Baking for Beginners: How to Turn Kitchen Disasters Into Culinary Triumphs

Lifestyle

Before lockdown started, I barely stepped into my kitchen. If the recipe didn’t involve operating a microwave or opening takeout boxes, I would steer clear of a possible culinary melt-down. However, since I've been stuck at home with a lot of free time, I decided to try my hand at baking and basic cooking. From using a cookie cutter to salvage a cake to having a puff pastry nearly explode in my oven, I’m definitely no Martha Stewart in the kitchen. My first baking escapades as a home chef left my kitchen counters a mess of flour, spilt milk, and burn marks.

Despite the initial chaos, my baked creations turned out to not only be visually pleasing, but surprisingly delicious. This article will feature my first recipes in the kitchen, as well as the comedic plot twists and cliffhanger moments that went into producing my favourite baked goods!

This is a vote of confidence to all the unsure cooks out there who have avoided their ovens and the kitchen stove in fear of burning down their homes in the process of cooking something new and potentially delicious. I'm far from Masterchef worthy, but if I can do it, so can you!

1) Ina Garten's Vanilla & Honey Pound Cake

Ina Garten, an American cookbook author and host of the Food Network show The Barefoot Countessa, elevates homecooked food into gourmet dishes, done well. I learned about Garten from her cooking sessions with Taylor Swift and, as a true Swiftie, I couldn't wait to try out her cake recipes for a Mother's Day treat! Her 4-star vanilla and honey pound cake recipe was delightfully straightforward with three-steps, a 20-minute prep time, and kitchen pantry ingredients.

However, for an 8 inch cake, I chose a 3-5 inch baking pan whose sides were greased so well with butter, that it burned the bottom of my cake while baking. I spent ten anxiety-driven minutes scraping my cake out of its tray before having to cut the entire bottom half off. My Mother's Day creation had a rough around-the-edges, teenager-with-a-failed-attempt-at-bangs look.

Lesson learned? Treat the recipe like IKEA assembly instructions: one missing element leads to a structurally unsound product. To revamp my fixer-upper of a cake, I decided to use a heart-shaped cookie cutter and salvage the unburnt middle section. I ended up with the cutest miniature cakes drizzled with a honey glaze on top! Bite-sized decadence, my mini cakes were a Mother's Day success!

2) Dutch Baby Pancake

This was a spur-of-the-moment attempt at the Dutch baby pancake after I came across the very simple eggs-flour-milk and sugar recipe on Instagram. However, the trickiest part of a recipe is figuring out the measurements, especially if you don't have enough of an ingredient or are looking to down-scale the quantity. This is especially difficult for me, since I'm not a mental math whiz!

I have a tiny, portable oven, so when my dutch baby pancake puffed up to the point of touching the roof of my oven, I freaked out. The pancake was supposed to expand, but it was so unexpected, I genuinely thought I was going to have to douse my oven with a fire extinguisher like it was an active volcano.

My recipe required three whole eggs, but when I poured the batter into my ceramic dish (versus the recommended cast iron pan), the final dish tasted more like a three-egg omelet, rather than a fluffy pancake. However, paired with Canadian maple syrup and strawberry compote, it made an extremely delicious and fancy omelete/pancake.

3) Martha Stewart's Apple-Cinnamon Upside-Down Cake

I was levelling up with Martha Stewart, the lifestyle Queen who has her own batch of seasonal recipes, by trying out her apple and cinnamon upside-down cake. I was worried about this recipe because it required firm apples such as Empire or Gala apples to hold up the cake's base when baking and make up the cake's top when flipped over. I also had to make sure that my apple slices weren't overly thin, as I would be covering the lined base of my heart-shaped pan with them.

However, that extra sprinkle of cinnamon on top of the apples and the perfect golden top when I flipped my cake over after it was baked made this cake recipe a magical one. Topped with a honey glaze, this was a picture-perfect fall cake recipe, with all the warm hints of cinammon spice and vanilla within.

4) Coffee Cake with Toffee Sauce

This recipe made me feel a bit like a mad scientist because while I wanted to use the flavours of coffee and toffee together in a recipe, I couldn't find one that combined both together. When looking for recipes online, it is important to read the user reviews instead of taking a leap of faith, as even a four-star recipe can have some significant flaws. The coffee sponge recipe I used for this cake was problematic for me because it was a double layered cake recipe, which meant I had to half the recipe to make a single sponge.

I do my mixing by hand, which can lead to some problems when I get too tired of whipping up the butter to perfect peaks or making sure that my batter is perfectly smooth. However, this cake, though slightly dense, held its own in all its heart-shaped glory.

The highlight was my English toffee sauce, which, by the grace of the culinary gods, didn't split and became the exact "dark amber" color described in the recipe after continuous stirring. The toffee sauce gave my coffee cake a lovely glazed look, as it sat regally on its cakestand throne.

Recipe after recipe, I'm slowly building up my confidence as a baker in the kitchen. Though I am sticking to all things sugar and spice for now, I hope that someday soon, I'll be embracing my savoury side by chopping up veggies like a hatted chef, tossing noodles like a wok goddess, and making many more cooking memories!

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Nehaa Bimal
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Nehaa Bimal is currently pursuing a double major in Journalism & Humanities. She launched the #TTMVoicesonClimateChange initiative for The Teen Magazine, has conducted interviews with famous entrepreneurs, and is a regular contributor to The Charlatan and Her Campus. She was also Entertainment editor and Features co-editor or her high school newspaper The Surveyor. A slam poet and singer, Nehaa likes to add a dramatic flair to everything she writes/performs.