What Makes Baking So Scary?

There are two common responses I get from career cooks when I start talking about baking. It’s either “Bakers are fucking useless and can’t do shit without a recipe book in front of them” or “Bakers are mad scientists and just the idea of baking terrifies me. It’s so precise that anything could fuck anything up.”

They are both right and both wrong because cooking and baking require different mindsets. Being able to do both is not just a matter of skill, it’s a matter of being able to switch between two different sets of priorities and relationships with time. As for “always needing a recipe book…” I humbly suggest that baking recipes can be done on the fly if you know which rules to follow and which to break. Once you know the right ratios, you can whip up a dough, bread, or filling from memory, but I’ll thank you not to disrespect our sacred grimoires, thank you.

Talk of wizardry and alchemy aside, though, what makes baking so scary?

Actual footage of a baker attempting to multitask.
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A Story About A Cake

Last week I brought up the ins and outs of “secret” recipes- why we have them, why we might not, and how to keep recipes safe behind the law.

In writing it, I said that I am generally happy to share my recipes for a number of reasons- but that I won’t share some recipes for sentimental reasons. When I said that, I was thinking of one of my recipes in particular.

It’s a recipe that very few people outside my family know, one that I have been tweaking and trying to perfect for several years, and this is the story of why I decided I was gonna hold it close to my chest from now on.

A cake is worth a thousand words
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Not-So-Secret: Why I (Mostly) Don’t Mind Sharing Recipes

When it comes to our favorite recipes- whether it’s the dishes we make for family or the ones we sell at our businesses- whether or not to share recipes can cause a lot of emotion either way you lean. The same people that have no problem sharing the recipes they created might be a little twitchy about sharing their family’s “secret” meatloaf. That goes double if you are in the business of cooking for others. Why would you want to give away your perfect fried chicken recipe where a competitor could get it? Can we protect our recipes? Should we protect our recipes and keep them secret?

The short answers are “Sorta?” and “Only if you really want to.”

Four people stand in a line. 2 are in military uniforms, two in tuxedos. Focus is on one mans hands holding a small black box with "top secret" written in white capital letters.
Photo by Caleb Oquendo on Pexels.com
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The Difficulty of Doing Nothing

When faced with the struggle of others, doing nothing can be the best- and hardest- thing to do.

The willingness and desire to help others is one of the most beautiful things I see in people. It doesn’t get a lot of (the right kind of) press, but our capacity for empathy truly is one of our strengths as a species. When it comes to helping others though, it’s hard to keep your desire to help from overriding whether or not you are helping.

I got a very object lesson in that in the last few weeks, and a dear friend of mine has reinforced it.

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The Craft of Living As a Baker

The other day, one of my bakers and I were chatting while putting together some savory pies. I’d been filling and crimping Spinach Feta Pasties, and she was filling up crusts with Lemon Chicken. In short, it was the exact type of repetitive work that lets your mind wander while your hands move. It can be dull, but also meditative.

My baker had graduated from culinary school two years before. She’d worked at a couple places, but the environments and cultures there had left a bad taste in her mouth. She loved baking though and was dedicated to figuring out a way forward in her career. We discussed why we loved this field, and- most importantly- our attitudes toward working in general.

I go to pieces if I don’t have work or something to do. Not that I’ll ever be able to retire, but I have a feeling that even if I was I’d wind up only being semi-retired and working until the day I died. I just need to work.”

People need passion in order to work in fields like this.” my baker continued. “If you don’t have passion for the work, you won’t be able to get out of bed to do it.”

“Yep- and what’s more, you need to have the right attitude toward that passion as well,” I said, crimping away at my pasties. “I don’t think of myself as an artist doing this, you know. I’m a craftsman, and this is my craft. There’s a craft of baking, and the craft of living as a baker.” She froze and looked at me a moment then said, “Wait, go back… what do you mean the craft of living?”

The author is wearing an apron over a black suit vest and white button-front shirt with the collar open and sleeve rolled up. He's smiling at the camera and leaning against white cabinets.
Following your calling isn’t always easy or profitable, but it’s always worth it.
Looking stylish while you do so is just a plus.
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