Baking for the impatient chef
Baking requires too much math and precise measuring. Even though I love the smell of bread baking in the oven, and I get a big kick out of watching yeast bubble up and give life to dough, I usually leave the task of bread baking to people who have more patience than I have, which is very little.
Cakes are beautiful, but fussy and everyone must tiptoe around the kitchen when they are forming in the oven. I don’t need baked goods running my life, so I just don’t make cakes.
Back in my younger days when I had more patience, I actually liked baking. For a while I was into pound cake. I could impress my dinner guests and friends by slicing the completed loaf in three or four layers—the long way—then filling the spaces with cooked cream and berry purees that soaked into the cake layers. Voila!
I got on a cheesecake kick for a while—real rich New York style—but you can only eat so much cheesecake in a lifetime and live to tell about it.
Once I even tried to make my own éclairs. The choux paste puffed up perfectly in the oven and when they were cool, I piped vanilla cream into the centers and glazed them with shiny dripping chocolate. They were a huge hit, and I am getting very hungry writing this!
In my humble opinion, baking requires the use of full-fat, highquality ingredients or it’s just not worth the effort. I tried a recipe recently for brownies that substituted pureed black beans for much of the flour and used agave syrup as the sweetener. Some friends tried them out with me and we were happy to be able to eat high-protein, low fat brownies that were actually good for us, but all agreed that there’s nothing like the real thing. That recipe came from the Dr. Oz TV show and might still be available on the website.
Now, I prefer to throw ingredients willy-nilly into a pot, using my experience and my nose as my prime measuring devices.
I enjoy hearing onions sizzle in olive oil and the smell of peppers, herbs and grilled meats wafting through the house.
Still, on cold fall days my inclination is always to turn on the oven to warm up the kitchen. So, I bake.
This weekend I revisited an old recipe I adapted for wine biscuits, which are among my favorite treats to eat with a cup of coffee or a glass of vino. They have a wonderful aroma when baking and nobody has to tiptoe— we can even dance around the kitchen if we want. I like this recipe because even if I misread the amounts of the ingredients or I decide to halve or double the recipe, I still end up with wine biscuits. So the element of precision and patience are lessened.
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more if needed
1 cup sugar
1 package baking powder (I like Dr. Oetkers)
1 cup red wine (I have used Chianti, merlot and malbec with equal
success—fruity, young wines are best)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 egg, slightly beaten
Put dry ingredients in a large bowl and whisk together. In another
bowl, combine wine, oil and egg and blend thoroughly. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ones and stir with a stiff spoon until combined. Add more flour, 1/4 cup at a time until the dough is no longer sticky and can be rolled and shaped. With floured hands, take a golf ball sized piece of dough and roll into a snake about 6-7 inches long. Make a loose knot of the dough and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for about 18-20
minutes until slightly browned. Cool completely and store for a week in an airtight container. These can be frozen.