Friday, July 10, 2009

Baking improv

I love following recipes.

I do, I admit it. That feeling of flipping through a cookbook's pages, searching for that one recipe to catch your eye, when everything falls into place and you have (nearly) all of the ingredients on hand. You find yourself fervently hoping that this recipe will be another one to keep marked, to file away into your "Must Make Again" folder, not one of those meh dishes that are always so disappointing.

One of those recipes, the good kind, I mean, landed in my lap via Miss Molly, and comes courtesy of the magnificent Edna Lewis. In fact, I've directed you to this recipe before, and if you haven't already made it, then I suggest you hop to it immediately!

While I am a devoted recipe follower (except with S&P measurements. Who measures that? Those are more guidelines anyway, right?), but I do love to make things up when it comes to cooking pasta or stir-frying or things like that. I'm willing and happy to throw different spices in, play around, because with cooking, you can taste and adjust and readjust and then readjust some more. Now, baking, on the other hand...well, you kind of have one shot and then that's it.

Which is why I ALWAYS follow the recipe when I bake. I do not adjust, I try not to substitute (unless we're talking nuts or dried fruit), I follow orders. There is nothing, and I mean nothing more disappointing than a mediocre baked good.

So you can imagine my surprise yesterday when I felt that irresistible pull towards the kitchen, saw my hands reach for flour, sugar and butter and started clicking through my favorite food blogs for some baking inspiration. I wanted something simple and homey and I immediately thought of the Busy Day Cake. However, I didn't have any whole milk on hand, and not even enough skim to make up the difference. I did have yogurt, and that started the wheels a-turning. I remembered a favorite yogurt cake and, with my fingers irresistibly reaching for the eggs and vanilla, decided that I needed to take my first step towards baking independence.

So I subbed in the yogurt for the milk, and since I was feeling outrageous, subbed in some demerera sugar for a quarter of the total amount of sugar called for. Ooooh, shocking, I know. Who knows what I'll do next.

Of course, I would love to be able to regale you with a magnificent success story of my delicious and highly improved cake. And, while the cake is actually quite good, an ideal afternoon tea accompaniment...I think I need a bit more work in the baking improv department. The coarse, cornmeal texture that I so loved in the original was nowhere to be found (could have something to do with me having to cream the butter and sugar by hand), though the flavors were still quite lovely.

Perhaps a cozy sitdown with Harold McGee's treatise is in order, accompanied, of course, by a piece of cake and a cup of tea.


Claudia said...

I notoriously play with recipes - except for baking! I mustn't have the sugared-thumb or something. I'm more like a chemist than a baker. But for an entree - I'll substitute every ingredient. And always add more basil.

Emily said...

You're absolutely right, Claudia: Basil does make everything taste better!