Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My First College Baking Experience

I don't want to brag or anything, but I would consider myself a pretty accomplished baker and cook. I read a lot about cooking and food, I do my research before making something for the first time, and I understand the science behind kitchen chemistry. While this knowledge can be a good thing (say, when suggesting recipes or substitutions), it can also get you called a food snob. I admit it: I'm kind of a food snob. Much of my snobbery is warranted, though. I wholeheartedly believe in my right to scowl at the horror that is Sandra Lee (God help us). But I'll also admit that I have some preconceived notions about cooking. For instance, I generally abhor the use of packaged cake mixes and the like. I won't say it directly to your face, but I'm usually judging on the inside. I'll admit it: I'm a food snob when it comes to certain things.

But today I have been humbled.

Today was my first experience baking in a dorm kitchen. Surprisingly, this opportunity was rather unplanned. After being locked out (unintentionally) by one of my roommates, I found myself with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Seriously, you need an ID or money to do just about anything on this campus (and my iPhone, wonder of wonders when you have time to kill, was locked in my room, too). But then someone came on our floor to bake, just as she does every Wednesday afternoon. I offered to help, seeing as I had nothing else to do, and quickly went to task preparing this week's treat.

We were making "monster" cookies, or a cutesy name for a hodgepodge of sugar, butter, peanut butter, M&Ms, and chocolate chips, all bound together with oats (not flour). My inner food snob surfaced as I read through the "recipe." Of course, I use this term lightly as it was basically a listing of all the ingredients, along with some general guidelines for how to combine them and bake the cookies. Everything was very approximate ("bake for 8 to 10 minutes, I think"), so already I wasn't so sure about these cookies. (Food Snob Alert #1: Recipes for baking need to be precise and thorough. You can't mess with science.)

And seeing as how we had no real baking tools, I set to work creaming the butter and sugars by hand in a large soup pot, as it was the only vessel large enough for our doubled recipe. It was the first time I can ever remember creaming a cookie batter by hand, and it was actually kind of fun, save for the abundance of lumps in the brown sugar. (Food Snob Alert #2: Keep your brown sugar in an airtight bag to avoid getting lumps in it. Proper storage of dry goods used for baking is essential.)

As I was laboring away at the butter and sugar, I also couldn't help but notice the wayward measuring techniques of my baking companion, as she poured dry ingredients into a liquid measuring cup. (Food Snob Alert #3: Measure dry ingredients in a dry measuring cup and wet ingredients in a liquid measuring cup. There are two different types of cups for a reason!) And I was also judging the other person in the kitchen who was making some kind of boxed Reese's no-bake concoction thing. (Food Snob Alert #4: Make it from scratch.)

But I kept on mixing away anyway. The cookie batter actually looked pretty tasty, and it smelled incredible, too. Really, I don't think there's a finer smell than peanut butter, melted butter, vanilla, and brown sugar. That's an intoxicating combination right there.

As I was mixing, I told everyone how much I loved to bake. People were asking me what kinds of things I liked to bake, how you would make this or that, and I truthfully loved getting to spread my knowledge. Everyone was interested in my dream of opening up a bakery. (Food Snob Alert #5: I love talking all about food and baking and Bon Appetit and Clinton St. Baking Company's pancakes and food blogs, but I'll always try to do so discreetly, gauging your true interest so as not to completely bore you to death.)

After mixing the dough, it was time to portion the batter out and bake the cookies. We had three cookie sheets so inevitably our first batch baked up unevenly. The cookies didn't even spread (Food Snob Alert #6: Use baking soda in conjunction with acidic ingredients, not just for no good reason), and the candy coating on the outside of the M&M's burned on the cookie sheet, sending a smoky aroma throughout the hall. But the second and third sheets of the first batch seemed to fly out of the kitchen, and everyone on our hall enjoyed them. (Food Snob Alert #7: Let your baked goods cool before devouring. Also, have the patience to wait until the particular item is finished baking before eating it. The finished product will be so much better than raw cookie dough. I promise.)

I had a few crumbs of a cookie, and I'll admit, it was actually pretty good, but how can something with peanut butter, brown sugar, chocolate, and butter not be tasty? I'm used to more refined recipes and a more refined kitchen. I'm also used to the compliments I receive when I bake different things in the kitchen, as well as overwhelmingly consistent end results (not cookies with burned bottoms). Cooking in college will take some getting used to (I can still mix up a delicious jello, though, so there's that), but until then, there are lots of opportunities to practice.

Tomorrow there is a cook-off/bake-off between a few of the dorms and next Wednesday we've already planned to make red velvet cupcakes. I said I'd provide the recipe, and I'm thinking about this one. What about you? Do you have food snob tendencies? Or did I just totally offend you?


  1. I knew you knew it. I don't think I'm a cooking snob, but I'm totally a food snob when it comes to restaurants. You know me - it has to have about 100 Yelp reviews (not too many though or it's too popular and trendy) and at least 4 stars so it's red, not yellow - and almost always must be "American (New)." I made Ina's Italian Wedding soup the other day!

  2. of course you're a food (and cooking) snob and we love you for it! I'm only disappointed there was no photo to accompany the post. I have no opinion about red velvet cupcake recipes (with or without chocolate :-)

  3. i'm right there with you-especially sandra lee-sorry, why pay $2-3 for boxed cake mix when you have all the dry ingredients already?! love how you adapted nicely to your circumstances, oh and what time should i be there to get my cupcake?

  4. How cool that there are bake-offs and that people do all this baking on Wednesdays!

    I do like to make things from scratch. But I have to admit that I use ready-to-bake cookie dough for robotics practice snacks. Last week one team member said "I wish these were homemade." Maybe he'll grow up appreciating good food, too. :)