Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A devastating donut distaster

It all started with a Wilton 6-Cavity Donut Pan and some very good, albeit naive, intentions.
I tried to make homemade donuts. Tried being the key word. Online I'd seen countless recipes and reviews raving about the texture, consistency, flavor and downright divine goodness of the oven baked donut. The recipes didn't seem all that challenging. The hardest part of the whole process was finding a donut pan but a trip to a local (and quirky) cooking supply shop remedied that problem. All it took was a twenty minute drive and a twenty dollar bill and I was in possession of my very own Wilton Donut Pan, plus a mini-donut pan perfect for making mini-donuts for little hands and little tummies.
The next morning after purchasing my new equipment I went to work on the donuts. I chose a vanilla cinnamon sugar cake donut made with flour, buttermilk, melted butter, sugar and some other essentials like baking powder, vanilla extract and salt. The pictures looked promising. For a topping I chose a recipe that promised the perfect classic maple glaze. With my oven preheated, ingredients placed on the counter and donut pans greased I felt more than prepared for the task at hand.
I followed the recipe precisely, making sure to heed the warnings about over beating the batter and not scorching the butter. I felt quite pleased with my progress. The batter looked just like the picture!
I poured the batter into my prepared pan and was again pleased to see that it looked just like the picture!
Then I stuck my creations into the oven and waited exactly seventeen minutes, just like the recipe said. Then I turned on the light of the oven to peer in on my tantalizing baked creations. And suddenly I was not so pleased. They looked nothing like the picture. My confectionary creations looked like small rubbery tires. They were pale with not even a hint of the golden brown I was promised in the recipe's description. The pleasing cinnamon scent I was greatly anticipating was barely detectable. I opened the oven, pulled out my pan and sunk into further disappointment. When I poked the donuts they didn't feel the least bit fluffy. They were hard and tough. Without even having to take a bite I knew they were bound to be the chewiest "cake" donuts ever baked at three hundred and fifty degrees.
I stuck them back in the oven for a few minutes. The donuts were already a disaster I knew that but I was hoping that with a few more minutes at a high heat a golden brown might appear on the tops of my lousy donuts. But no luck. A few minutes later the donuts still looked the same.
Reluctantly, my Mom did the difficult deed of taste testing the so-called donuts. Her face said it all. These were not donuts at all. They were tasteless, dense balls of dough cooked for twenty minutes. In no culinary universe could these tire-like substances be called "donuts."
The verdict on the vanilla cinnamon sugar donut was in and it was two thumbs down plus an "eww." At first I was disappointed. I had been excited to bake donuts in my nifty donut pan! The tray was so cute and the pictures on blogs and websites were so promising, but the result was nothing like the pictures. My donuts were nothing like the descriptions written by bakers and reviews written by tasters.
My donuts were a big fat flop.
The amount of waste that was in those tasteless, rubbery tires made my stomach sick! I had put in an hour trying to follow every step of the recipe to perfection. Now all I was left with was a bag full of hard cooked dough and a sink full of messy bowls. The disastrous donuts made me want to return my cute little pan and write scathing reviews on all baked donut recipes posted online!
But then something came over me. A small little voice said, "try again…" I looked at my counter full of ingredients and sink full of dishes, took a deep breath and headed back to the computer. I searched again for "baked donuts" and found another recipe with more reviews and more promises of a mind-blowing treat sure to please the whole family. With low expectations I set out to bake again.
I measured out my flour, sugar and even browned butter this time around. I once again followed the directions to a T, taking my time to double check amounts and the order of each step.
I cleaned out my donut pan, re-greased the cute little tins and re-filled them with donut dough #2.
I popped them in the oven and waited eight minutes - the new "perfect" amount of time for baked donuts when baked at three hundred and fifty degrees.
After eight minutes I pulled them from the oven and you want to know what happened?
I pulled out six pale, rubbery tires someone claimed would be "donuts."

So far my donut baking escapade has been less than appetizing. "Stephanie's Donut Shop" is not about to be the next hot-spot to pick up a morning box of America's favorite doughy breakfast treat. But I can tell you this much, I'm not giving up.
Sometimes in life the creation we bake up isn't always what we had anticipated. We put in certain ingredients, hoping for a desirable outcome and instead we end up with life's version of tasteless, colorless balls of dough. The let down is huge. Instead of a great treat we have a great big mess to clean up. The temptation to give up and never try again is overwhelming.
Failure, when given the chance, will lead to giving up. But it doesn't have to. Like Thomas Edison with the light-bulb, you and I can choose to keep trying even in the face of failure. Edison had thousands of patents on inventions that never turned the world upside down or the lights on in anyone's kitchen but he didn't stop trying. Eventually his determination paid off for him and certainly for you and I. Thanks to his overcoming spirit you and I have the ease of simply turning a switch and turning on light.
I still don't have the ability to put ingredients together, fill my donut pan, bake for X amount of minutes and pull out a culinary creation that pleases the palate, but that doesn't mean I won't someday. Mark my words dear reader (and maybe dear donut lover) someday I will bake perfectly golden brown vanilla cake donuts with maple glaze. Maybe not tomorrow but someday. I'll keep trying till I find the right recipe, the right temperature and the right time because I'm not a quitter. I will simply keep baking.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Baking up a blessing

I have been MIA.
For those of you who read this blog this is not a news flash. My writings and ramblings have grown few and far between. My one to two a-day blog posts have been reduced to nothing more than crickets. I would like to say that this absence was a planned hiatus but that is not the case. My dry spell of prolific words came without warning and struck me with such great force I didn't even have the desire to write a "taking a break from writing" post to alert the blogosphere of my impending absence. Instead, I just dropped off the radar screen altogether.
But not forever, I hope, because I've missed my daily random ramblings that sometimes were deep and other times just an outlet for pent-up frustrations. And let's face it, who doesn't have some inner frustrations and rants they'd like to post online for the world (or maybe just one single soul) to see? The world of blogging is perfect for such thoughts. It gives the thinker the chance to blow off some steam and gives the sympathetic reader reassurance that they are not the only one in the universe to share their particular frustrations and feelings.
During my blog hiatus (I'll call it that, as if it were planned, even though you all know it was certainly not) I missed this chance to be real with an audience, no matter how small that audience might be. For all I know it might be an audience of just my Mom reading my posts for grammatical errors. Or maybe it will end up being a complete stranger in another country who happens upon my words while Google searching and mindlessly clicking. I don't know who reads these words, but I know that as the writer of them there is a therapy in putting the feelings of my heart on paper or should I say, on screen.
So, why the absence if I enjoy writing so much? I wasn't in the hospital or on an exotic cruise to a location devoid of internet access or a 3G network. I simply didn't have the stamina to keep airing my feelings. The feelings have been there, trust me, feelings don't fade. But my energy to think on them, explain them and work through them went kaput. I got tired. The thoughts still rattled around in my head, blog post titles even came to mind a time or two, but I simply couldn't find the stamina to sit down and type out all that was on my mind.
So I just started baking instead.
Odd as it may seem, the girl who doesn't eat sugar and hasn't had a cookie in four years, has been baking… a lot. Daily to be exact. It started with brownie sundaes for the kids. For some reason I got the itch to cook something for them. I checked the cabinets and came up short on every type of mix. A stroke of can-do spirit took over and I embarked on baking from scratch. And so I looked at the ingredients we had on hand, narrowed down my confectionary options and landed on brownies. After a quick Google search I landed on the "Mmmm… brownies" from "All Recipes" and went to work.
An hour later a sink full of dishes with a shockingly minuscule amount of crumbs was all that remained after my culinary adventure.
The brownies were a success.
So the next day I tried again. This time I went back to an old standard, the oatmeal cookie. I added some walnuts and chocolate chips, baked at 350 and hand delivered a plate full of treats to my favorite house full of kids (and chocolate loving adults). And once again, the plate was cleared in record time.
Over the course of the next few days I baked up peanut butter chocolate chip cookie bars, double chocolate no-bake cookies, banana bread and a multi-color funfetti cookie cake!
I've never bought so much sugar, butter and heavy cream in my life.
And I'm just getting started.
I've caught the baking bug. There is something therapeutic about baking. You put together certain ingredients in a certain order in certain amounts, bake at a certain temperature and, voila! a certain creation is born! The whole process is one with ordered steps and a sequence that is understandable. I can read the directions and choose whether or not to follow them. I can measure to particular lines on particular cups. I can check to see when my sugary mix is still baking or reached its perfect level of golden brown. Baking promises that by following a given recipe you will get a proven, tested result.
When I pull the sugary confection from the oven, apply icing or sprinkles or just deliver with a tall glass of milk, there is pleasure and delight on the face of the recipient. The kids bite into their favorite treat with excitement. My Mom, the quintessential cookie-lover, lets out an audible "yum." The simple combination of ingredients brings with it an abundance of blessings from the very first bite.

From that first night in the kitchen with a hot saucepan of melted semi-sweet chocolate and a bowl of flour, I've been hooked on baking for the people I love and cherish. I've found that I can spread a little joy by spreading a little icing, creaming a little butter and baking up a little something sweet.
Not only does this new found love of baking bless my beloved family, but it has been a therapeutic release for me, too. When I'm standing in the kitchen, moving about between bags of ingredients and bottles of extracts, I'm not thinking about myself, my trials or my struggles. All I'm thinking about is what I'm baking. I'm focused on creating something that will bring a smile to the face of someone else.

From the world of blogging to the world of baking I've found that at different stages in life there's different places and different ways to release the feelings and emotions of the heart. For years now I've let all of mine spill out onto the world wide web. As therapeutic as that can be it can also be an overly self-involved practice. The blogs are my thoughts, my feelings. Do you sense a theme? It's all about me, me, me.
But baking has turned me outward. Baking isn't about me at all - I don't even taste test, that's the beauty of having a dessert loving Mom, she does that job for me. Baking has taken my focus off of my own selfish thoughts, desires and struggles. It's taken my gaze and pointed it outward, directly onto the lives and taste buds of the people I love deeply. By baking, the worries of this life are put on the back burner. In fact, they are taken off the stove altogether. Instead, my focus is placed solely on what blessing I'll be baking up next.

Baking up a funfetti cookie cake blessing! Recipe below.