This is real, you’re not imagining things. It’s happening. Yeah.
Welcome to my first, newly minted, blog space. Yet another cake blog to add to a grossly saturated market. But this one, this one shall be mine. I’m staking a claim, planting a flag like a candle on top of the cake.
In just a few short months, I’ve been learning a lot, all in the name of making cake from scratch. And I believe it’s time to start documenting these experiences in a more meaningful way, aside from the occasional snapshot posted to Facebook. So how did I get here? Awkward Cleveland dude randomly taking an interest in cakes of all things?
I did not grow up in the kitchen like a lot of people. I really had no idea how to do any cooking until a few years into college. Before that, a frozen pizza or toast was probably the best that I could muster. Living away from home and without a university meal plan, however, motivates you. Obviously, I was complete rubbish at first. There are more than a few occasions I can recall where I was wasteful, ignorant, or lacking technique when making meals for myself or my roommates. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, and my mother’s phone was ringing off the hook, me on the other end asking her how to complete the most basic of tasks and recipes.
And somewhere in that time of fall 2012, I tried baking for the first time.
I HATED IT.
Yup, that’s correct. I was under the impression that I hated baking. In particular, it was chocolate chip cookies that kept befuddling me. And you know what, as I’ve written this, I realize I still have that picture archived in my phone.
I don’t know how they look to you from your side of the screen, but they were pretty bleh as far as homemade cookies go. Flat, overly crisped and oozing disappointment. At the time, I did not or could not understand why the recipes weren’t resulting in a better cookie. Why was this baking thing so complicated? I had heard that well known expression, “Cooking is an Art, Baking is a Science” but assumed it was a bit of an exaggeration.
I just didn’t get it at the time. And since then, I’ve made plenty of new things in the kitchen and improved loads. I’m no gourmet chef and I make my fair share of mistakes, but I’d be much more confident today in serving a dinner to the group of fraternity brothers I shared a suite of rooms with.
There was precious little baking, though, very little from that point to now. On a few choice occasions, I would make some peanut butter cookies, since those were the most forgiving treat I’d baked yet. But for all intents and purposes, I had no desire to work on it further.
That was until I started working in my grocery store bakery. There, to this day I work as a clerk, packaging cookies, pies, pastries, etc. I slice bread, I take cake orders, anything that isn’t directly baking or decorating. But in the hellish trappings of retail drudgery, there’s usually a generous amount of time to observe the people around you, and idle observation drove my curiosity. I found myself drawn in by what the decorators could do with a bucket of sweetened shortening, some food dye, and a haphazard collection of decorating tools. Basic cakes made smooth with fluffy icing, further turned into miniature rose gardens, or bunches of festive balloons, with delicate shell borders and trim. In the beginning, I told myself that I was curious about their process so I could help customers figure out their orders better. Now I admit that in one corner of my mind I had some ambitions to figure it out myself.
It started with the writing. Now, anyone with an inkling of knowledge about me personally should recall that I appreciate good penmanship and handwriting. I just enjoy it. It’s therapeutic and a natural way to express yourself in everyday situations. So, naturally, I wanted to learn how to write on cakes. And it is different enough that there’s a bit of a learning curve. You can’t hold a piping bag in your fingertips like a pen, you have to hold it in your fist, with your non-dominant hand supporting and guiding. And then you have to learn how to apply a proper amount of consistent pressure. One day, a younger decorator told me to take home a “writer” (a small parchment cone filled with icing) and a cake board to practice on. It’s all been downhill from there.
After practicing writing for a time, my mind became infected with the idea that I should make a cake from scratch. Somewhere in the month of January, I googled “basic yellow cake recipe”. This recipe, from Pillsbury, was the first on the list, and I went with it. God, how naive I was. I didn’t do any another searching, I didn’t read anything on how cake should be prepared, I DIDN’T EVEN READ THE REVIEWS ON THE RECIPE!
…The kicker was that I mixed it by hand… With a whisk… And we have a perfectly good hand mixer, I was just being stubborn because I think that thing is annoying.
The resulting cake was a mess. The texture was more like cornbread than cake. But oh boy was I motivated. I was fascinated that someone could take these staple household ingredients: flour, sugar, eggs, milk, etc. and actually make it come to life in a hot oven. And now I had actually taken part in that. I mean, what I had made verged on inedible, but I knew I could do better.
I knew that I could bake better for the same exact reason that I had been turned off by it a few years earlier. “Cooking is an Art, Baking is a Science.” Previously, I thought this statement meant that baking was too fickle and temperamental to be bothered with. Now I understood that this was a strength, not a weakness. Baking is about technical knowledge and process and having a better understanding of why things work the way they do. Honestly, in cooking you don’t need that quite as much in order to end up with a passable meal at the end of the day. But this technique that I’m getting at, I knew the knowledge was out there to be learned. It would take time and patience, a determination to separate the pinterest posers from the bakers with real know-how, and most importantly a willingness to experiment and fail. But theoretically, anyone should be able to figure it out if they know where to look.
It’s been very rewarding for me. And now it’s time to talk about it. Scratch cakes, cupcakes, decorating, all of it. This is going to be a showcase for my projects and recipes. It’s also my goal to write up some tutorials or discussion posts to delve into the methods and techniques that go into them. This ride has just started, and I would love to have some company on it. LET’S BAKE!