I know I’ve blogged a bit about my love of baking before, but this is just too big of a passion not to write about a little more.
For a long time (up until about three years ago), I didn’t call myself a cook: I only referred to myself as a baker, since my specialties always seemed to revolve around concocting pastries, brownies, and breads that were rolled, kneaded, and risen to perfection. Almost all of my earlier memories of being in the kitchen involve baking, whether it was rolling out sugar cookie dough to hand out to the neighbors for Christmas or trying out a homemade donut recipe with my sister during the summer.
Most other people that I talk to are often uncomfortable with the “baking” aspect of cooking—you see, “cooking” allows for a lot of experimentation, a few mis-measured ingredients, and quite a bit of improvisation. “Cooking” generally means you can get away with not using a recipe, or at the very least, it means you can get away with only viewing the recipe as a set of general guidelines rather than hard-and-fast rules.
Baking, on the other hand, is a disciplined science that requires a harmonious blend of specific measuring, close watching, and that extra something that can probably be chalked up to intuition—the ability to discern the fine line between “just mixed” and “overmixed,” between “add enough flour to form a soft dough” and “crap-you’ve-added-too-much-it’s-basically-a-lizard-like-tire.”
I sometimes still dance that fine line, but I find that more often than not, baking allows me just enough of a rigid structure and challenge that I never get bored, but it also gives me a way to artistically use my hands to provide my own contributions of beauty to the world.
You see, everyone else in my family got blessed with an overabundance of artistic ability (a fact we owe to my father, who is now a professional calligrapher working for Hallmark). When it appeared that my drawing and painting skills were probably never going to pass muster in my mind, I gave myself over to the art of cooking, relishing the feel of air bubbles hissing into my fingers from the bread dough, sniffing in the sharp scent of yeast just beginning to foam, and delving my fingertips into the cream of the cake batter to assure myself that all was right in the world.
A personality- and handwriting-analysis expert who used to substitute at my high school once told me something that puzzled me for quite a long time: along with a description of some of my gifts and talents, she gave me just one piece of advice after doing an extensive handwriting analysis: “learn to bake bread.”
It seemed to be the most random thought she could have possibly flung out from her mind, but I’m beginning to realize that there might be a bit more power to that advice than I’d first granted: baking bread (or anything) from scratch teaches me to finish what I start (sometimes a weakness of mine), to be willing to take the long way (and not just the easy way), to show caring through other methods than simply words, to nourish body AND soul with the wholesome act of providing and partaking. In short, it seems that baking has become the way to form a perfect union between the part of me that’s always dreaming, creating, and thinking big, and the part of me that likes a routine, a concrete goal plan, and a structured challenge.
What has baking (or cooking) taught you?