Baking for Friends and Neighbors

Cider Donut Muffins, Yankee Magazine, baking

Cider Donut Muffins

I am a contrarian who has always done things in a different way and I take a counter-intuitive approach to life. When I see a crowd, I go to where there are no people. When most people turn right, I go left. When folks arrive late, I get there early.

So, it should come as no surprise that I am baking more at a time when most women have given it up. I am one of the few people in my book group who bakes for a meeting because the others threw away their baking pans when they downsized. I know one woman who is looking to unload all her baking gear but I am adding, judiciously, to my stock.

Need Time for Baking

I spent most of my life as a working wife and mother. I had no energy to bake on weeknights so I crammed non-meal cooking into weekends—which were also busy. I never made anything that required rising once, much less twice, because I could never be sure I would be around to punch down the dough or knead as required. More than likely, I would come home to find the yeast monster had risen, and risen, and risen, flowing out of the bowl, or that it had never risen at all because the house was too cold.

Orange Sweet Buns, baking, King Arthur Flour

Orange Sweet Buns

Spare time meant working on a novel or critiquing the work of others in my writing group. I made time to go to the gym but baking fell off the bottom of the To Do list. Plus, buying cookbooks never fit into our budget. I don’t like reading cookbooks so not until it all went online did I have easy access to a world of recipes at the click of a key.

Now I have time. I can afford to purchase ingredients and take a class now and then at the King Arthur Flour Baking School. I can spend an afternoon putting together a complicated recipe and enjoying the results.

I also have cookbook software and have created my own cookbook online. Nothing goes into it until I have tested the recipe, no matter how good it sounds or how luscious the picture looks. Right now I have over 100 recipes in all categories, not just baking, with quite a few waiting in line for me to enter.

Need Test Kitchen Consumers

What I don’t have any more is people to eat what I bake. The kids are grown and out. My grandchildren live a plane ride away. And we’re not going to eat all those goodies ourselves.

Cider Gingerbread Cake

Cider Gingerbread Cake

I can’t bring baked goods into work any more, so I look for guinea pigs — test kitchen eaters — and I have built a small stable of them:

  • Book group
  • Writing group
  • Church congregation
  • Bake sales
  • Neighbors
  • Parties and cookouts

If I have a group meeting to attend or a party to go to, I arrive with baked goods in hand. My husband doesn’t understand how I can spring an untested recipe on a group but how else am I going to test it? Besides, I haven’t heard any complaints.

Recent Creations

I get recipes from a lot of sources but, for baking, I rely on King Arthur Flour and Yankee Magazine, with some contributions from Epicurious. In the last few months, I have made:

The Proof of the Cake Is in the Recipe

Usually, I will bake something once and then find ways to alter the way the recipe is written or how the final product comes out of the oven. I added raisins plumped up in rum to the Brown Bread Muffins and tarragon to the Salmon Pie (my mother’s recipe). The Peach Pie turned out too loose and runny so I scrapped that recipe and will try a different one next summer.

Lemon Bliss Cake, King Arthur Flour, bake sale

Lemon Bliss Cake wrapped for sale

Sometimes I find that the recipe has problems, as written. The Chocolate Malted Milk Cake, for example, came from a Bon Appetit recipe that was written badly. The batter was much runnier than the directions indicated. The recipe pictured a slice of bundt cake but the recipe called for a 9”x5” loaf pan. When I followed the recipe, the batter rose out of the pan and dripped all over my oven racks and onto the oven floor.  It looked really ugly but tasted fine.

I plan to make it again for a Boston By Foot holiday party but with a few changes. I will pour (not scrape and smooth) the batter into a bundt pan and place a cookie sheet on the rack underneath it to catch any drips. If this turns out well, the revised recipe will go into my personal online cookbook.

Don’t Overdo the Baking

I have to remind myself not to overdo the baking.  Once I get started I want to keep going because the oven it hot and it seems logical to just put something else in it. And on a cold winter day it’s comforting to hang out in the kitchen and make things that smell and taste good. Who needs a cinnamon candle to perfume the house when you can make cinnamon rolls?

Unfortunately, however, I don’t have enough volunteer eaters to handle the overflow. And I can’t join more groups because my time is already overbooked. The neighbors are mostly happy to get a reverse trick-or-treat call but some don’t want sweets in the house, either.

It’s a puzzle.

In the meantime, though, I have my eye on baking Yankee Magazine’s triple-layer Maple-Walnut Layer Cake with maple frosting. This one’s a beast. It will feed a big group. Where will I find enough people to enjoy it? Hmmmmm . . .