Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I've got a problem

If you have ever known me at all, you know that I love food. Ask my friends, my roommate, my family: I am obsessed with food and baking, in particular, is my bane. Allow me to elucidate.

Tell me you need a birthday cake, and I'll whip up an easy chocolate cake that is fluffy and moist and sweet. Tell me you need something dark and seductive and I'll manage to pull out a dark chocolate Sachertorte with pomegranate curd instead of apricot preserves. Say you need something for an anniversary and I have the perfect recipe for a white chocolate cake with a Swiss buttercream that will make your mouth cry and your arteries explode. I've researched and successfully created several gluten free baked goods, egg less items and completely vegan options with garbanzo beans. I don't necessarily like life challenges, but if you say "cake" then I will overcome it.
In my most frustrating moment, this past spring I made Chinese New Year pineapple tarts (I know, I know, I was a little late making these. But B+ for trying, right?) and I went through four batches of tart dough before I got a successfully buttered crumb for the base. FOUR batches. That's three sticks of butter and 3 eggs per batch. I used up over 2.5 lbs of butter in my pursuit of perfect tart dough-ness. I often do this to myself: I psych myself up for an interesting and delicious treat, lying to myself and saying that sure, I can make pineapple jam and tart dough and roll the dough out and cut it up and pile the jam on and chill the tarts and bake them with a low and slow method in one afternoon. And then the worst part happens.
I didn't plan for failure.
It was too hot for the butter so it kept melting and the key to any kind of tart/pie dough is COLD BUTTER. When cold butter gets folded in with flour and such, it spreads without melting and is folded over on itself to create multiple layers of butter, flour, butter, flour, butter, flour and end up succulent, crisp, flaky and so delicious (croissant, anyone?). But that didn't happen. My butter downright melted. My dough was the equivalent of the sloppy gruel they serve in orphanages. I went through three batches like that, throwing each one out and raving about the kitchen like a Sasquatch with an itch I couldn't reach. Three batches. The kitchen smelled of butter, I had butter on my clothes, on my feet, on the floor, in my hair. I was buttered out. And that's when I think "Maybe baking isn't fun after all".
Don't lie; I know you've been there, too. Maybe not with butter, but that level of frustration and despair is relatable.
Honestly, I'm don't quite remember what made me try to make the tart dough that fourth time. I know I cut up butter and threw it into the freezer and I made the all purpose flour/corn flour combination that the recipe called for and I prepped a bowl of pineapple jam. And... I don't know, I just kept my mouth shut and I blindly went through the steps as calmly as I could.
And it worked.
Seriously, don't ask me to explain. Maybe it was the freezer, which actually made the butter rock hard and almost unworkable. Maybe it was that the sun was setting in a glorious blaze of colors and the temperature dropped. Maybe the Baking God took pity on me and granted me this one favor. I can't tell you what happened, except that I was determined.
It's that determination that has condemned me so many times in the kitchen. I get depressed when I can't nail a recipe. I get upset when the flavors don't live up to my expectation. I mourn when my presentation is lacking. I have, in fact, cried over brownies. I have a standard that I set for myself and anything below that is inexcusable.

I guess that last sentence is the main reason I started writing this today. We have expectations for ourselves. Sometimes we set them too high and when we don't meet that... Well, I know that I turn miserable and mopey when I fail myself. There's that saying that you are your toughest critic. I always thought that was some poetic bullcrap to make people feel better about themselves. But it's true. I can't help but want to live up to a standard that I crave. I want to be accomplished in the art of baking. I want to know everything and be able to do anything and be able to say that "Yes, I did it" with a smug smile on my face because I know that I worked my ass off to make someone else impressed. Maybe that's the wrong way to look at it, but I never said I was perfect. As a human, I'm flawed. And I guess that comes into play as well. Just because I'm not perfect doesn't mean that my baked goods aren't. If anything, I feel like I put a part of myself in everything that I make, and in turn, those cakes and tarts and pies and brownies reflect who and what I am and what I'm capable of. They represent the best of me.
And the best of me is damn delicious, if I do say so myself.

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