Shortly after Ben and I met, we both returned home to our respective countries and continued our friendship through letters and e-mails. I was just starting food blogging at that time and he asked me to tell him what baking had taught me through the years. It was a difficult question for me to answer and I found myself uncharacteristically speechless. I spent a good deal of time thinking about it, especially mulling it over while baking, and here is the answer that I wrote back to him.
During the first year that Ben and I were corresponding, I was seriously re-evaluating my life. I was putting check marks next to the things I had accomplished and trying not to feel incredibly guilty for all the things that I didn’t do. I was in the process learning and growing and realizing that it always happened much more quickly when things aren’t going as planned. Fortunately for me, baking often doesn’t go the way I had planned and so I’ve learned a lot from it in my life.
Here are some of those lessons:
Slow Down: Anyone who knows me knows that I occasionally talk a mile-a-minute, I walk quickly and have generally prided myself on being fast at things. It’s only in the last little while that I have realized that this isn’t always a positive trait. Yes I can do things quickly, but tend to take shortcuts. I end up missing a lot of the enjoyment of simply being able to perform the task, instead focusing on just completing it. Baking doesn’t let you rush it. Bread rises in its own time. Rush it and you’ll end up with bricks of flour. Rush through baking a cake or any complicated recipe and you’re almost guaranteed to forget something crucial. The beauty of baking at home is in creating these things and exploring a dying art, not in saving time. And, sometimes, the most amazing chocolate chip cookies take 3 days to make.
Imperfection is Perfection: Each baked good, just like people, has its own quirks and eccentricities. These things have come about from the way they were treated, tended to and the baking process. Mass produced, perfect baked goods may look gorgeous set out on a table, but tend to lack something. There is nothing as inviting and delicious as rustic, hand shaped bread, or chunky, chewy cookies. They have character, depth of flavour and are made with a love that really comes through in the final product.
Best Shared With Others: Much like life, I have learned that sitting alone gorging on chocolate chip cookie dough is not only sad, it’s missing out on the best part of life. Besides seeing someone’s face totally light up when you bring them baked goods unexpectedly, you get to share a story with them, a part of yourself and a little bit of love. I don’t really love to eat baked goods, but I absolutely love making them for people. It’s something I can do for them that makes me feel good and hopefully that brightens their day and makes them feel that someone is thinking of them.
Don’t Be Afraid: I have a lot of people tell me that they like how fearless I am in the kitchen. This always strikes me as funny because what is there to be afraid of? Why spend your whole life being afraid of things that never come to fruition? And even if they do come true, what good has worrying about them done? Fear does not serve you. Let yourself loose, throw caution to the wind (even if only in the kitchen). Relax and have fun with it… it’s only food… it’s only life. You might just amaze yourself with what you end up creating.
Take Time to Listen: A big part of what I try to do with this blog is to give a story to recipes. To tell the tale of why they are important to me. Every recipe, every food has an amazing story (or lots of amazing stories) despite outside appearances. Taking the time to listen to these stories, to reflect on the ingredient or the tradition behind a recipe gives life and personality and purpose to the food. It’s an incredible experience to allow these tales to feed your soul as well as your body.
Quality vs. Quantity: Yes, I can go to the store and buy 10 dozen giant, perfect cookies. Chances are that they’ll be full of ingredients I can’t pronounce and that I’ll end up eating too many of them to enjoy (possibly 9 dozen). Being in nursing AND in baking, I have learned that in life as in baking, people are drawn to quantity. We want longer lives, more cookies, bigger loaves of bread that stay pillowy soft for ages… but at what cost? Being hooked up to machines, or filling our bodies with chemicals, loads of tasteless baked goods for $1.00. Amazing chocolate, freshly milled flour, hand produced treats, quality time spent with loved ones. Life and baking should revolve around quality.
And probably the most importantly:
Clean Up Your Messes As You Go: This one hasn’t always been an easy one for me to learn or to remember.
This lesson works on a few different levels.
1) Procrastination is a really unattractive trait. Leaving everything to the last minute results in undue stress. Amazing chances slip away and sometimes, important things just don’t get done at all.
2) Fix the mistakes you have made before too much time goes by and too much damage is done. Make the wrongs right if you can… even if you don’t think it’s your fault. Tell people how you feel about them, or simply make things right with yourself. Time here is finite and regrets are something that I refuse to live with. Baking has indirectly taught me to be bold, to take chances. But it has also taught me to be gentle to myself, to forgive myself for things I’ve been holding on to for far too long.
Give yourself the chance to start with a clean slate.
A new beginning.
Clean up your messes, clean up your kitchen, clean up your life.
And then let’s bake some brownies.
- 10 tablespoons (140 grams) vegan butter (stick, not tub)
- 1¼ cups (250 grams) sugar
- ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (65 grams)unsweetened cocoa powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 6 TBSP of chickpea flour
- 6 TBSP of warm (not hot) water
- ½ cup (65 grams) all-purpose flour
- 5 chewy vegan chocolate chip cookies, broken in to pieces
- Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.
- Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium sauce pan. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and warm.
- Set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot.
- While cooling, mix chickpea flour and water until smooth and creamy. Set aside.
- Once the chocolate mixture is warm, stir in the vanilla. Add the chickpea mixture in two batches, stirring vigorously after each one.
- When the batter looks thick and shiny, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 50 strokes.
- Spread half of the batter in the pan, top with broken up chocolate chip cookies and then top with remaining batter.
- Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist , 25-30 minutes.
- Let cool completely on a rack.
- Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board.
- Cut into 16 or 25 squares.
- *Important note: chickpea flour is amazing as an egg substitute, but it makes raw dough taste awful (which is great for dough addicts like myself). Make sure that baked goods are cooked through so that the chickpea flavour will dissipate.*