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Food: Baking and Birthdays

July 23, 2010
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I’ve always said I’m much better at cooking than I am at baking. Baking takes more patience than I frequently have, more ingredients than I usually want to use, and more precision than I could ever care about- I’m a big picture, macro world view sort of person, not an egg separating, 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg type of gal.  However, baking seems like the kind of thing a well-rounded SB should know how to do, so I’ve gone through a recent spate of cupcake baking. This meshed well with what I call “birthday season” – from May to August, 90% of the people I am close to have birthdays, and I was brought up to believe that birthdays are important. For the past few years I’ve taken advantage of the cupcake trend and purchased them all around town during birthday season (but I always end up going back to Party Favors in Brookline when I need a fail safe option). But this year I decided I was going to make them myself.

I should have apologized to my friends in advance. So many bad batches of burned, mealy cupcakes.

The catch about cupcakes, I discovered, is the mixing time and the baking time. While they seem easier than a full fledged cake (mini and many- more chances to get it right!), you (well, I) still have to pay close attention.

Mixing: Using a spoon can give a gluey consistency. Using an electric beater is better, but not if you OVERmix. I beat a few batches to death, sad to say. I don’t own a beautiful stand mixer, which I’m told is the best option. I think I will create a registry for my long overdue marriage to Food (I’m not taking his last name) and put a Cuisinart on there. Anyway, use an electric beater, mix JUST until ingredients are incorporated. For me that means don’t get distracted by listening to music or flipping through a magazine or trying to wash the measuring cups with your free hand so you don’t have to do it later.

Baking: Who knew that every oven is so different when it comes to baking? With cooking, oven differences have never yielded such drastic changes, but in the case of cupcakes just a few minutes can mean needing the trash can. But, this is why I chose cupcakes in the first case- you can do batches! So what if you ruin the first batch- poke them with some toothpicks, change some things around, try again! Batches in baking are how I make it more experimental, less risky, and closer to the “try it and see” method of cooking I enjoy so much. I’ve also learned that stated baking times in recipes are often completely inaccurate due to this oven difference issue. If it says 20 minutes, start checking at 10. Pour yourself a glass of wine, you’ll be there for a while.

At this point in birthday season I’ve tried double chocolate peanut butter cupcakes, red velvet cupcakes, mocha bacon cupcakes, vanilla cardamom cupcakes, and rose sugar cupcakes with lemon scented icing. Many of these were true failures, at least in the first batch. But, I’ve grown a deeper appreciation for baking and am feeling much better about experimenting in this realm.

I hope Party Favors isn’t closing anytime soon though.

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