Sunday, July 19, 2015


When we first moved into this house 8 years ago, we realised that the giant built-in oven didn't work. But it didn't matter. I was no baker. I had 32857857 other things to do in my life, and had no intention  or time to start on a new hobby. So it served as extra storage in my cramped kitchen. However, every now and then I'd look at it and wonder if I really should take the family legacy forward.

My mom used to bake a lot of cakes when we were younger, and she didn't even have a fancy oven. It was literally two metallic hemispheres joined together and connected to an electrical plug point. How she managed to whip out the amazing things from that contraption is beyond me. When my sister got married and moved to the US, she had one of those bigass built-in ovens and she got started on it immediately. Very soon, she was baking cakes and pizza from scratch.

I was the only one totally content with my defunct oven.

On some levels, I felt like I'd be terrible at it. Like I was at titration in school. I aced everything else, but for some weird reason, my titration readings would be completely off. My Chemistry teacher would shake his head and say, "See? Brains are not everything. Titration needs a totally different thing - SKILL AND PRECISION."

I knew that just like titration, baking was also all about skill and precision, a combination I was not exactly known to possess. The only precise measurement I use religiously in my kitchen is 'andaaz se daal do yaar'. That, I knew, was fine for cooking, but was the ultimate recipe for disaster when it came to baking. So I refrained from dreaming impossible dreams.

A few years ago, someone gifted us a toaster oven. It was my first real brush with the oven species. I started to make random things in it, but of course, no cakes. The most successful thing that came out of that oven was this vegetarian lasagna. It needed no skill or precision. Just lots of cheese.

It was yum, but of course the original recipe asked for a real oven, so I did wonder at times how much of the taste had been compromised. 

When we started planning our home renovation, the keeda that had been gently squirming in my head for a while, emerged. Viv, an avid food-lover, was thrilled at the thought of new dishes. We decided to get a proper oven in the 'new' house so I could get started on a hobby totally alien to me. 

The oven was bought and installed. We moved in. However, for some reason there was this great big fear in my heart about getting started. Baking was so new to me and I'd never used a proper oven in my life before. I was terrified to even touch it. So I went slow. Real slow. I didn't do anything about it for about a week. Then, one day I asked Viv where the manual was. He passed it to me. The next day, I found a nice little shelf to keep the manual. For the next few days, I just took turns to stare - first at the manual kept on the shelf and then at the oven. The next day, I threw caution to the wind and actually bought a cake tin. The next day, I dared to take the manual out of its plastic cover and proudly declared my courageous deed to Viv. He smiled politely.

The next day, I did it! I actually opened the manual and read it! Then I asked Viv to read it with me. We figured things out, cleaned the oven and switched it on for the first time. The manual said we needed to keep it switched on for an hour before first use. Xena got all excited to see the lights in the oven and asked me if we were making a cake. "Of course!" I said. So I googled for 'basic cake recipes for beginners', skipped the first link (Martha Stewart) and clicked on the second. Simple sponge cake, it said. And simple it was. No oz nonsense and all that. 

I didn't have a cake mixer or oven mitts or measuring cups (I'm buying a whole bunch of stuff next week), but we got on to it anyway. Xena helped me as much as her tiny hands allowed her. Finally, we crossed our fingers and put the cake tin with the batter in the oven. A friend had told me that the first few attempts at cake-making would result in total disaster, so I was mentally prepared to go through all of that without giving up. 

"Is it rising? Is it rising?" Xena kept asking. Luckily, it was. Phew. 

After it was done, cooled and cut, I ate the first slice. Of course, it felt supremely delicious to me. Soft and spongy and moist, with just the right level of sweetness. So I decided to call on an independent reviewer. A harsh, food-hating, cake-loathing, 4-year-old, 11-kg expert.

The review: Xena had the first piece and then asked for another. That was a shocker. She'd never had even one complete piece of cake ever. Not even birthday cake. The next morning, she asked for the cake again and had -- I kid you not -- 4 pieces. Back to back. I'm still reeling from the shock. 

So yes, it looks like I need to take up this hobby quite seriously. I'll bug my sister, of course, but any tips from newbie/seasoned bakers are very welcome! Any great, tried-and-tested oven recipes to share with this newbie? 


Zainab said...

Well looks like you have to take it up atleast for Xena's sake. Imagine if this enthusiasm(touchwood) was just for a plain sponge cake, what happens if you start baking apple pies and carrot cakes!.
I recommend "joy of baking" website because from my own experiments the recipes are fail safe compared to Martha Stewart's site. Also I suggest you buy a muffin/cupcake pan because some recipes call for a particular size and if the pan doesn't match use the same batter to make cupcakes and you're good. Also they cook faster and are tastier. And sometimes you need to apply andaaza here as well. :-)

R said...

Bahin, You have to try this:

Mary Berry's recipes are simple and never ever fail to deliver. And yes, please do get 2 things: 1) measuring cups and measuring spoons- simple plastic ones will do the job and wont be expensive so even if you do not bake too often, it will not be a waste of money! All the best with baking, it can be oddly very very very satisfying!

Anphy said...

Blueberry muffins are the best :-)

Arun said...

If you don't mind spending money, look for measuring cups and spoons that stick to each other because of magnets in the handles. They'll be a little more expensive perhaps, but every other way of storing these things is messy and less quick to access.

IMO, baking pans - IMO, don't bother with non-stick. Nice thick aluminum or other construction with heat capacity and high thermal conduction is good.

And yes, you want a muffin/cupcake pan and even the paper cups.

If you're really into this, nothing beats home-made bread.

Arun said...

My American recipes are in terms of cups, tea/tablespoons, ounces -- do you need them translated into metric?

Art said...

wow.. all the best for your new hobby...

Its very difficult to go wrong with this reciepe... you can also tweek it here and there..

idom said...

So happy to hear that Xena is eating some food !!
I am sure you will be utilizing your oven regularly from now on.

Arun said...

Banana Bread - very reliable recipe for me.
1. 1 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour.
2. 2/3 cup sugar
3. 2 teaspoons baking powder
4. 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
5. 1/4 teaspoon salt
6. 1 cup mashed ripe bananas ( 2 to 3 medium bananas)
7. 1/2 cup butter
8. 2 tablespoons milk
9. 2 eggs
10. 1/4 cup chopped nuts (I like walnuts the best).

a. Take the butter out of the fridge long before you start to soften it.
b. Mash the bananas.
c. Turn on oven to preheat to 350°F
d. In a large bowl combine 1 cup of the flour, the sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
e. Add the mashed bananas, butter, milk. Beat with a electric mixer on low speed till blended, then on high speed for 2 minutes.
f. Add eggs and remaining flour; beat till blended.
g. Fold in the chopped nuts.
h. Pour batter into a greased 8x4x2 inch loaf pan.
i. Bake in a 350°F for 55 to 60 minutes or till a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
j. Cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack.
k. Remove from the pan and cool thoroughly on a wire rack

(k. is per the book -- IMO, cut slices and eat it hot or warm :))

A. I don't understand why you don't add all the flour upfront.
B. Nuts are optional.
C. The outside can have a nice brown crust but the inside could still be gooey. So the toothpick test liberally applied is a good idea.
C. If Xena likes this, I will be thrilled.

Arun said...

^^^ Typos - 7 above should read 1/3 cup butter, not 1/2 cup.

Ravi said...

Congratulations Sayesha! Baking is one of the interesting hobbies *if* the end result turns out to be just as what one of those bakery products but discourages you downright (atleast for a while) when it has not turned upto the mark. But don't give up. Just as any art - all it takes is practice and 'never-give-up' attitude. Below is one of the first plain cake recipes I tried. Its almost fool proof. Its called a pound cake (because as per the original recipe, every ingredient to be used weighed one pound). I call it the 1-2-3-4 cake. Why? You'll know now:
1 cup - butter
2 cups - sugar (no, you need not powder it)
3 cups - maida
4 - eggs
1 cup - buttermilk
1 teaspoon - vanilla essence
baking powder/baking soda - 1 teaspoon
Soften the butter a bit so that its easy to beat.
Beat butter together with sugar.
Add eggs one by one and beat it and mix the vanilla essence too.
Mix flour and the baking powder together.
Beat in the flour - little at a time and then the butter milk - alternating between the two.
Grease an oven safe pan, add the batter, let is sit for about 5-10 mins and then bake it until a knife/toothpick inserted at the centre
of the cake comes out clean.
Once you gain confidence, you can replace maida with wheat flour and add in some dry fruits and nuts.

CookieCrumbsInc. said...

I'm still at the living-out-of-boxes stage but when I have a house of my own, I'll definitely want to start baking, I love the smells associated with baking, the aromas that fill the house, making it home (in my head). At 75, my grandma is still a mean baker, it takes her all of 5 minutes to put everything together and stick it in the over. Outcomes are usually fought over till the last bite, especially the last bite.

poornakatha said...

Thanks to your post, I tried baking at home. Made the eggless date cake recommends here. It disappeared. It was there one second and five minutes later, poof. Gone!
Thanks for the inspiration.

Neha said...

Congrats on your first cake! I love baking (anything that calls for no standing near the hot stove, im up for) and this is one cake that is foolproof - even for someone who is "andaz se daal" kind of cook! google for "aayi's recipes date cake".
I reduce the sugar in the cake a bit because the original cake is a bit too sweet for me. And, it has a ton of dates - healthy! It is also a very forgiving recipe - I have tried it with multiple substitutions to make it healthier and it always comes out great.

A said...

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