Tales from the Graveyard

My oven is just like yours. I promise. It’s dark, hot and has some burnt bits on the bottom (ovens come like that, right?) It isn’t a golden cabinet billowing forth light and blessed pastries. In fact, the light is so dim that I have a hard time checking on cakes without opening the door (something I am loathe to do lest I let loose the built up heat). The cakes, cookies, breads and brownies that parade across the screens of Renegade Kitchen are not the first, third or even the fifth batch to come out of the oven. No, the goodies you see are closer to round 15 and sometimes, upwards of 25. I don’t have a golden touch, just frighteningly high standards and a level of persistence on par with telemarketers.

While it may seem like it takes a great deal of patience to wade through round after round of testing, it is, in fact, my bubbling impatience that keeps me going to the end. I know when something isn’t right in a recipe. And I want to fix it. Now. It’s easy to see what’s wrong when it comes out of the oven, but frequently (nod along with me bakers) I know before it even goes into the heat that something is amiss. Baking E.S.P. It is the beautiful fatalism of baking. Even when I can sense that there’s a gremlin in the dough, if I’ve spent time working a batter I will slide it into my preheated oven (if only to confirm my foresight). Of course, as soon as it’s out I’ll break the dough apart for analysis and start writing the next iteration. Which can lead to two, three and four rounds in one day. For me, this is the only way to move forward! If I were more patient perhaps I’d wait a day in between rounds, but I must credit my impatience for helping me to quickly assess a challenge and move forward with a new plan. How do you go about testing recipes?

Certain foods have proved more vexing than others. Biscotti? Don’t even blink. I polished off that recipe in a mere three rounds, practically unheard of in my kitchen. Chocolate chip cookies, on the other hand, were my crucible. What was it, 43 rounds? Every batch provided new insight, but also new mutations, new problems. One batch was spongy. Horrid. Another, crisp and light but brittle as Nicole Ritchie’s over-processed hair. I could barely lift one from the tray before it shattered into a thousand unsplendid pieces. Of course, conquering the chocolate chip cookie gave my ego a boost on par with Simon Cowell’s frigid praise.

I’ve told you about cupcakes. Though they went through fewer rounds than the chocolate chip cookies, the hand held cakes were, perhaps, twice as fickle. I’d solve a problem only to find that the pendulum had swung too far in another direction, producing bastard cakes which leached out their oil or had the texture of low grade foam rubber. And now, it seems, I have a new adversary.

The pretzel.

Let me first inform you that my obsession with the pretzel borders on insanity. There is hardly a meal I can imagine that would not be improved with a handful of small, crisp pretzels strewn across the plate. Butternut squash soup? Pretzels offer the perfect balancing crunch. Salad for dinner? You’ll need some croutons-here, take a handful of pretzels. Late night trash-snack of hot dogs and baked beans? Obviously you should top the bowl with some tiny pretzels. Yes, I know it is unhealthy, I’m aware it is unsavory, but here I am baring all before you.

And while I love little bite-sized pretzels out of a bag, one thing I’m missing in my life is a giant, salty, soft pretzel. Philadelphia or New York style, I’ll take either as long as it’s gluten free. I know I’ll get there at some point, but for now I leave you with these final pictures. The very first round. Full of problems.

You may snicker. I am fully aware that this looks like a giant scatological joke.

It is not. It is truly a first round of experimentation.

Impatience onward!