(first in a series of three)
Two years ago I had a phone conversation that went like this:
"I'm so stressed out. I have a year to finish these prerequisites, work full-time on top of that, and THEN apply to medical school and wait for almost another year to see if I get in."
"Have you tried doing something to keep your mind off this? Why don't you take up rock-climbing or train for a marathon or start baking?"
So, I picked up a copy of Baking 911, a cookbook that remains as my first and true love. It is perfect for anyone who has ever baked puck-hard cookies or anyone who has ever uttered an expletive first thing after opening the oven door.
I really enjoyed baking, and as soon as my early efforts began to improve, I started this humble blog. Over the next few months, I discovered Daring Bakers which pushed me to new baking heights. I've made some wonderful friends there, as well as over at Tuesdays with Dorie. (See my Tuesdays with Dorie baked goods here). In fairly short order, the name of this blog "Occasional Baker" was no longer appropriate. One of the sardonic friends I keep jokingly asked, "How's your blog, 'The Obsessive Baker'?"
Eventually I got the good news that I had been waiting for from UBC Medicine. After the heady few months that followed, I realized that I had the time to either bake or blog, but not quite both. Also, my interest has now turned to fresh, local foods and I am now, once again, an occasional baker. Going back to that phone conversation two years ago, I have now signed up to train for a marathon (a 2-year plan).
Baking remains a great stress reliever for me, and I very much enjoy sharing with new classmates and friends. This will continue. However, the demands of maintaining a blog - the meager couple hours required to shoot pictures, post-process images, and write something useful (which was always my aim) - directly competes with study time, so I now feel that this baby should be put to bed.
In this first of my last three posts I look back at the past year, which I feel is my best:
If that comment about being an obsessive baker needs to be justified, this would be its strongest case. French macarons are incredibly difficult to turn out perfectly - with the frilly feet and smooth domed top. After seven batches, I finally turned these out:
The moral to this: perfect baking is over-rated. Honestly, even the macarons that were cracked or feet-less tasted the same as these beauties. I have never made macarons since, and I am ever thankful that there is a French patisserie nearby.
Dark chocolate cake
Everyone needs a good chocolate cake once in a while, and this is hands-down the best because it is easy, fool-proof, and a guaranteed crowd pleaser. There is no recipe in my blog post but it is from The Cake Bible which you should own if you do not already. Also, the author demonstrates this recipe over at youtube.
French lemon cream and classic tarts
I am a bit of a lemon tart snob. Tell me that there is any bit of flour or cornstarch in the filling and I will turn away. (Well, I will take a large forkful of the "lemon tart" and then turn away). Lemon tarts ought to be made with baked lemon curd. It is best when served naked except perhaps for a dusting of sugar - no berries, no meringue, no creme chantilly on top. The star is the lemon, and the shortbread crust its sole supporting companion.
Imagine the best baked lemon curd tart you have ever had (picture on right). Now imagine it tasting even better and speaking fluent French (picture on left).
Lemon curd cake
Underneath the curd and buttercream is an exquisite find - the White Chocolate Whisper Cake from The Cake Bible.
This bundt cake is intensely lemony, thanks to the generous addition of minced, macerated lemon rind. I applied the two-stage mixing technique I learned from The Cake Bible, which simplifies the cake-making process so much.
Up next on Occasional Baker
Recently, I made this cake again and had problems getting it out of the bundt pan. I realized that I missed a crucial step: applying baker's grease to the pan. I merely used a non-stick spray, which as I found out doesn't always work. I have never had any problems with baker's grease on the other hand, and I encourage anyone with a bundt pan to make up a batch - your bundt cakes will release with a golden crust each time.
Brioche raisin snails and sticky buns
I have always feared using yeast, but not after these incarnations of brioche, the most cake-like of breads.
Ricotta polenta cake
The recipe has two uncommon ingredients for cakes. Ricotta, which is the whey by-product of Romano cheese making, and polenta, the Italian name for cornmeal.
Bûche de Noël
Through two years of baking and blogging, I am thankful for all the friends I made and the new family traditions that I started. Of the latter, I am sure that I will be baking bûches de Noël year after year.
- I simply cannot close this blog without sharing with you the best tart crust ever: a shortbread crust that remains crisp yet fork-tender even after days in the fridge.
- Revisiting Martha's Birthday Cake. An ambitious project from two years ago, which I will make again for Patrick's birthday in mid-August. Will it be better this time around? Come and join me for this blog's finale.