I’m a horrible cook. I don’t enjoy it, and I frequently put stuff on the stove and then wander away, get distracted and come back just in time (if I’m lucky) to whisk the pan off the heat before it burns. I’m not a creative cook, I can do a couple of things well, I’m a functional cook, enough so my children won’t starve. It’s definitely not a strong point of mine. But baking – baking I’m really good at.
I didn’t bake much with my oldest. I was thinking about this the other day, and the first kid I really baked with was my son Sammy. I started to feel guilty, because what was I doing that I managed to miss out on baking with my girl child? Then I remembered that Jessica Mary was my first, and for three and a half years, she was my only. I did EVERYTHING with her, and it hadn’t occurred to me that I should try to bake cookies that don’t come in a handy roll from from the grocery store.
By the time my son was born, I was really starting to think about converting to Judaism. The first thing I loved about Judaism was the weekly Friday night Shabbat dinner. A long, relaxed family oriented meal, where we sat and talked, blessed the candles and the kids, drank wine (or grape juice) and were grateful for all that we had. An important element of that is the challah. I decided that I’d master challah. So I googled (I love google) and printed up several recipes and went to work. We were living in a tiny apartment then, and the kitchen was minuscule. Sam and I would carry the ingredients out to the dining room, and he’d get so excited about carrying the vanilla and the cinnamon and the flour (vanilla and cinnamon aren’t really traditional ingredients, but the recipe I have is really good). We’d bake every Friday, and I still make some of the best challah I’ve ever had.
After the success of the bread, I moved on to cookies. Cakes. This year, I mastered hamentashen (the triangle shaped cookies that get baked at Purim – I have the BEST recipe, seriously. These are good enough to make all year long). Sam’s at school now during the day, and my helper is now my younger daughter. Julie is an exceptionally enthusiastic baker, and gets visibly upset when I refuse to make another batch of cookies. Or bread. Or cake. Not that we eat all that much of this stuff – most of it, I end up giving away. But there’s almost always fresh chocolate chip cookies, or homemade bread sitting on my counter.
I like to bake. I’ll never be a cook, and my repertoire may never get any bigger than the rotating cycle of five or six meals that I can reliably produce. But baking is such an easy and fun thing to do, especially with kids. And for what it’s worth, after trying a zillion different versions of the chocolate chip cookie, for my money, the best recipe is the Nestle Tollhouse one on the back of the bag of chocolate chips – cook until vaguely light brown and then get them on a cooling rack immediately or they’ll continue to cook on the pan. And the very best recipe for homemade bread is a cup of warm water, a teaspoon and a half of dry active yeast. Let it bloom, then add a tsp of salt, a tsp of sugar and a tsp of softened butter/margarine. Mix in enough flour to make a soft, sticky dough, and knead for about five minutes. Let it rise in oiled bowl until doubled. Dump it out, pat it down. Form it into a loaf shape, and plop into a bread pan. Brush with melted butter. Let it rise again and then bake until light brown. It’s awesome, a really good, crusty white bread that’s absolutely yummy. And a perfect companion to the ragu sauce I dump on a box of pasta 🙂