Adventures in Baking..
Part 1: The Beginnings…Slave to the Oven.
I had a thing for baking, even when I was young. I remember concocting baking science experiments a lot. Sometimes, I would mix ingredients together just to see what would happen, and sometimes I would throw things like chocolate chips, corn starch and water into a Styrofoam cup and zap it in the microwave…again, just to see what would happen, and better yet, to see if it was even eatable. (f.y.i….this particular concoction, was not.) To my 6th grade French class, I remember bringing homemade chocolate truffles once, and then again, in 7th grade, bringing for the same class, chocolate mousse..(of which I had handed out a flyer with the recipe, written as ‘chocolate moose’)
During that same time, I opened ‘Sara’s Kitchen’ in my parent’s kitchen. I would open for business during their weekly movie where I would write up a menu, and present it to them in the hopes that they would order my famous chocolate chip cookies..because, this would mean that I could make a mess of their kitchen, bake something, and then lick the bowl as well as present them with a freshly baked treat. Of course, to spare the cleanliness of their kitchen, they would usually opt for something like, say, the microwave popcorn…instead.
College was a bit of a hiatus from baking for me, unless of course I dare to recount the first time that I attempted to make yeasted bread. It is funny to think that I had no idea what I was doing, when now, I feel as if it is something I could pull off while sleeping. But, I knew nothing about Yeast and its properties, and I remember wondering why my bread never rose and ended up as hard as a rock. (I later realized that I had severely inhibited the yeast from doing much of anything, when I used water that was scalding hot.)
After my brief bout of interest in Veterinary Science and a Volunteer ship at the Zoo, I finally landed a job in a kitchen. At this point, I hadn’t yet rediscovered my love of baking, but instead I delved into the world of cooking. My introduction to this world of sharp knives and hot pan handles consisted of 5 stitches on my left thumb, on my first day of work. I laugh now when I think of just how THAT happened. While trying to impress my co-workers (one of which I was developing a crush on) with my skill and speed, I was ever so swiftly cutting potatoes with a serrated knife…something that is all but laughable, I suppose, to most cooks. Well, you can imagine what happened next. I remember that feeling of horror and utter embarrassment. Knowing that…ouch, that kind of hurt, and…shit, that was really deep, and the blood and…ohno, I am suddenly feeling faint…and crap, this means that I need to tell someone… I remember walking into work the next day, with my battered thumb, throbbing and wrapped in a thick bandage. I also remember hearing many a joke about ‘getting out the rubber knives for Sara’…ha, ha, ha….
When I finally did end up at a bakery, I remember being completely in awe of the numerous buckets of rising doughs and bubbling starters. I loved it immediately, just the dough in my hands and the smell of the yeast. This was a huge revelation for me; I knew at that point, that Baking was something that I was destined for. Of course, measuring out large amounts of flour, salt, yeast and sugar on a daily basis for mixing mass quantities of dough came with some trials as well. I had a few mis-batches of salt-less bread…and, I will never forget the time, as a newbie on the job, I mis-measured the baking powder for a huge batch of chocolate chip cookies. Apparently, I only needed .5 oz, not .5 lbs… oooops.. I blame it on the scale…which I had misread as a .lb scale, not the very similar looking .oz scale right next to it… did I say that this, too, was early on in my baking life? Funny, after the batch was all made, I tasted it…and, I didn’t even taste a difference. I even walked by the bakery the next morning, on my day off, and I gazed into the windows at the cookie jars, just to make sure that those chocolate chip cookies, now baked… hadn’t grown wings or anything.
After I started managing the bakery is when I got to handle all of the crazy stuff. Like the phone calls at 5am from the flaky girl who would commute from Olympia on a daily basis…her car had broken down…or, the morning she called me in a panic..a deck oven window had shattered. Later that same day, in the midst of our daily bread bake, 3 more of these windows shattered, leaving glass inside the oven (with the bread) and out. I will never forget what happened merely moments after we had vacuumed up the last glass fragment, and we had thrown out many loaves of partially baked bread…..the health department walked in. Classic.
I remember the regular nutjob who would come in daily and buy a day old sticky bun. One day, he came in wincing in pain and grabbing his jaw. He claimed to have found a rock in his sticky bun. He proceeded to tell me that it had broken his tooth.
…to be continued….