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Frame: Intuition

November 27, 2010

The most recent issue of Food and Wine includes a piece by Daniel Duane on becoming an intuitive cook. Duane sets out to learn how to put a meal together entirely by instinct, without having to consult his collection of cookbooks. The article also discusses the idea of making a recipe “yours,” which I have discussed before on this blog. In the piece, Duane spends time with master chef Thomas Keller, who imparts on him the wisdom that, unless you practice, you will “never quite absorb a hyper-detailed recipe, always having to return to the book and its precise measurements. In that way, a cook never breaks a recipe addiction, never trusts himself to create.”

Intuition and experimentation are what I like about cooking- I feel I’ve developed enough proficiency at certain dishes that I can improvise them, and get to use my cookbooks more for inspiration than instruction.

But if you’ve been paying attention, you know by now that I do not feel the same way about baking. So I decided, with a deep breath and a relatively easy recipe, to use my intuition and do my best to improvise a bit in some baking.

I chose shortbread cookies, whose only ingredients are flour, salt, butter, and confectioner’s sugar. I mixed together the dough, but going through my cabinets I decided to include almond extract and rosewater for flavoring. For the glaze, I mixed lemon juice into the sugar instead of milk, and added some lemon peel. After icing, I even got a little whimsical and put thyme leaves in the middle of each cookie.

It may seem like my “intuitive” additions were simple, and I would certainly think the same if those were the changes I made to say, a pasta sauce – something I know I am proficient with. But for someone whose baking used to be so bad I could barely make toast, adding ingredients and changing flavor profiles in a cookie was a really big step.

Plus, the cookies didn’t taste half bad. And they looked just darling, if I do say so myself.

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