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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The Role of the Bagel

There are precious few Jewish delis in Portland. That’s not surprising, as we only make up about .7% of the population. There ARE, however, at least five or six bagel makers in the city.

Everyone has an opinion about whose bagels are the best- the best price, the best flavor, the best texture, the closest to the “New York City” ideal.

They are all right, they are also all wrong, they are going to argue about it, and that is possibly the most Jewish thing I’ve seen in this city outside of actually going to a synagogue.

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A Flour By Any Other Name- Why Not Just Any Flour Will Do (all the time)

Good morning, friends and neighbors!

So in addition to being an amazing piano teacher and partner, my wife Emily also tends to act as my editor. She doesn’t just proofread my work, but tests it for readability. IS what I’m writing actually coming across? IS the blog post actually meeting it’s purpose?

Sometimes this comes out by her asking follow-up questions. While she was reading through last week’s post on yeast and fermentation, she got to the part about the different sugars and starches present in wheat.

“Why does the yeast have trouble with starches?
“Why isn’t there enough alpha amylase in the wheat, and why does malted grain provide it?
“Is this why there are different kinds of flour? What’s the difference between bleached/unbleached/enriched/bread flour/pastry/cake/all purpose? Hey, you should write a blog about that!”

“Yes, dear.”

So this week, let’s do a deep dive on the science of flour!

… Ok guys, but I ain’t sweeping it up.
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Yeast and Fermentation: A Story of Fungus and Farts

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

It’s been a while since I’ve touched on baking science, and I promised a while back that I’d discuss the fermentation stage of baking in greater detail.

I’m a man of my word, so here’s a crash course on yeasty beasties and how to make them work for you!

Once again, like the Ten Steps of Baking, I’m taking “Advanced Bread and Pastry” by Michel Suas as my text for today. I strongly recommend it for a more detailed look at all this business.

Credit given where it’s due, let’s explore these freaky little fungi, their delicious excreta, and why mass extinction is the tastiest thing in the bakery.

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