Baking breakdown

December 11, 2015

I love cooking, and I love baking, and I love experimenting – on my own time. I don’t mind changing up recipes or trying things from scratch when I’ve just had a grumpy day and want to throw together dessert. Because then it’s just me, my husband, and Little Miss and if it’s not perfect, no one really cares. But when I have an audience and a deadline, I get nervous.

I volunteered to make dessert for an event tomorrow. Just simple Christmas cookies, but still, several batches of cookies and limited time. Limited time and a toddler wandering around. Limited time and a toddler wandering around and a bunch of other things to distract me.

“No big deal” I thought, as I printed recipes for shortbread and gingerbread, I can handle this. I’ll just bust these out, everything will go according to plan, and I’ll be fine. Mhmm.

I decided to take advantage of my daughter’s good mood and start the first batch yesterday afternoon. Except my butter had to be room temperature and it was still in the fridge. I placed the butter next to the stove and angrily stirred up some biscotti dough instead, because that calls for olive oil instead of butter and it doesn’t matter what temperature the oil is.

Even though I’ve made biscotti a number of times, it’s not usually for a crowd. The fear began to creep in…are the two logs the same size? Will they bake evenly? Are the cookies drying out enough? Okay, breathe, breathe, it’ll be fine.

By the evening, my butter was nicely room temperature and I could move on. Next up was the gingerbread dough, which I luckily started first because it had to chill in the fridge for a while. Now I’ve never made gingerbread before. I was a little surprised at how little sugar the recipe called for, and I re-read it three times to make sure I was right. I was. Gingerbread, apparently, doesn’t have much sugar, but it does have a whole mess of ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Oh, and molasses. I’ve only used molasses once before, back in college when I decided that if Harry Potter was eating treacle tart, I wanted to try to make it. It was a weird, dark, gooey pie-like creation, and I’ve steered clear of molasses since.

Now you have to understand, it’s hard for my to keep a straight face when talking about molasses. As a child, my mother told me the following (extremely paraphrased) hilariously inappropriate joke, because she’s spectacular like that. And I mean that as a good thing.

A mole family is down in it’s mole hole, when mommy mole sticks her nose out and sniffs, calling “daddy mole, come quickly, there is the most delicious smell in the air.” Daddy mole comes over and sticks his nose out, sniffing appreciatively and calling “baby mole, come smell this, it smells absolutely delightful out here.” Baby mole is trying in vain to wriggle his way far enough up to catch a whiff but can’t quite reach with his parents in the way. As mommy and daddy mole are enthusiastically exclaiming over this delicious smell, baby mole shouts “what does it smell like out there? All I can smell is molasses!”

Yes, I just laughed. Molasses.

Anyway, I followed the instructions and put everything in my Kitchenaid. And I watched, muttering “please please please please” until finally, a nice brown dough formed out of the dark sludge that had previously filled the bowl. I wrapped the dough in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. Onto the shortbread.

When last I made shortbread, it came way too dense. A sweet shortbread vendor at a craft fair once told me the secret is to not overmix, so I took that advice seriously and stopped the mixer the moment everything was combined. I pressed it into the pan, placed it in the oven and immediately started second guessing myself. Was it too thick? Should I have spread it out more? What if I can’t cut it properly? There is is again, baking performance anxiety.


Okay, relax, just let it bake. Onto almond cookies, gluten free little goodies for a few people at the event who this is an issue for. The recipe is easy as anything, just mix the almond paste, sugar and an egg white. Is the almond paste and sugar mixing, GOOD GOD IS IT MIXING? It was just flattening out; the bowl looked like it was filled with slices of crystallized ginger as the sugar stuck to little paddle shaped bits of almond paste. They flapped around and around as I slid further and further into madness.

Okay, breathe, breathe, add the egg and mix it. Okay, we’re okay, now put it in the piping bag with the star tip and get it onto the parchment paper. Perfect, perfect, WAIT A SECOND WHAT IS HAPPENING? The dough is too thick, it’s pushing the star tip out of the bag, noooooooo! Okay, roll them into balls, it’s okay, breathe, breathe.


Old Fashioned Modern LivingIn the end, I got it all done. The gingerbread chilled well and cut out into pretty stars and stylized crosses, the shortbread is yummy as anything and the chocolate topping only slightly messy, and the almond cookies are actually pretty nice despite being little puffy balls instead of fluffy stars. And the biscotti, though angrily mixed, are just fine.

I’m normally fairly zen in the kitchen. I’m not a fussy cook, I just roll with it and make things work. I guess I also know my audience, the preferences of my family and friends. When I’m baking for a crowd though, I need to get that ringing “what if everyone thinks this tastes like butt?” out of my head. I think the combination of a looming deadline and the fear that everything will be gross is what gets to me.

It all worked out. They’re not perfect, but they’ll do. I’ll plate them up at the event tomorrow and everything will be fine. Plus now I’ve got leftover flour, sugar, spices, and half a bottle of molasses left to do something with.

Heheheh. Molasses.

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