That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles

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I’ve been helping my mother in the kitchen ever since I can remember; I made my first recipe with her when I was seven, and most of my baking skills come from experience rather than instruction.

I think I got a reputation as a good baker mostly because I’m a prolific one, and I’m not afraid to try a new recipe or develop one myself. Just because I enjoy a baking challenge doesn’t mean that I haven’t had my baking ups-and-downs.

I’ve committed the usual rookie mistakes such as over-mixing, or not bringing my eggs to room temperature ahead of time. But to be honest, the majority of my mistakes have usually been oven-related. Cooking times in any recipe can always vary depending on the oven. Investing in an oven thermometer was a revelation. (Thanks, Anna Olsen!)

I’m also kind of a klutz so I’ve been known to spill all manner of ingredients, bend spoons, stain clothes, and yes- drop an entire carton of eggs on the floor.

People who know me personally will remember why I’m wary of microwaves because they’ve heard the story of how I lit a stick of butter on fire because I stuck it in the microwave to melt without removing the foil first. (Please remove the foil.)

My favorite baking mishap, though, happened during university when I served on the editorial board of an arts magazine. We were trying to organize a bake sale to raise more funds to make our publication super pretty. No problem for an experienced baker like me, right? I even went so far as to commandeer a friend’s kitchen for the day and organized a baking assembly line to get things done faster.

What I didn’t bargain for, though, was the fact that we were using cake mixes from a box.

Now I’m not above using cake mixes (see here or here for some ideas on how to fancy them up) but at the time I was a D.I.Y. kind of gal that had been taught by a pretty traditional baker. I had honestly never baked anything from a box before. But again, no problem! Right?

Well.

I don’t know if I messed up the ingredients, or something went wrong with the mixing, or if I had merely been distracted and done a bad job of supervising. What I do know was that my team was in charge of muffins and what came out of the oven did not resemble muffins at all. Well, they were shaped like muffins- kind of- except much, much smaller.

One of the girls turned to me, “I thought you said you knew how to bake?”

“I do! I swear!” I cried. “These are just…pocket muffins.”

“What?”

“Pocket muffins. You know, muffins that you can just grab, stuff in your pocket and go. Perfect for a small snack.” (See? I was into marketing even then.)

She frowned. “I thought we were making the regular size?”

I need to cover. Fast. “Yeah but think of how many more of these we can sell because they’re smaller! They’ll make us more money!”

They did not. The “pocket muffins” sat on the table a day later at the bake sale, untouched, surrounded by more human-sized baked goods. It dawned on us that maybe we should have tried one of them.

We shouldn’t have. They were hard, and kind of chewy like a granola bar, and the dehydrated blueberries included in the mix had somehow liquefied and hardened again into these nasty little lumps.

The squirrels in the quad, on the other hand, loved them.

It wasn’t one of the highlights of my baking career, that’s for sure, and I’m sorry to say that I didn’t glean much baking knowledge from the experience. I did learn, however, that there is room for error in any baking endeavor, no matter how much experience or training you have. The most important thing is having the ability to roll with the punches and have a good sense of humor.

But I am happy to report that I’ve never been able to duplicate that pocket muffin recipe.

KBwB-BFlower-50Ok I shared mine, now you share yours! What was your biggest baking or cooking disaster? Bare it all below, or email me and we can keep it between us.

Wanna see some of the recipes that have worked out for me? I’ve archived them all here, plus I have a whole roster of ideas waiting to be made on Pinterest. You can find where I get my cooking inspiration here and here, and if you’re new to this blog you may want to check out my philosophy on coping with stress here. (Spoiler alert: it’s baking.)

What’s on My Cookbook Shelf: Second Edition

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a little old-fashioned. My organizing system is mostly paper-based, I like to send Christmas cards and handwritten notes, and I believe there’s some truth behind old adages. (That’s how they got to be sayings in the first place, right?!)

Cookbooks, too, seem like they’re becoming things of the past with the proliferation of cooking shows, recipe sits and foodie blogs. (Gulp.)

There’s something to be said, though, about the sheer pleasure of reading a physical cookbook. It’s not just about reading the recipes- it’s the layout, the photos and the stories that make reading a cookbook such a unique experience. They’re still my go-to source of inspiration whenever I’m looking to bake for the blog.

I share some of the titles that have a standing reservation on my bookshelf last year, but today I thought I’d share a few more recent additions that have been getting my taste buds going.

One of my favorite places in Toronto has finally published their first cookbook. Bobette and Belle, located in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Leslieville, is famous for its fabulous cupcakes and French macarons. I’ve yet to attempt any of their classic recipes, but if they turn out even half as decent as the originals, I just might have to open my own shop.

Further north of the city of Toronto is the region known as Muskoka, or what Torontonians like to call “cottage country”. We Canadians live for our cottages and summer homes, so it’s not surprising that Marty’s World Famous Bakery, located in the heart of it all, would become just that- world famous. Chef Marty’s specialty- the butter tart- is a Canadian favorite, but I’m personally head over heels for his carrot cake. It’s about the best I’ve ever tasted.

Some of the pleasure of poring over a cookbook is the photography and Hello Cupcake! doesn’t disappoint. Of course, it’s easy to take good photos if you have amazing art direction, and the cupcakes featured in this book pretty much put every cupcake I’ve made to shame.

I do a lot of baking, but I like reading cookbooks just as much, if only to gain inspiration. (I’m not a very ambitious cook, I’m afraid.) However, I have attempted a few recipes from David Rocco’s La Dolce Vita and they’re surprisingly simple, delicious and oh-so-Italian. Some of these dishes have even made it to my own cooking repertoire (which is saying something)

But I wasn’t always so adventurous- when I was first learning how to cook I relied heavily on The Joy of Cooking (which contains recipes for just about everything, including possum) and How to Cook Everything (which is geared towards a more modern crowd and to the best of my knowledge contains no possum). They might not be the most fascinating reads, or are the prettiest of cookbooks, but these ones were valuable to my culinary education and I’d recommend everyone get at least one of them- even if it’s just to brush up on the basics.

I love to read and I love sharing my favorite books with you. (For more reading inspiration click here or here.) These lists are totally my own creation and I was not paid or perked to share my opinions with you by any author or publishing company. Full disclosure: I do receive a small commission from Amazon when you choose to buy from my site. It keeps this blog running and food in my dog’s bowl, but rest assured I would never suggest you buy something I wouldn’t buy for myself. Enjoy!

The Legend of the Book of Yum

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When I went away to university it was the first time I had been away from home. I wasn’t sure what to expect: would I love the freedom? Would I totally freak out? Either way I knew that I was going to be really homesick.

My solution was The Book of Yum and it started out as kind of a joke between my university friends and I.

In anticipation of missing my mom’s cooking, I painstakingly wrote out some of our family’s favorite recipes in a small black binder, organized using homemade construction paper dividers. Also included were some helpful cooking hints for myself on how to make the basics; for example, tips on making rice nice and fluffy, and how to make your basic white sauce. I was reluctant to call it a recipe binder because it felt more like a compendium of my mother’s advice, and a piece of my family’s culinary history. So I called it “The Book of Yum”, made some dorky labels for it and took it to college with me.

Anyone who has had roommates knows that it’s hard to keep a secret from them, so it didn’t take long before people started to take note of the little binder I was always toting into the kitchen with me. Maybe it was the colorful labels, or the fact that no one I knew had completed a similar project.

Mostly I think The Book of Yum caught people’s attention because I was one of the few people in my group of friends that could actually cook. And bake.

This was the start of a whole new college culinary adventure. While a lot of kids were out partying you could often find me at home with my roommates attempting to develop a garnish for fish, bake a pie from scratch, or experiment with a foreign food. (Ok, maybe I found some time for partying too.)

In some ways, it was my college years that fostered my love of cooking and food. I tried every kind of food, in every kind of restaurant in town and I always had a hungry mouth nearby willing to try whatever it was I was making that day. It was a time of firsts: my first pastry dough, my first experiment with phyllo, and my first roast.

It was also during these years that I discovered how cooking for others felt like a gift more to myself than a gift for them. Nothing gave me more pleasure than watching my friends enjoy something I had created and nothing made me appreciate food more than the act of making it myself.

More than anything, though, The Book of Yum was a way for me to honor my family; both my love for them and the traditions that we build and maintain.

I still have it too, even though it’s expanded to accommodate my expanded culinary horizons. Even though that little black binder has transformed, it still opens a floodgate of sense memories as soon as I lift the cover. No matter how successful I end up being in my writing career, I’ll still consider one of my favorite books that I’ve written.

You may not know it, but you’ve read part of The Book of Yum too! If you were looking at it now, you’d recognize these Chocolate Brownies, these Butterscotch Brownies, these Banana Muffins, these Chocolate Banana Cookies, these Sugar Cookies, these Maple Syrup Muffins, this Apple Pie and this Zucchini Bread. I hope you enjoyed them as much as my family and friends have!

KBwB-BFlower-50I’d love to hear about your own recipe collection. Which childhood recipes do you still include in your repertoire? Email me at keepingbusyb@gmail.com or comment below. I’d love to try one out!

I try out a new recipe every two weeks or so and blog about the results, so if you need even more baking inspiration, you can find the complete list in alphabetical order here.