Age is a relative term. I know that I am not old, but the mirror tells me that I am definitely past my bloom (what a lovely Edwardian way to say it). It’s a hard adjustment, really. It’s no wonder that people fight it so. I always wanted to age gracefully but I’m not really sure what that means. I think that you just have to accept it, like everything else, not let it rule you and move on.
It factors into my baking. I have had to remake cakes because I couldn’t remember if I had put a certain ingredient in or not. I know. Sounds silly. But when you are making a cake for someone who is not a family member, you really don’t want them eating a cake that has, maybe half the sugar that it’s supposed to, or possibly no baking powder. Yeah, pretty sure that wouldn’t exactly leave quite the impression that I was shooting for. I once made a batch of brownies that had no baking powder. That was when we were first married and I quickly learned what role baking powder is supposed to fill. Let’s just say that the brownies bore an uncanny resemblance to those pieces of rubber that you see along the road that have broken off of tires. Come to think of it, you could lift the whole batch out of the pan in one piece.
So I’ve learned to be a lot more methodical in my baking. I’ve started using prep bowls a lot more. I pre-measure all of my ingredients and I do it in order as they’re listed in the recipe. If I’m like the last person in the baking world to do it that way, then forgive me. I’ve always been a little bit of a rebel and in my pre-fondant days I would just throw everything in together. Believe me, those ingredients are listed that way for a reason.
I love Alton Brown. No, it’s okay, not love, love him. I mean, I just wish that he’d been around when I started cooking and baking 35 years ago. Anyway, I love Alton because he explains the chemistry of cooking and baking. When you’ve been in the kitchen long enough there are things that you figure out on your own about cooking just through trial and error, but when I hear Alton explain things, it all makes sense. I love that Alton explains how you always add the flour last because of the way it bonds to the other ingredients. And once you add the flour, you turn the mixer down and beat it slowly. Because of the chemistry of cakes, you’ll end up with a dry cake if you over-beat the flour.
Back to my aging brain….here’s another example of my methodical baking processes (my Continuous Improvement husband would be proud of me for using that phrase). When I am measuring out my flour, I make separate piles in the bowl so that I can count the piles, unless of course you’re sifting and then the piles get a little mixed up. I still make piles of flour, I just do it before I put it through the sifter.
My house is usually pretty crazy busy with people coming and going like it’s a train station. I’ve only ever been in one train station and that was Grand Central Station and it was pretty busy. It reminded me of home. So when I am in the middle of methodical baking processes and there are people flying around me, it gets a little difficult to concentrate. I’ve learned, again, the hard way, that I can’t talk while I’m baking. Everytime I try, I mess things up. So, if you’re in my house while I’m baking, do me a favor and don’t talk to me. You can do handstands, backflips, or juggle poodles and I’m fine. Just don’t talk to me. I’m used to the activity but my poor aging brain can’t chain words together in a sentence and turn out a cake at the same time.
I also can’t talk when I am rolling out fondant for a half sheet cake. Fondant is fickle. Sometimes it likes you and sometimes it doesn’t. I can have fondant go on a cake perfectly fine, draping over a cake like a hand in a glove. Other times, it’s temperamental and the corners crack and air bubbles start popping up all over the place. My record for re-fondanting the same cake is three times. Don’t laugh. It actually peels off pretty easily….most of the time. But seriously, it can be really difficult to try to put temperamental fondant on a sheet cake, and if the fondant is temperamental then I get temperamental. My sweet cake partner/daughter, Megan, has learned to run interference for me with other family members. The other night my husband was a shout away in the family room and he was working on the taxes. He asked me a question and before I could answer, “Don’t talk to me right now,” Megan called out in a much sweeter tone than I would have at the time, “Don’t talk to Mama, she’s putting fondant on a sheet cake.” Whew…..thanks, Megan.
Just in case you think I’m the only one, here’s a warning….don’t talk to Megan when she’s piping…….or for that matter, when she’s painting pin stripes on baseball players.
Well, just to finish up the age and caking discussion…..I really do think that, as much as I hate having to be so much more careful these days because of my antiquated brain cells, I really couldn’t have done this whole fondant thing 20 years ago. I didn’t have the patience then. I was raising children and it took raising children for me to learn to be patient…..patient with them and patient with myself.
Come to think of it, this may be a bit of a stretch but learning to be patient with fondant, reminds me a little of learning to be patient with children. You work fondant, gently but with a firm hand, adding ingredients slowly as you go, adding only what the fondant can handle at the time. If you’re too rough with it, you’ll damage it. You mold it and shape it and take your time with it. You gently guide it into place, helping it into all the places it needs to go. You stretch it and shape it until it takes on a life of its own. When it’s finally in place, you stand back and look at it, a little sad because it’s finished, but happy that you were patient enough to see it through to the end.