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A Blog About Baking

Once upon a while ago, I used to cook full-time. In fact, I had a few jobs where…

Portrait of the author. Okay, not really, My hair, make-up, nails and dress never look like that, and especially not when baking.

Once upon a while ago, I used to cook full-time. In fact, I had a few jobs where this was the case, the first time being with the caterers at Waiheke Island RSA when I was still at Uni, and the most recent being in a lovely wee deli/cafe in Yorkshire. These are facts that would surprise people that knew me when I was working diving, and existed on two-minute-noodles and biscuits scrounged off the dive boat, and maybe even people that know me now, as when the SO’s away through the summer I eat nothing but salads drowned in homemade Caesar dressing, and Carrefour praline chocolate.

But I do have a thing for baking.

I’m not a creative person in any way except writing, really. I can’t draw, I can’t sing, and I’m terrible at sewing and pretty much anything that requires a good eye for proportion and an ability to work in straight lines. I think those adult colouring books look amazing, but I’d never pick one up, because you can guarantee that even if I stayed inside the lines (dubious) the colour combos would be interesting, to say the least. Even when someone gives me flowers, I try to keep them as they were bundled, because my version of ‘arranging’ means I have to claim the cat sat on them (she does come in handy).

But, baking.

Cooking not so much – I tend to cycle through a small selection of dishes I can make without needing a recipe and that generally only use one pot. Mostly they involve the same vegetables, just with different spices, and now I have a slow cooker I’m very happy, as there’s minimal risk of me forgetting it’s on and setting fire to the kitchen (minimal, not zero – turns out if the slow cooker’s on high enough, and I forget for long enough, you can still develop quite a decent smoky flavour). I have cooked for a long time, including for guests on charter yachts, so I’m actually not terrible at it, if I concentrate on what I’m doing. That’s a big if, though, and not one I’m great at living up to when I have my writer head on. I also have an almost pathological aversion to following recipes, which can prove problematic. Looking back, it’s fairly alarming how often I decided to ‘adjust’ recipes when I was cooking for eight paying guests with no shops in sight. But these days, I’m happy to throw everything in a pot and forget it, and even happier to eat salad for four months of the year. Luckily the SO’s a chef who loves what he does, so when he’s home we do tend to eat very well, punctuated by my veggie chili/stew/curry variations.

Much more accurate portrait of the author. On an unrelated note, stock images are weird, right?

But, baking.

Now that I love. Of course, part of that may be down to the end product, but not entirely. I’ve even been known to get quite creative with it, including making wonky penguins for Christmas cakes and some very NSFW cupcakes. Mostly, though, I make cookies, or cakes with leftover fruit, things that are easy to put together and unfussy to eat. There’s something very comforting about it, the mixing and the folding, the shaping and measuring and kneading. I’m still a little hit and miss with how well I follow recipes – for whatever reason, I’m entirely fearless when it comes to substituting ingredients or adding extra ones. Most of the time it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s usually edible, so it’s all good.

And I was thinking about this the other day, when the SO said, “You don’t have to make stuff, you know. We can just buy some biscuits.” Which is nice enough, and true enough, but – no. Because I don’t just make cookies so I can have sweet stuff in the house (although that’s certainly part of it). No, baking is my other ‘thing’ where I get to put all the bits together to make a whole. It’s my other thing where you’re not entirely sure of the end product until it comes out of the oven, where you find out if you over-mixed or under-sifted, if your addition of a handful of nuts was a good idea, and if the brown sugar really did add that extra dimension you were looking for. It’s my other thing I get to look at and think, “I made that,” my other thing where I can add and tweak and take away as I see fit, and if it doesn’t work it doesn’t, but when it does there’s that happy little punch of satisfaction. It’s my other thing where I can see what I’m making rising in front of me, where I can wonder if it’s ready or not, and, quite wonderfully, I can know. I can stick a knife in, or poke it with a finger, and it tells me if it’s done or if it needs a little longer. If it doesn’t work, if it’s too dense or too soggy, I can normally see why (usually one of my tweaks). And if all else fails, if cracks appear and bits fall off, I can slather it in a mountain of icing and proclaim that it still tastes good. And all of that in about an hour, give or take.

The wonky Christmas penguin. I’m afraid I can’t show you the cupcakes, because my website might get taken down.

So, yeah. Baking.

Sometimes it’s nice to have something where you can see not just the progress, but the end. Something that you can enjoy even if it’s not quite the way you wanted it, and not agonise about it. Something that you can put your name to, and laugh about the uneven finish. Something that you made, but you’re just not that worried about.

Unless it’s to take to a party, in which case I really do try and get it right.

And since we’re talking about it, and I now want to make something, here’s my favourite brownie recipe. You’re welcome.

And if you’d like to share your favourite recipe, please do!

Chewy, Fudgey Brownies

200g dark chocolate, chopped
115g unsalted butter
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 large eggs
250g sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
140g all purpose flour

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 180C / 350F. Spray 20cm square baking pan with nonstick vegetable cooking spray. Fold two pieces of foil lengthwise so that they fit the pan. Fit one sheet in bottom of greased pan, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan; overhang will help in removal of baked brownies. Fit second sheet in pan in same manner, perpendicular to first sheet. Spray foil with nonstick cooking spray.

2. In medium heatproof bowl set over a pan of almost simmering water, melt chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally until mixture is smooth. Whisk in cocoa until smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.

3. Whisk together eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt in medium bowl until combined, about 15 seconds. Whisk warm chocolate mixture into egg mixture; then stir in flour with wooden spoon until just combined. Pour mixture into prepared pan, spread into corners, and level surface with rubber spatula; bake until slightly puffed and toothpick inserted in centre comes out with a small amount of sticky crumbs clinging to it, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours, then remove brownies from pan using foil handles. Cut into squares and serve. (Do not cut brownies until ready to serve; brownies can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated up to 5 days. If they last that long.)

Quantities include allowance for generous bowl-licking.

adulting, creativity, happiness, health, humour, ideas, imagination, inspiration, introverts, mental health, writer's life

  1. A.S. Akkalon says:

    Yum, brownies! I can’t cook for anything. 🙁

    1. kimwatt says:

      Easy brownies as well! And you build world’s plus carry all the tools you need for the zombie apocalypse on your keyring – I’m not sure you really need to add cooking to that skill set…

    2. kimwatt says:

      Easy brownies as well! And you build world’s plus carry all the tools you need to survive the zombie apocalypse on your keyring – I’m not sure you really need to add cooking to that skill set…

      1. A.S. Akkalon says:

        I’ll be able to catch the rabbit, but I’ll have to eat it raw. 🙁

        1. kimwatt says:

          ?that sounds like some sort of game show.

  2. Lisa Sell says:

    I love baking! I always thought I’d be rubbish at it so I didn’t try for years. Then a couple of years ago I decided to try. I was depressed and I needed a distraction. I needed something to make with my hands and to feel good about. It worked. I haven’t stopped baking since!

    You really summed up baking alongside writing so well. I can see why I do both now and why it matters so much when others give me positive feedback on my cakes. No one likes a bad review!

    Great post!

    1. kimwatt says:

      Thanks for commenting Lisa! I find baking really therapeutic – it’s a bit of a nesting thing for me when I’m feeling unsettled. And getting to eat the end result always helps as well…

      I hadn’t even thought about the positive feedback, but you’re quite right – even if it’s not perfect, everyone loves a fresh-made cake, so they’re always complimentary! So creativity, good reviews, and it’s all done in an hour or so, PLUS you get to eat the end result. Talk abut having your cake and eating it too.

      I’m so, so sorry for that terrible joke, but it had to be done. 😉

      1. A.S. Akkalon says:

        Which suggests a wonderful idea – we should eat our books when we’re done with them.

        Lisa, any time you want to bake me a cake I will give you the best review ever. 🙂 (Btw, I always read your blog and I love it, but I don’t usually comment because it’s scary.)

        1. kimwatt says:

          Or all books should come with cake, specifically baked to complement the theme and enhance your reading experience?

          1. A.S. Akkalon says:

            I’m up for that!

  3. Anna Adler says:

    Thanks for the brownie recipe! 😀 I’m tempted to give it a try, it seems simple enough… I’m terrible at baking. Like, really terrible. The chocolate birthday cake I made for my hubby looked like a heap of cow…droppings. It also gave the poor man stomach pain. Nowadays we rather go to a café for cakes. But I’ve managed to make decent banana bread. Maybe I’ll try brownies next.

    1. kimwatt says:

      Oh no! That is truly a cake disaster. My worst one recently was my tried and true throw-everything-in-the-slow-cooker method – normally foolproof but managed to add both Indian and Thai spices. Even the SO couldn’t save it…

      The brownie recipe is really easy – let me know if you try it! (And I love banana bread 🙂 )

  4. Kim, I can totally relate to this post! I love baking for all the same reasons, although you seem to have a lot more creative talent with it than me. The penguin is fab, btw:-)

    1. kimwatt says:

      Thank you! I was very fond of my wonky penguins – I’m really not normally so creative in anything non-writing related! And I do think that’s one of the joys of baking – you really don’t need to be all that good at it to enjoy it. Thankfully. One of my favourite things to make are still stove-top cookies that I used to make when I was about 9!

  5. rosiebvt1 says:

    I know it’s been a while but I’ve finally managed to track down this post. I’m guessing that the oven temp is not 18 degrees, but maybe 180 C, so 350 F would work? I love nothing more than a good fudgy brownie and need to try this.

    1. Kim says:

      Ah yes – might take a wee while at 18C! 350F is what I usually go with as a conversion for that too. I hope you enjoy them – they’re so yum!

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