We’ve all tried baking at least once. Each of us have our own funny baking experience. Here’s one such story that would want us to get our hands dirty.
What do you think when you hear the three words: Flour, butter and whisk? Well certainly ‘cake’. What did I think when I heard these words? Waste of time.
Being a baker wasn’t always a word in my dictionary. I found baking a waste of time when there were a plethora of choices in the stores. I remember as a young girl, I would see my mother with earnest intent removing her pots and pans from the rack to reveal her baking bowl from behind, eyes brightly shining up to the view, putting it down carefully on the work top and getting ready to get her hands dirty. She would then take out the ingredients one by one: flour, butter/oil, sugar, vanilla, ‘the whisk’, and finally a war cry, ‘today is cake day’!
I wondered what was so mystical about this that would make my mom, an otherwise earthly being, transform into a creepy, out of the world anthropoid the moment she saw her baking bowl. I wondered what was so indulging in baking a cake! Whether it was a birthday celebration, or a night before travel, baking always transformed my mom. And I wondered!
Often my mom would be whining and reiterating as to why I do not sit down, and learn the art of baking a cake. I would in turn yell, like any other teenager, “I have better things to do than bake a cake, Mom!” What better things, well that is a separate topic of discussion, altogether. She would say that one day I would be having kids and if they wanted to eat some home-baked cakes then what would I do? I said, “Who cares.”
I remember the first time I tested my baking skills. I promptly went to the baking store, got myself a premixed cake mixture and walked home feeling accomplished. Reaching home I enthusiastically took out my baking bowl and sat down to mix it. We had recently got a convection microwave and I thought what better way to test the feature than bake a cake! It isn’t that difficult after all, is it!
So I gave the mixture a good mix in the blender, poured some milk into it, added some chocolate chips and voila! My cake batter was ready to go into the oven. I had followed the method of preparation on the carton quite diligently. No room for any mistakes. So, off to the next step; I greased the pan, smeared it with streaks of butter, and dusted it with some flour. Then I poured the batter into the pan, with a slight doubt about the consistency of the batter as it was a bit too runny. I soon fanned away my fears and gave myself an invisible pat on my back for this accomplishment, and placed the pan inside the oven. Temperature set, time noted, a job well done.
My cake had been baking for almost 30 min when I emerged from behind a book to inspect on the progress. It was a moment of truth; my moment of truth. Moment that would put my mom’s fears to rest. Moment that would hereby prove that I am not a lousy baker after all.
Even before I entered the living room I could smell something burning. And since there wasn’t anything cooking apart from the cake, it was quite obvious what was burnt. The living room was filled with smoke. I quickly turned off the microwave, and waited patiently for the heat to subside. I needed to inspect and introspect what could have possibly gone wrong with my batter, and my cake! I did everything by the book, then, what possibly could have gone wrong? As I removed the pan from the oven, the room was again filled with smoke. I slowly took out the baking tray and all that I saw was a black, burnt, mass. Cake? Not even near it. The living room smelled of burnt cake the entire week, and I proved a lousy baker. However, I opined and it stayed, “Cake from a store is much better than baking one.” Sigh!
So, with the introductory disaster, gathering up my wits to bake for the second time, was a daunting challenge than I had anticipated.
My friend, Indrani, who was a trained chocolatier and a baker, asked me to give it another try. She said, “Success is most often achieved by those who do not know that failure is inevitable.” I told her that she was quoting, Coco Chanel. So she turned around, gave me a hint of a smug and said with her hands throwing up in the air dramatically, “The highest purpose of intellectual cultivation is to give a man a perfect knowledge and mastery of his own inner self!” Okay, she was quoting again, but that wasn’t a bad speech after all.
However, I don’t know whether it was her inspirational speech or my zeal to prove to my mom that I wasn’t that bad, which gave me a renewed enigma of hope. But this time, I was determined about not deploying a premixed mixture. Probably I thought it wasn’t made for my level of expertise.
Anyway, since I wasn’t sure from where to start, I turned back to the most reliable source of information, ‘YouTube’. But, the most reliable source, had a barrage of choices to offer, and my head was spinning by the end of the day. Spirits dampened, motivation deluged, and reality setting in with a looming question, where do I start from?
I settled for the basic sponge cake recipe, more so, because it was the easiest of all.
So, now that the recipe was marked, the next probable step was to get hold of all the ingredients. Now, remember my first tryst with the whole cake making business started with a premixed mixture; hence, I wasn’t quite sure of what actually goes into the cake. Yes, I had seen my mom baking, but, who cares about the foreplay, I was interested only in the end result.
Finally, that all the ingredients were in place, I was ready to get my hands dirty! So, in went the components one by one and finally my batter was ready. I gave it a quick mix with the whisk, pulled it up to check the consistency. Satisfied with the viscosity of the batter, I lined the baking tray with stripes of butter, and dashed it with some flour and poured my batter into it. As before, I wasn’t giving myself an invisible pat on my back or silently congratulating myself on my accomplishment. Rather I sent a quiet prayer, put my baking tray inside the oven, and hoped it wasn’t a disaster, again.
I was nervously tramping back and forth the entire perimeter of my kitchen, biting my nails off, hoping this wasn’t the end of my baking adventure. My cake had been baking for about 15 min now. I was calling Indrani every 5 minutes giving her a live telecast of the bake. Her reassuring words were falling in deaf ears. My mind was busy procrastinating the degree of a catastrophe!
Finally, I smelled the cake. A sweet aroma, which was so indulging in itself that I could drop all my work, and wait impatiently to dig in. An aroma which could make anyone feel better about the world.
I was fretfully hovering in front of the oven, waiting restlessly for my cake to cool down inside the oven, before bringing it out and checking on it. The 20 minutes wait was making me jittery and anxious. Probably it was the longest 20 minutes of my life. Finally, the interminable wait was over. There was a sudden mood of frenzy and magic all around the room as I opened the oven door. The billowing smell of crystallised sugar and flour still lingered in the air like jet trails. And then there was the smell; the smell of hope and fulfillment, the kind of smell that brought people home, the smell that had the imminent strength of swiping people off their feet.
As I sliced the cake, the hedonistic pleasure that I was deriving with each slice, was inundating me from within. I was so swamped up in the feeling of accomplishment and gratification, that I was carried away into a state of oblivion. As I took the first bite, time stopped. I simply closed my eyes and let the cake melt in my mouth. And as it did, realisation of the extent of indulgence that baking brought in my mom, suddenly seemed meaningful.
Image of a sponge cake via Shutterstock