Tuesday, December 05, 2006



Baking is one of those skills that all mothers have, like healing boo-boos with kisses and controlling behaviour with the hairy eyeball. Somehow, though, when I was in the parenthood department store picking out my mothering skills, I went down the neuroses aisle twice instead of getting my supply of baking skills. I got too much Woody Allen and not enough Julia Child.

Baking should be easy. It comes with instructions. How many things in life come with explicit instructions? Do you remember the first time you changed a diaper or tried to put a child in a onsie? Oh sure, NOW you can do it in a washroom stall the size of a shoebox, balancing a diaper bag with one had and a wriggling baby in the other, while keeping the door with the broken lock closed with your knee and holding a box of wipes in your teeth. But the first time, when it took you three tries and 20 minutes to figure out which was the front end, didn’t you wish you had a nice set of instructions?

Baking comes with instructions. It tells you exactly how much of each ingredient you need, exactly the order to add them together, and exactly how long to cook them at a precise temperature. The question is not how I could screw this up once, but how I could screw it up more often than not.

I made a cake for Beloved’s birthday this week. A cake from a box, mind you. You know the ones – dump the box, add eggs and oil and water, mix, bake. No-brainer, right? Well, first of all, that cake had the density of a neutron star. I’m surprised the kitchen table had the structural integrity to hold it up.

As if that weren’t bad enough, it was a cake with attitude, and that cake did not want to be frosted. In fact, not only did it wilfully resist being frosted, it actually threw off the frosting as I was trying to slather it on. I’d pass the spatula (because I get that baking is about the right tools, and I have a spatula for frosting a cake, even though the cake inevitably doesn’t want to be frosted) over one section, and rather than the frosting sticking to the cake, the frosting peeled up layers of the cake and stuck to the spatula. The more frosting I tried to apply, the more cake ended up stuck to the spatula. It was not pretty. I used an entire can of frosting on one cake. Cake from a box, frosting from a can, and still I screwed it up. That takes a special level of culinary incompetence, don’t you think?

The one thing I really, really, really want to be able to bake is cookies. Mothers can bake cookies. I am a mother. Ergo, I should be able to bake cookies. In fact, I can make chocolate chip coasters, and large cookie sheets of an oatmealish material loosely identifiable as former cookie dough, and that’s about it. Sometimes they are overcooked, sometimes they are undercooked, but they are consistently unappetizing and often inedible.

My favourite cookies right now are the Farmer’s Market gourmet homestyle cookies from Loblaws. The other day as I was perusing the freezer section beside the bakery, a ray of light fell down from the heavens and a chorus of angels heralded my discovery of a box of frozen Farmer’s Market gourmet homestyle cookie dough chunks, complete with baking instructions.

Finally, a foolproof cookie! Place premixed, preformed chocolate chip oatmeal cookie dough pucks on a cookie sheet, bake at precisely 325F for exactly 11 minutes, and revel in the glory of being a successful cookie baker at last.

What actually happened was that they ran together into a massive cookie pangea, and were so badly stuck to the cookie sheet that by the time I pried them up they were less cookie and more chunks and crumbs. Chewy chunks and crumbs, but not in that melt-in-your-mouth way that a normal person’s freshly-baked cookies would be.

From now on I'll just buy the already-baked cookies, and just nuke them for a few seconds to make the chocolate chips all melty. Five seconds in the microwave counts as baking, right?

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