Thursday, February 24, 2011

Megan's Baking Failures Could Benefit You

by Megan S.

Today's disappointment
I am a failure as a baker. FAILURE.  Why, I have no idea.  I follow directions.  I check and recheck that I haven't missed any steps yet, time and again, I end up having to scrap the whole project.  And, let me tell you, I'm a baaaaad sport when it comes to baking failures.  It's as if the whole world has conspired against me.  I can feel my jaw clenching, my nostrils flaring, my eyes becoming beady.  I am sure the Baking Gods have forsaken me.  I am obviously being unjustly punished for some unknown transgression against a dessert item.  If I could rail against those Deities of Flour and Sugar in Latin, I would recreate the Two Cathedrals scene from West Wing in my kitchen.

And, still I keep trying.

Read about this afternoon's cookie disaster and awesome resources for baking tips based on science.

So, I'm going to a party tomorrow.  I thought it'd be fun and easy (Easy?! Is it possible to have retrograde amnesia only when it comes to baking?) if I made sugar cookie sandwiches to share.  I'd use the Williams-Sonoma cookie cutters from the Heroes and Villains Set that I use to make my Dark Side Pie and then frost the backsides together.  If I was feeling extra snazzy, I'd roll the edges in gold and silver  decorative sugar crystals.  It was going to be fabulous.

It was a disaster.  The cookies came out hard as transparisteel.  It's not like I burned the batches or anything.  The little Vader, Boba  Fett and stormtrooper sugar cookies are more difficult to chew than biscotti. I have no idea what happened. They're inedible.

I can bake some things without setting off the fire alarm but that's mostly due to extensive research.  Yep, what does any good geek do when faced with her own inadequacy?  Turn to research.  I've come across some pretty awesome resources that anyone who isn't a master baker might want to check out.

America's Test Kitchen

I'm sure most of you are familiar with Alton Brown's Good Eats so I won't bother mentioning it.  However, you many not know about America's Test Kitchen.  It's available on our local PBS station here on the weekends but you can actually watch episodes online.  The crew behind the cooking show, as the title implies, test everything; techniques, gadgets, products, EVERYTHING and then detail their findings.  Information from the current season is available on the website but a subscription is required to access recipes and other information from past seasons.

Cooking for Geeks

I now make the most moist and chewy chocolate chip cookies ever because of Jeff Porter.  I met him at a talk he gave in San Francisco a few months ago about his book detailing the science behind cooking and baking.  Cooking for Geeks also offers some awesome hacks including how to make your own sous vide and how to perfectly cook a pizza using your oven's self-cleaning mode.

Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking

Embarrassing admission:  I haven't actually read this yet but I have a copy of it sitting by my bedside waiting for me.  Actually, I have two copies, both gifts.  Ratio is supposed to be fantastic.  It breaks down the proportions behind everyday foodstuffs in order to make the perfect product.  Two of the five sections in the book are dedicated to doughs and custards.

The Science of Cooking

I came across this site when googling around for a better way to make fudge.  I was making it as a gift for extended family this past Christmas and I didn't want to fail at it.  I'm sure you can guess the punch line.  I bombed despite all of my research, however this site is an excellent resource.  The Science of Cooking is sponsored by the Exploratorium right here in San Francisco and deftly explains the whys and hows behind baking as well as cooking.  The fudge recipe sounds delicious.  I wish someone else would make it so I could try the chocolaty goodness.

In case you're wondering what I'm going to do about tomorrow's party, I promise I won't inflict my baking on anyone attending.  I'll be bringing something store bought.
Pin It


  1. I like the new header and background.

  2. America's Test Kitchen is awesome. I have their cookbook not five feet from where I sit and use it regularly.

    I have had some very, very interesting experiences trying to bake gluten free...

  3. Baking is science for hungry people. There are no failures, only a successful disproving of a theory of yumminess.

  4. Okay, hows 'bout we get together and I will bake and you will decorate the baked goods. I have a couple of books about the science of baking, thinking that I'd like to develop my own recipes, but that has not happened.

    I can tell you one thing, though: I NEED that stacking cookie-cooling contraption you've got there.

  5. I have a great, no-fail fudge recipe. I'll shoot you a copy sometime!

  6. Subversive Vibe: Thanks! Check out David's other work using the "banner by David Y." link at the bottom of each page.

    ICallShogun: And by interesting, do you mean less than delicious?

    MKirkland: I need to come to you with my other failures so you can spin them as well.

    Sophie: That sounds good. You bake, I'll eat...err, I mean, decorate. The stackable cooling racks are handy. I'll look around for a link for you.

    Sara: I dunno. That sounds like a challenge to me. Can Megan fail at making a no fail fudge?

  7. Good going, Megan, I am going to _PLURK_ about this immediately!

  8. Oh, in addition, read Ratio already, it's the shiz.

  9. Not necessarily. Some of them have been quite good, occasionally indistinguishable from gluten-based items. The textures can be really weird, though.

    And Bob's Red Mill gluten free mixes? Unless you really, really dig bean flavor in your cookies... do not want.