extemporaneous baking

Usually when new students or scientists start at the pharmacy, and we have to train them to do compounding, we explain it in terms of cooking or, more specifically, baking: “Compounding is like baking a cake – you just need to measure out the ingredients and mix them together in the right order”. I suppose the only difference is that we never have to put our compounded products in an oven.

Other than the process itself, there are other similarities. For example, it helps to be familiar with what your final product should look like, and what sort of consistency it should be. Accurate measurements are also important, and you should know which ingredients will and won’t mix with each other. Working cleanly is also good, but mess is inevitable. And the list continues…

I’m perfectly aware of these similarities, but for some reason unknown to me, I cannot bake nearly as well as I compound. When I compound, I have no trouble with measurements or mixing or any of that; I will follow each step exactly. When it comes to baking, however, no matter how much I mentally reinforce the importance of following the recipe in front of me, I always, without fail, end up adjusting one thing or another. Usually it’s because I want to make a slightly larger or slightly smaller quantity, but just cannot be bothered to accurately recalculate the measurements (“ain’t nobody got time for that,” as certain colleagues would say…)

Perhaps I can blame an aversion to maths… No, I can’t really do that – don’t dislike math enough.

Chocolate cookies - half with glace cherries, half with pecans

Chocolate cookies – half with glace cherries, half with pecans

I suppose I also like adding other things that aren’t in the recipe. The other week, I made cookies, and decided I would add cocoa powder to the recipe so that they’d be chocolate. I was kind of combining two different recipes, and “guestimating” the quantities – kind of like taking an average of the two recipes. Fortunately for me, I tend to have weird luck with baking, and it still turned out fine. I reckon they were a bit “cakey” (I prefer my cookies a bit crunchier) but everyone at work liked them (about 35 cookies finished in one day between only about 10 people).

This last week, I made a rich chocolate cake (again, adjusting the quantities in a previous recipe so that it’d be more chocolatey) and it miraculously worked out too. I was worried it wasn’t going to cook through properly (too much butter, according to Mum) but when the recipient cut it open, it looked fine. It was pretty frickin’ rich, though – I took a bite and could almost feel my heart slowing down (too much butter and chocolate, I suppose – if there is such a thing).

Chocolate cake (sorry, the lighting wasn't great when I eventually remembered to take a photo...)

Chocolate hazelnut cake (sorry, the lighting wasn’t great when I eventually remembered to take a photo…)

Another theory I have for why I can’t follow a recipe, is that I’ve never seen my mum following a recipe when she bakes or cooks. Well, I suppose it’s all in her head, with a foundation of many years of experience, so it’s probably not true that she doesn’t follow a recipe – it’s just that it’s not written down in plain sight, so there’s the illusion of just adding ingredients instinctively. How good would it be to get to that stage…

Well, I actually feel like maybe my luck is eventually going to run out on this. Perhaps I should quit while I’m ahead? Honestly, though, I do feel kind of fatigued from all of this recent baking. It’s really rewarding to see people enjoying the final product, but it takes time and energy, and for some reason I tend to sleep rather restlessly after a night of baking (probably subconsciously worrying about whether people will like what I made).

Of course, there’s no doubt that I’ll bake again one day (in the near-ish future) but I’m going to take a break for a bit. Don’t want this to become a case of “too much of a good thing becoming a bad thing”.


2 thoughts on “extemporaneous baking

  1. As a professional pastry chef, what I can tell you is that practice makes perfect. Yes, improvising or changing ratios rarely works but there are no more than half a dozen doughs, custards or batters that need to be mastered and then all improvisation can be built on them. It’s easier to fix a savory dish half-way through it but nearly impossible to do when you are baking (although there are tricks). But, in the end, what matters is that what you make is delicious if not store-worthy in its looks.

    • Thanks for the advice and encouragement! I definitely agree that it’s easier to fix a savoury dish compared to fixing a baked product. No doubt I’ll be practising a lot in future, since I’ve kind of set this precedent at work as being someone who can bake… Hopefully one day I’ll overcome my inability to follow a recipe, to the letter, from start to finish!

Please leave a comment (or two!) here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s