Hobnobbing with a Hobby

What started as polite hobnobbing with the basics of baking has happily evolved into a full-fledged hobby, if that’s what you call the irresistible urge to messily whisk together eggs, flour and sugar. I have become neater; I don’t leave half-moon dustings of flour and smudgy droppings of batter on the kitchen counter anymore. The only evidence is the smell of baking—a sweetish, fudgy aroma that lingers hours after the cake is out of the oven gradually fading to be replaced by the denser smell of the cake itself, punctuated by hints of peel or cocoa. The day after baking, the top of every self-respecting cake develops a light glaze that’s lovely to behold. It’s the point where the knife squishes into its soft, magically compact depths.
This is the first batch made with the processor gifted by very dear friends. The batter while deceptively batter-like, was let down by the convection setting on the microwave oven I was using at the time (yes, an obvious mistake). I would make batter after batter and expend anguish as cakes turned out hard, pasty and positively unpleasant. I tried changing the baking powder, excessively oiling the baking tins, increasing the proportion of eggs, but to no avail. The problem persisted, seemingly compounded by every dejected corrective measure.

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After months of this, with a measly 1:6 success ratio, I was all but done—disasters included a honey cake, a mango cake, a strawberry pie, an upside-down pear cake—the first one turned out strangely pungent (it was some sort of strange forest honey, which did not translate well into bakedness) and the latter ridiculous, like milkshake converted into cake. I believe I crumbled it and used it as custard topping, it being glorious mango season. What I learnt is never to bake with mango. It’s against nature.
To come back to the question of stubborn cakes, there have been many disasters—stodgily brimming with the self-importance of improper proportions. I like to think of them as the revolutionaries of the food world, refusing to adhere to the orderliness of recipes, rejoicing in their very inedibleness. This is food that ripens into old age, growing crusty in the fridge, not having to fear spasms of midnight snacking. I have made self-flagellating pies, self-pitying tarts, cakes with the consistency of hard cheese and wasted more grams of butter than I would care to acknowledge. That was before I discovered oil is always better when it comes to cake, always. Dollop butter into the frosting, slather it over tea bread or simply dot it on waffles, but it’s very butteriness gets lost in the batter without imparting the moistness that oil does. Rum too works on similar principles. In batter, it sinks without a trace. But in frosting, it brazenly cosies up to butter and flaunts its rummy overtones over the by-now-humbled sugar.

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