Cooking and Creativity vs Baking and Chemistry

Some of you reading my posts may have noticed that I have a category for “Cooking/Creativity”.   Whereas these two activities are indeed separate, in my world they are as intertwined as kudzu and the South.  Many folks most likely equate Creativity with the Arts—the Visual Arts in particular.  And yes, there is certainly truth to that.  An artist may take, for example, a canvas, tubes of paints and  a small army of brushes—mix in a little water and light as needed, along with a little of this and a little of that  for effect and…. voila, a beautiful image emerges for all to view and enjoy.

Cooking is very much along the same principle.  A cook/chef takes a few pots and pans, some fresh (or even frozen) ingredients—mix in varying portions of liquids, oils, heat , a little of this spice and a little of that herb and…. voila, a beautiful plate that pleases not only eye but palate as well.  And oh how I find so much pleasure in both pursuits but if the truth be known, it is the latter that truly quenches my soul.

After spending upwards of 10 or more hours a day at school, I found it almost necessary to come home and cook supper.  My kind husband would constantly tell me that I could/ should just keep things simple, maybe just a sandwich or we could even go out to grab a bite if I was too tired…. I wouldn’t hear of it!  Especially after the most stressful of days.  Being allowed to come home to my kitchen was a welcomed relief.  It was in my kitchen where I could simply immerse myself in the thoughts of the day, sorting out mistakes, miscues or relish in the small victories all the while as I would start whatever it was going to be for supper.

From cornish hens with a glistening, translucent amber orange marmalade glaze or to the magic wonder of fish or chicken en papillote accompanied by an orchestra of fresh vegetables and herbs  —it was here that I found my zeal for the “creative.”

Many years ago when my mom was in ICU battling cancer ,and I was a newly married young woman, I would go each day to the ICU Waiting Room carrying an arm load of cook books–upwards of 8 at a time.  As I would sit for hours waiting for the  three 15 minute times of visitation allowed in a 24 hour period, I would read page per page , cover to cover of every type of recipe and cookbook imaginable. It was my therapy and my catharsis.  Maybe I needed to know that in the dark shadows of death, where I had found myself in vigil for my mom, Creativity, which I equate with life and living, was still very much present and attainable.

But what about baking you ask.  I once read that if one fancies oneself as more of a cook then that just means that one tends to be more “creative”.  If one fancies oneself as more of a baker, one tends to be more “scientific”.  I find that a pretty good analogy–or actually description of the two.  The baker needs precision and must rely on the chemistry of ingredients to make the “magic”.  The perfect blend of baking powder and or soda, along with fats, sugars, yeast, water and heat–there is indeed true magic that takes place.  From the rising or proofing of bread to the final baking.  Heavenly aromas arise from one’s oven when making yeast breads from scratch.  It may sound simple and easy—trust me, it is anything but!!

It is in that baking process where I do struggle….as my personality is not patient enough for baking.  That whole mixing, kneading, waiting, punching, kneading a little more, waiting, rising, rolling, baking… get the point.  Part of my plan during this retirement has been to perfect ( I use that term oh so loosely) the making of various breads from scratch.  I will do a post on the cinnamon rolls at a later date…today, however, I need something that I can count on as a success and not as a wing and a prayer.

I will leave you today with a recipe for an oldie but goodie  simple desert.  Some may think this more of a fall or even winter desert.  I find it is perfect year round.  I was at the grocery store earlier where I found fresh Meyer Lemons.  Large and full of juice– they looked almost like  oranges–as their peel has a beautiful yellow/ orange warm yet bright hue.  And the fragrance is not to be denied let alone the flavor!!!!!!  If you have never tried a Meyer lemon—there will be no going back once you do….this particular desert is traditionally served with a lemon sauce, or glaze or even lemon curd.  It is taken from the Joy of Baking.  The Joy of Cooking was probably the very first cookbook I received, even while I was still in college.

I hope you will enjoy this simple yet flavor satisfying Ginger cake… as I certainly will later this evening.

Gingerbread Cake:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven.  Butter and flour a 9 inch (23 cm) round or square cake pan with 2 inch (5 cm) sides. 

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ground cinnamon, ginger and cloves.

In bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes).  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the lemon zest and molasses and beat to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the dry ingredients and milk, alternately, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Beat just until incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with an offset spatula.  Bake for 40 – 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing cake from pan.  Let cool completely and then, if desired, frost with the Lemon Icing.

Lemon Icing:  Mix together the sifted confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice until smooth.  (The icing should be thick but still spreadable.)  Pour the icing onto the center of the cake and spread with an offset spatula.  Some of the icing will drip down the sides of the cake. 

This cake will keep for several days at room temperature.   Can serve with softly whipped cream, lemon curd, or slices of apples sauteed in a little butter and sugar.

Makes one – 9 inch (23 cm) cake

Gingerbread Cake:

2 cups (260 grams) all purpose flour

1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 cup 113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 cup (105 grams) light brown sugar

2 large eggs

Zest of 1 lemon (outer yellow skin of lemon)

1/2 cup (120 ml) unsulphured molasses (To prevent the molasses from sticking to the measuring cup, first spray the cup with a non stick vegetable spray.)

1 cup (240 ml) milk

Lemon Icing: (Optional)

1 1/2 cups (150 grams) sifted confectioners’ (powdered or icing) sugar

2 – 2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice