Every week I learn a couple of new french words, c/o the website "French Word-A-Day"; the writer shares new words in the context of her life as well as what's happening with her family. For today's post, the word of the day was "chandelle" or candle, as she talked about the Day of the Crepe, a festival that marks the removal of the christmas nativity scenes ("santons"). The writer's husband set up a crepe party/buffet, pre-cooking crepes while she prepared the fillings like nutella, cinnamon, butter and sugar, and savouries like ham and cheese. What caught my attention the most of that article was the term "au pif" in reference to how her husband works the recipe for the crepes, through guesswork or "by the nose". That's how I cook and bake. I know my sister and other baking friends would disagree that baking should be done by the nose, and I have had past disasters from winging a recipe.
One memorable mess was a batch of lemon cupcakes that I made from scratch. My sister and I had made several batches, and I knew the measurements pretty well. So I had no qualms about doing the recipe solo, and the first batch came out just fine. The second batch, however, was a different case altogether. They came out flat and hard! How? Why? I was flummoxed (and tired from the heat of a hot stove/oven). When my sister came home I blubbered "there's something wrong with the cupcakes!" She broke it down into each part, much like a CSI agent would, tracking back the cause of the crime through the recipe and what I had done. We soon realized that I had used melted butter, not softened butter, plus I had overbeaten the batter. Bummer. It was sometime before I got back on the baking track again!
These days, I try to follow the recipes as laid out in the books or however they are shared. And I'm aware that some recipes are easier to tweak than others. For example, I was encouraged by the simple banana bread recipe on Gypsysoul's site last December to try a few loaves (it got out of hand over the holidays and I made enough to feed a barrio). Seeing that it used margarine, I decided to try using butter instead, and after a couple of tests, I have felt comfortable about reducing the sugar content, or not sticking to exact measurements when it comes to the nuts, flour. I'm also aware that the eggs may be US sized grade AA, so adjust accordingly.
Cooking seems less stressful in that sense. More au pif for sure. I always feel like taking out a witch's hat when I brew something new. I'll toss in a broth, some meat, vegetables, try out a new seasoning, or see how two leftovers would taste if cooked together. Very food science lab, minus Alton Brown and his quirky side kicks.
As a few other friends also know, I don't have a working kitchen; no oven, not a lot of pans, pots, a few knives, and some bare essentials. So a lot of what I tinker with has to work within the restrictions of my paraphernelia. And whether I want to try it at all, ultimately. Because the biggest excuse I have to overcome is "who is going to clean it all up afterwards?"