.
What most people who bake do realize is that baking takes a mastery of a few basic mixing methods, along with some special techniques and a little finesse. Like anything worth doing well in this world, good baking takes a little knowledge and practice. Until you get these techniques down, you will need to practice. Bake sales, parties, picnics, any excuse you can come up with, is a good time to try your hand on what might become your signature holiday sweet.
Next is getting organized. Of course, you will need a clean kitchen with the equipment you need in easy reach. Make sure the equipment you don’t need is put away or temporarily taken out of the kitchen. If you are working in batches, then get a system down where you can do the different steps at the same time.
Make a list of the ingredients and how much you will need. Purchasing extra isn’t a problem if you can properly store it and it has along shelf life; think flour and sugar over eggs and milk. Purchasing bigger lots or packages can save you money, but only if you can use most of them up completely.
Coming up with an idea of what you want to bake depends on your comfort level. It also depends on the reasons you are baking. If you are making holiday gifts, you might want to make cookies, while others might want to make a quick bread. If you are entertaining, a cake or some pies might fit the bill. Or, if you are going to party or dinner at someone else’s home, you might want to throw together a yule log cake or a bread pudding. Feeling bold? Try a Panettone (an Italian type of sweet bread loaf, originally from Milan), if you think you can manage the yeast-raised Italian confection. It even has a great story to go with it.
Another idea that can make the right statement is making fudge. For the novice fudge maker, you must have your act together tight. There are more than a few steps, but only three or four must be done with any real accuracy. Cooking sugar to a candy stage is not for the faint of heart, but once you get it down, you may well find it could become your signature dish that you can whip up with little or no effort.
A final thought is that you may not need to bake something at all. Try your hand at measuring and make a signature baking mix you can put in a jar, decorate, and add a recipe for the recipient to bake it up for themselves. There just might be something to this measuring thing.
Baking something up for someone takes time and effort, but if done with love and care, it can brighten someone’s holiday.
Need a recipe or idea for any of these holiday ideas, drop me an email at RGuyintheKitchen@aol.com. Otherwise, have a great holiday.