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Question: To Bake or Not to Bake?

November 15, 2010 by Joan Nova in Desserts | 23 Comments

My house is strangely devoid of baked goods and sweet treats. A pound of sugar lasts forever around here (maybe longer than its shelf life). I probably use a half-pound of butter or less per year and I rarely use cream, or even milk. I know this must be absolutely FREAKISH to many readers. At one time, I drank milk, ate cookies, buttered my toast, put sugar and milk in my coffee, and ate all kinds of cakes, pies and puddings. But, it’s been years.

Since I seem to have spent the better part of my life moderating my food choices, somewhere along the line I stopped with the baked goods, and the butter, and the cream. Ultimately, I pretty much lost my taste for desserts…that is to say, I don’t crave them or keep them at home. Sure, I indulge occasionally in restaurants or other people’s homes, but it has to be non-gooey, preferably with some chew and of really good quality to entice me. Store-bought layer cakes don’t do it. Neither do overly sweet and gooey ones. Home-made biscotti does.

There are other things I don’t like about baking:

  • First, there’s the mess…flour all over the place, large mixing machines with attachments, bowls, pans, measuring spoons and rolling pins.
  • Equally, I hate precision and following directions – apparent ‘musts’ when baking. I just really don’t like someone telling me what to do in my kitchen. My joy of cooking comes from doing it myself.

So, to sum up my thoughts and my dilemma…baking is fattening, not necessarily good for you, messy, and tedious. And, yet, I find myself thinking about starting to bake. The other part is if I’m going to continue FOODalogue, perhaps I should take a leap and expand the horizon. Also, I’d love to challenge myself to come up with some baked goods that mix a little savory with the sweet and are not so fattening.

Questions: (1) Is there a source for ‘basic’ formula/technique to make pie crust, pizza shell, bread etc. which I could use as a springboard from which I can ‘do it my way’? [For example, what’s the ratio of eggs to flour? Do you always need baking powder? You get the idea…really basic stuff.] (2) Any tips for keeping a neat/clean kitchen while baking? (3) Alternatively, do you have any recipes or links for a virgin baker? You can plug something on your blog in the comments section if you think it fits the criteria I sent forth.

Or should I just fuhgeddaboudit?

NOTE: Some recipes found on FOODalogue are offered without ingredient quantities. They're meant as a guide to food pairings and techniques to be experimented with … in your own kitchen … to your own spice and taste levels … to your preferred portion sizes … and to however many people you’re cooking for. A perfect meal has multiple levels of flavor and textures, bright colors and tastes, and healthy(ish) choices. It's all about enjoyment. Enjoy the process, the presentation and the just rewards...eating!


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  1. That’s a great photo. I wish I baked more…Zomppa Patty and Zomppa Lys are the real bakers…I’m not disciplined enough!

  2. I love to bake and so all the baking I do is taking my favorite decadent recipes and making them skinny. I just posted today 6 amazing desserts for Thanksgiving! You might want to check them out…

  3. elly says:

    You should check out Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio. I’m with you on the baking for the most part. I don’t do it often because it’s SO messy (at least for me, which is why I do not have a solution for question #2) and I feel so confined to recipes, whereas with cooking I can throw in whatever I want, even as it’s cooking. I will say that your cravings make sense, though. Now that I eat more baked goods (a bad habit I’ve recently re-acquired), I definitely find myself craving them more than before.

  4. redkathy says:

    Would love to see some baked goods here Joan. Bake, bake, bake… I can just imagine the finishing touches!

  5. Jennie says:

    Joan, I’m so glad my recent baking basics added to the “pro” list for you, and thanks for stopping by to visit!

  6. bellini says:

    I am glad to have friends with whom to share any baking. Like you I bake rarely but you know how much I love my olive oil cakes Joan. Didn’t Norma do an excellent job with her POM dinner:D

  7. Ivy says:

    I try to eat and bake as healthy as possible but I do indulge into using butter but not so often. I have a sweet tooth and love baking. Eating sugar increases the insulin in the blood, that’s why we crave for more. I hate following rules as well but isn’t it a challenge by itself taking a recipe and making it most of my recipes, including cakes.

  8. recently I tried a crust that was made from almonds, coconut butter, and dates. I loved it. You should try it if you want to move away from butter and flour.

    I know this doesn’t answer your questions. Sorry.

  9. norma says:

    I am keeping a close eye on this post and checking the comments. I am so afraid of baking. I think I have the Cuban bread and a Pizza on my blog. I would also like to start baking, but the mess…I always seem to leave one. baby steps Joan…I cannot wait to see a baked good on your blog and I wish to be there when you do so I can photograph every step…maybe catch you with flour on your face…smile!

  10. Dorothy says:

    Don’t fuhgeddaboudit. If your baking is as good as your cooking, and I’m sure it will be, that can only be a good thing

  11. I can’t wait for you to bake…going by a hunch and by your great creations here Joan, I think you’d be a natural. I’m waiting for an untraditional biscotti recipe from you!

  12. Robin Sue says:

    I bet you can come up with some great things to bake. You will find that some things flop while others do not. I clean as I go to keep it all neat. If not, by the end the BRK is a huge mess. America’s Test Kitchen may be a great place to start. Or your friend’s and family’s recipe boxes, that’s where I started.

  13. Joan I adore that photo. I love the color, texture, composition, facial expression, camera angle. Love!

    Just a quick question, it was you who had Delores Custer’s contact info in Portland? If you do will you email it to me please? laurajeanne25 at yahoo dot com. Thank-you!


  14. Katie says:

    I absolutely love baking (and enjoying the fruits of my labor), but I agree that it is more precise than the usual Foodalogue approach. But please don’t let that stop you! I’d love to see the recipes you come up with.

    My advice is to save yeast-based doughs for later (I think they’re much trickier to work with). There are so many good baking websites out there, but one I really like is

    Good luck!

  15. Rich says:

    I am in the same boat, though have recently dipped my toes in the water of baking – to answer the question: Bake!

  16. Anamaris says:

    I share some of your irks here, but I do, overall, enjoy baking. The mess… my mom was a baker and the mess is the main reason I didn’t closely follow in her footsteps. When I bake now I do the same I do when I cook. Clean as I go. Never add flour to a stopped or fast moving mixer. Use a mixer bib thingy.

    As for following recipes. I suck at this too. I have a knack for reading over a recipe like it were a novel, getting the gist, and then playing with the food. That works in cooking, quite beautifully as you well know.

    I do think you have to try a few recipes in their original format and then tweak to your taste on the 2nd or 3rd go.

    Just some thoughts.

  17. sippitysup says:

    I don’t like baking either but butter goes out of my fridge and into my cooking at about a pound a week. I am thin and healthy so I always wonder what all the fuss is about. I wonder if it’s a mind set. It doesn’t seem likely but I wonder… GREG

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