My baking’s got its groove back!

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Yellow butter layer cake with chocolate frosting; Recipe from The Kitchn

I don’t remember the first thing I tried to bake. I do, however, remember trying to bake one thing ten times over.

It was two years ago around Christmas and I had decided, having just unwrapped a silicone cupcake tray and an OTG, that I should bake gingerbread cupcakes.

“Make the healthy version,” said my husband who tries very hard, and sometimes does succeed, in eating “healthy”. “Use recipes that call for whole wheat flour and oil instead of butter and less sugar and fruit substitutes…”

And so I set out to conquer gingerbread bakes, but every batch I baked failed miserably.

The first one was baked to the specifications dictated by my “healthy” husband – who, I realised, hasn’t read a single cake recipe in his life! I used whole wheat flour, which in Indian translates to the atta with which we make rotis. But it came out really dense and smelled funny.

The second time around, I gave in and use butter instead of olive oil, but no such luck. It was still dense and tasted strange.

So I decided, you know what? Let’s just use that damn all purpose flour these recipes keep harping on about – Indian translation being bleached and super refined Maida. The batch I made actually looked like it was supposed to! The cupcakes rose like in the photos, were light and fluffy, and would have looked good in the window of any patisserie or just my Instagram feed, same thing. But when I bit into them I found that the taste had gotten worse! Like ground ginger had made love to a bathroom disinfectant and this was their warm and funky offspring.

It took me a few more attempts and a visit from my friend Sue to finally realise that A) When it comes to baking, a good recipe is sacred. Follow it blindly like you would The Lord. Or James Blunt on Twitter (better sense of humour). B) The baking soda I had purchased from a reputed baking institute in Bangalore – you know who you are and you ain’t getting my business for that advanced bread baking class!! – was industrial strength. It now sits below my kitchen sink and is excellent at unclogging pipes. C) ‘Cups’ aren’t the teacups in which you drink caffeinated drinks and tea- and tablespoons aren’t the cutlery with which you scoop up daal-chawal when you don’t want to get your hands dirty. That bit was embarrassing to learn…

I gave up baking for a while after that. Maybe it wasn’t my ‘thing’. It required focus, discipline and commitment. Basically, I really didn’t think I wanted to put in all that effort and follow a recipe to the tee.

But of late, things have been changing for this lazy chef… er, sorry, Slow Cook. I’ve been baking more often and with more success. I guess it started when I deliciously messed up those French Breakfast Muffins. And things only got better from there!

I baked and I baked and I baked some more. I kept a low profile. I didn’t document them with photos from a 100 different angles, nor did I post a peep about them on social media. And you know what? It’s just been so much better than likes and hearts because something can look good in pictures, sure. But you know you’re on the right track when real-live people try it and love it so much that they can’t stop eating it.

I guess what I’m saying is… I’m back! And so is my mojo. Expect more Slow Cook and random food posts from now on. No no. I’m not going to do recipes — unless they’re originals. I will simply focus on doing what I really love doing — telling stories through the food I cook and eat.

French Breakfast Muffins: Toasted, Not Baked

Toasted – not baked -- mildly charred French Breakfast Muffins, anyone?

Toasted – not baked — French Breakfast Muffins, anyone?

I started this beautiful Sunday morning by following a dream. One I only dreamed of last night, but a dream nevertheless.

I dreamed I was baking French Breakfast Muffins!

I stumbled across the recipe on AllRecipes.com yesterday. I haven’t ever eaten them before but they sounded so similar to the Muffnuts I baked with my darling sister in Munich, I just had to give them a try.

They recipe had all the ingredients that promise to take a weekend cuppa chai to a magical place! Unlike many cupcake recipes I’ve tried in the past, this one called for less egg and more milk and butter, a combination, I have on good authority, which turns cakes really soft and moist. If that wasn’t enough, the muffins needed to be dipped in butter and rolled around in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. It’s one of those recipes with which you just cannot go wrong.

But see, if you’re me, you can manage to burn boiling water if you’re not careful. I still maintain that I’m an excellent cook. But I’ve come to realise that my biggest problem is lack attentiveness in the kitchen.

This morning, I did everything perfectly — from measuring the ingredients down to the last milligram, to resisting the urge of adding more butter. As I scooped the batter into moulds, I was proud to have planned so well that I had just enough for 6 muffins.

I was most pleased with myself when I placed the tray in the oven at 8.05 am. I sat down to do a bit of reading then and went back to check on them at 8.09 am. They were doing well. Rising a little… Perhaps that should have been a warning sign because when the bake time calls for 20-25 minutes, any batter that rises in 4 minutes might be in a little bit of trouble, no?

I sat back down to read and when 10 minutes had passed, I decided to go turn the tray around to even out the heat. Good thing I did because what I saw reinforced my belief that all my baking attempts was jinxed – the tops of the muffins were turning dark brown and bits of it were on their way to getting charred.

I pulled them out immediately! It took me a minute to gather my wits. Was the temperature too high? No, it was actually 10 degrees lower than what the recipe called for… Should I have placed the tray a little lower? Experience has taught me that would have charred the bottom. So I turned to look at the knobs on the right and spotted my error instantly: It was on the toaster setting. Oh joy!

It was like I was in shock, the way I went ahead with the buttering (while it was still very warm) and the cinnamon-sugar coating. I wasn’t in the mood to attempt another batch before I had mourned this one fully.

Toasted – not baked — French Breakfast Muffins, anyone? Surprisingly, yes! My husband loved the crispy-on-the-outside, soft and moist on the inside texture. He ate an entire muffin in two bites and then swiped the one I was hoping to wash down with my tea.

I guess things turned out okay after all! I’m still convinced that I’m jinxed, though. I mean, seriously! I don’t know of a single amateur baker who has made as many blunders as much as I have on every unsupervised attempt. But maybe it’s a jinx interspersed with bouts of luck because this recipe is a keeper! So long as I can recreate it without something new going wrong.