Confessions of a (wanna-be) lockdown baker

Baking learnings for the amateur, by an amateur.

It’s no new news. Lockdown has evoked in the world, the baking spirit we always believed we possessed. What started with banana breads became a hobby that brought in some cheer, and some of that guilty pleasure we all crave in such complex times. Most of us have worn the baking cap at least one time in the last 4 months, if not more.

In India, lockdown baking has had its own unique manifestations. With microwave ovens still a luxury for a majority, making a cake in India is a nuanced experience. Google Trends show that not just ‘cake recipe’ & ‘baking,’ but searches specific to the Indian context of baking showed an unprecedented spike during the lockdown months. People were searching for everything from ‘making cake without baking powder’ to ‘making cake with hide & seek biscuit’ to ‘making cake with suji (semolina)’ , all to hone that coveted lockdown-baker tag.

What’s followed is a series of almost professional looking home-baking dalliances for social media to see: a rich chocolate ganache cake here, butter cream frosting atop perfect looking cupcakes there, buttermilk pancakes for breakfast and walnut tea-cake for that evening Zoom meeting. It would seem that all the world is a bakery, and all the men (it’s the 21st century, people) and women, Le Cordon Bleu-esuqe pro home-bakers!

Living with a massive sweet tooth myself, it was only natural that I joined this bandwagon. My past baking experience, you ask? Plenty, if Betty Croker pre-mixes were to count. And I figured, how difficult could it even be. All I had to do is follow the instructions. With child-like enthusiasm, I started my own experiments in baking. The following are my realisation from each of my baking encounters, each of the (tasty) mistakes that came with and the on-going struggles to just get it right.

#1: Am I really committing to this?

What sweet-talking food vloggers don’t tell you is that pursuing baking is also pursuing a lot of baking instruments. Balloon whisks, ramekin cups, cupcake moulds, icing sugar, cream cheese are just some of the many things you need to truly enter this creamy world of baking. A recent struggle: are we ready to upgrade (read: invest) to the square baking tray for brownies over our good ol’ circular tray? And a deeper question: Would buying the right tools, mean I am a baker even outside of lockdown?

#2: The unsaid basics that take you by surprise

After a few mistakes I made, all supposedly obvious to other pros, I realised there are some rules you only know if you truly know. They may mention it as small notes in the recipes, but largely these only come to you after several mistakes. The first recipe I made, a seemingly easy Nutella brownie, fell apart when I broke a piece, simply because my greedy self didn’t let it cool for a good enough period. A recent intent to make choco-chip cookies turned into a glorious, albeit tasty, mess as each of the cookies smashed into each other to form one giant cookie, all due to lack of spacing the batter.

Presenting: the giant cookie

#3: There’s a science behind this art

It may look like a creative endeavour, but it really is as measured as it gets. Behind the perfect food photograph (one I’m yet to capture) are hundreds of angles to get the colour, depth and texture just right. The red velvet cake may actually end-up looking like chocolate cake if you put a little extra chocolate powder or a little less red food colouring, or both. The difference between nice and crusty and burnt is just a few minutes.

The not-so-red red velvet cake

#4: A supportive (although mean) audience

As I try to make a recipe every week and learn something new with it, I have around me super supportive people, eager to taste what’s new. Don’t get me wrong, they are also just as eager to point out a flaw. They are waiting to tell me that my coffee-walnut cake is all walnut, no coffee. They have told me my mug cake tastes like porridge in a langar (a Punjabi free kitchen). But that doesn’t stop them from encouraging me to try new things, even help from time to time.

I guess it’s safe to say my child-like enthusiasm was a little premature!

Snide remarks apart, every bit of effort you put to make your dessert, comes back to you in the form of great aroma, good taste, or simply the fact that you know a little something that you didn’t yesterday! And surely, we can do with some of that in these times.

I continue my experiments, with a bit of respect and so many questions for all those posting great pictures of their baking adventures. I continue to look for what’s gonna be cooking this weekend. And maybe, just maybe, buy that balloon whisk and that square baking tray!

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