When I say I’m terrible at baking, I’m not being cute or coy. The recent cookie experience (see below) had me in raptures of triumph and joy because – trust me – it’s the first time I baked something that didn’t induce nausea and / or depression in those who tasted it.
Take cakes. I’ve friends who bake marvelous, light, dreamy cakes – and have done so since we were all 15. I’d smile indulgently at them and think, secretly, that some day, when I really set my mind to it, of course I’d bake just as well. I’m 36 now and dead sure I can’t. My cousins who were in their cretinous teens when I was a kid, used – I’m not kidding – an ‘oven’ constructed out of charcoal, sand, a griddle or a tava and a ‘Hindalium’ vessel to bake wonderfully soft, yummy cakes. So why can’t I – armed with an electric oven and an adult brain – get it right?
The answer lies, I think, in my inability follow the rules and to focus properly; and of course in my laziness. I look at a recipe, and I’m thinking, ok, what can I avoid doing here? Must I do everything by the book? Is there no freedom left? Being creative is one thing. Not following the dictates of commonsense is another altogether. In life and in baking, I think, I tend to throw simple, sensible ideas to the winds. (I can talk about my baking blunders; the goof-ups with life are too many and too mortifying to go into here!)
Recently, I thought I’d finally met the cake recipe of my dreams. It was pre-mixed; it came in a box; it was developed by the Betty Crocker company, which made up a whole fake woman, for god's sake. Above all, it from
, land of the lazy. How could I go wrong? So, grinning in an oddly frozen way at Amit’s deadpan witticisms, I surged forward. Everything went in (yes, even pre-mixes need some outside help apparently). I stirred and stirred till I could stir no more. To add to the pressure, n was ‘helping,’ so really, there was no room for blunders. Bunged it into the oven – for 25 minutes the box said – and lay back dreaming of n and Amit fighting over my delectable pre-mixed cake. America
When the ding! sounded I rushed to the oven eagerly. I opened it and my heart welled up. Perfect! I smiled in gentle triumph. Finally I would be the baker of my dreams. I would become Betty. I turned the mould over and tapped the cake out. And died.
While the outside was beautiful, inside, in the middle, was a weird, uncooked mess.Bravely gathering together the shattered pieces of my earth-motherliness, I shoved the cake back into the mould and gave it five more minutes in the oven. And five more. And five more. And five more.
Fifty minutes in the oven and the damned centre cooked. It looked like a vital organ – a thick, lumpy mass – stuck inside a cake, but by god, it had cooked. I shook my head in exasperation and then looked at the box again. What had I done wrong? That’s when I saw it.
Betty Crocker’s Moist Centre Cake Mix. The uncooked middle was the frickin’ Moist Centre.
GARRRH! I'm not a bad baker; I am a space cadet. Talk about life-defining moments, I tell you!