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Have you or any of your characters experienced cooking disasters?
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What a great question for an author who also enjoys cooking/baking! I like to think of it as my untapped talent, which I keep for the benefit of family and friends. Cooking or baking takes a lot of effort, and the payoff is limited. Very little about the culinary arts is permanent.
If you took a photo of your culinary masterpiece, passed on a recipe, or managed to preserve a sample for posterity–it would never be the same again. I guess you could argue the same for the experience of any art. Once experienced it will never be the same experience again. Even if someone made the recipe to exacting specifications, it wouldn’t taste the same. I know this because I make Toll House Chocolate Chip cookies using the recipe on the morsels packet the same way as everyone else with the same ingredients. However, mine come out (pardon my ego) amazing. I even beat out my mother who I thought made the best chocolate chip cookies in my life.
So what happens in the process of making a recipe that the result is changed? You’d need to analyze every piece of the process from one cook/baker to the next. Even a brand change in ingredients (such as flour) can alter taste. Did you know that a sack of flour by the same producer can be different depending on harvest time and the details of the process it underwent (such as weather, moisture, etc)? It’s true. Butter from one cow will taste different from the next cow’s butter.
That said, how do you account for consistently different results using the same ingredients at the same period? For instance, I used to make those chocolate chip cookies at the same time of year as my mother (the holidays). They’d still differ. We lived in the same town, shopped the same grocer, and bought the same products to make our cookies. Still different. It is so wild!
One thing that I do know I do differently is melt my butter not just soften it. The microwave process may affect the molecules of the butter, but there is documented proof that the state of the butter alters the taste of the resultant food. I will never go back to simply softened butter. The mostly melted version creates such a great tasting cookie with amazing consistency.
How did I discover this? It wasn’t through research per se but through experience. I forgot to thaw the butter to make the cookies. Disaster loomed! When you don’t have time to mess around, you can’t just buy another pound because that would be too cold as well. Hence, microwaving the butter to soften it. Well, the uneven heating causes melting, not just softening. Butter melts super quickly in the microwave and there is no way to do this to simply soften it–especially with a frozen stick of butter. Additionally, in a rush to have the cookies done for the next day, I just melted the butter to get it done. What’s the big deal? The butter is going to melt once you bake them, right?
That was the best thing that could have happened. It taught me a different way to create the same recipe with even better results. The cookies were a major hit.
What you put into your recipe and how you put it in affects the results you get. If you make cookies with margarine instead, They will be different. If your measuring cups are off, they will change the outcome, too. Brands affect taste, consistency, and even appearance. If you skimp to save money, it will show in the results.
Exploring changes in a recipe is a great way to find something that works better. You can always improve a recipe, regardless of feeling it’s good enough as is or that you’re comfortable with what has always been. I loved my mom’s chocolate chip cookies and wouldn’t have changed a thing about them. They were a comfort. Yet, when I found myself pressed for time but was willing to explore that opportunity with a risky solution, the result was the best cookie yet! Don’t let yourself get stagnated. Explore.
Exploring changes in recipes could result in absolute disaster, but if you’re familiar with cooking and baking then you shouldn’t be afraid of that. You’ll rely on your experience and knowledge to make those choices. The truth is, anyone can cook/bake. If you follow the recipe and pay attention to the task at hand (that attention thing being the hardest part), then you are going to do great. Time and experience will build the rest.
None of my books carry any of these cooking experiences. Sure, there’s food and cooking going on in them because that is a shared human experience, but I don’t get too much into it. Emily does focus on the heavy details because of her depression, which makes her hyper-focused on the mundane stagnating her life. When things change for her, you see a lot less hyper-focus from her. You won’t be seeing the detail of her breakfast any longer. That’s because her focus has changed. Claire focuses on food like an anchor to keep her anxiety from spinning out of control.
Click on the links below to find out what culinary exploits the other authors have had or what their characters have gone through in the ways of food.
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P.J. MacLayne says
I can do basic stuff. bit I don’t care enough about food to experiment.
Samantha J Bryant says
I guess that’s why they call it “culinary arts.” There’s science to baking, but there’s also creativity.
Richard Dee says
I do love tweaking recipes and adding my own touches. When I was baking commercially, getting consistent results was always a challenge. In the end, I weighed everything, even the water and ‘pinch of salt,’ just to make sure it was the same every time.