Saturday, May 1, 2010

Baking Blogfest

I'm taking part in Charity Bradford's Baking Blogfest. Since my MC in THE SHADOW SCRIBE is a recipe developer (and so am I - see this post on how recipe development works), this is right up my alley. Here's a scene where Lara is working on a project, preparing recipes and photographs to appear on the back of a cake mix package.
     Once again talking to myself, I brainstormed a few quick ideas. “One stir-in recipe…maybe almonds and coconut. Bar cookies…a variation on millionaire’s shortbread? Something healthy, maybe with fruit?”
     After translating the ideas into rough recipes, I gathered the ingredients for the first recipe and turned on the voice recognition software, setting the laptop off to the side of the work area where it wouldn’t be splashed by anything.
     “One box cake mix, a half-cup chopped toasted almonds, a half-cup shredded coconut, two tablespoons vegetable oil, a quarter-cup water...”
     “You say something, love?”
     “Oh!” I jumped a foot and splashed water down my front. My lack of sleep made me very twitchy. The plumber stood in the doorway.
     “No, sorry, I was working,” I explained, gesturing at the laptop.
     “Right, sorry about that,” he said and walked off toward the front door, avoiding Mike coming in with the wheelbarrow. I closed the door and then went over to the laptop to delete the last exchange from the screen.
     Four hours later, the smell of chocolate filled the kitchen and dirty bowls and desserts of varying degrees of edibility covered the counters. The coconut almond cake was delicious, the bar cookies tasty but too sticky, and the so-called healthy recipe with raisins and bran cereal was disgusting. Recipe development was not a job with immediate gratification. Some projects – like this one – took me five, ten, even twenty tries to get the recipe perfect. The bedroom, my makeshift studio for the day, was in an even worse state. Plates of mauled and mangled food were everywhere, the victims of my attempts for visual culinary perfection. My hero – the food actually photographed – still sat beneath the lights getting dry and stale, looking less than appetizing.
I've done recipe development for baking and for culinary applications, but my true love is baking. When I was in culinary school, our instructor said to the class on the first day, "Some of you are chefs and some of you are bakers. Here, you will do both, but you will find you are drawn to one side or another." And I found that to be true, both for myself and the other students in my class. Why the difference, you might ask?

Cooking is on the fly, meaning that for the most part, you can change and adapt as you go on. You taste, you adjust, you immediately taste again. Many chefs don't use recipes, but go by instinct and feel. Or they start with a recipe and immediately change course to make it even better.

Baking is precision. Consider this: cookies, cakes, and pastries are all made from the same basic ingredients. Flour, sugar, butter, eggs, raising agents. But you change the proportions and you get a totally different result. If you don't balance your recipe perfectly, you do not get the results you expect. And you usually have to wait for some time to find that out (an hour or so for it to bake).

UH-OH! Analogy alert! You could compare this to the difference between pantsers and plotters, right?

Which are you -- a baker or a chef?


  1. Great entry. It made me hungry, well, expcept for the disgusting healthy recipe. :) And currently I'm transitioning between the two, trying to see if the other side is more tailored to me abilities. :)

  2. I loved this behind-the-scenes look at an odd occupation most of us never have contact with. I could definitely feel my clean-freak side twitching to tidy that mess, you described it so vividly.

    I enjoy baking more than cooking. I think it's the safety factor--the results are repeatable. If you can follow directions at all, you succeed. Cooking takes a lot more skill to master, I think.

  3. Ooo, great job! And I now know that I'm a chef at heart although I'm known for my baking. Funny huh?

    I think the idea of creating recipes is fascinating and your writing confirmed that.

    Thanks for playing.

  4. If it meant I didn't have to cook, I would have eaten the healthy recipe. I loved that she had to erase the interuption from the computer. This was fun to read.

    I invite you to read my entry. :)

  5. Sarahjayne, let me know which side you end up on!

    Laurel, thanks for the link to the blogfest. I had a great time with this one.

    Thanks for running this, Charity -- it was great fun.

    Melanie, thanks for coming by and I'm off to read yours now!

  6. Ugh now I'm hungry!!! I'm glad you did this blogfest, what fun!

  7. I loved your baking/chef plotter/pantser analogy :) You can definitely see in the writing that this is territory you know well as far as content goes. Your baking chops are showing :)