The Baking Gene

It seems every year I have this unsettling urge to bake around the holidays. I don’t know when this started, I don’t know where it comes from, But it begins when the temperatures start to drop here in central California around the first of December. I will bake on an almost daily basis right up until the week before Christmas then it just stops. My family has gotten to expect this bounty of sugary delights every year and begins stock piling flour, butter, sugar (brown and white) and of course eggs. There will be a stock pile of other things like nuts and fresh fruits also but not for healthy reasons.

I don’t make the same things every year, and I don’t take requests, although they try, because this is a compulsion. I never know which direction my whimsy will take me, so I never know what I will be baking from one day to the next. I usually start slow, Banana breads and assorted cookie dough.  and work my way into candies petite fores and pies. by the end of the three week binge of sugar and flour confections drizzled in chocolate and caramel and butterscotch. I don’t want to see a cake or pie for months. I think the trigger is Thanks Giving, I always start baking a few pies for the holiday and about a week later I have worked my way into a baking frenzy.

Now I have to inform my dear drooling readers that I have trained and worked as a pastry chef. I’m not talking about the person that decorates your birthday cake at the grocery store, I’m talking professionally trained Pastry Chef. Years ago I worked in a Michelin starred restaurant as the pastry chef and even got mentioned in an article in Gourmet Magazine. But, I left that life a long time ago and now find myself with a compulsion that pops up once a year. (like a really sweet smelling Aunt that shows up to visit for the holidays). So I have come to the realization that it happens and started thinking, “Hey maybe I’m not the only one”. If this is true and there are others out there then I am here to help.

First lets talk about setting yourself up so you can fulfill your addiction to baking without giving up hours of your life standing in a kitchen. “Mis En Place” is everything! Some of you are saying whats Mis En Place? well Mis En Place is the ingredients you will need to make your master piece. We, however, are going to take it a step further. For most cooks and chefs,

Mis en Place looks something like this.images (11)

But I am going a little further because there are certain things you can make ahead of time and all you have to do is bake them off or assemble the finished ingredients.

Cookies are a perfect example most of the time spent making cookies is in the baking, what I am suggesting is make your dough ahead of time, wrap it in plastic in a long two inch round tube and refrigerate until needed. By doing this when the urge to bake hits you just have to cut the cookies to the required size and bake off a batch. Easy Peesy! so instead of all the cleanup of baking from the beginning you just have to clean one pan. This will cut your kitchen time in half and you can make an assortment of different doughs so that when the need strikes your in and out in twenty minutes.

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The same can be done with sponge cake. With a little preparation you can bake off several sponges at once the freeze them until needed. some of you are asking what the  hell am I going to do with a frozen sponge? well sponge cake can be very versatile and you would be surprised at all the different and creative uses for sponge cake.

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You can roll it with fruit our cream filling.

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You can make one of my favorite delicate petite fors. You can also make cakes. One of my favorite is a Chantilly Cream and fruit compote filled naked cake.

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With the proper time spent setting up your Mis En Place you can be a rock star in the kitchen. Once you have the basics down try something a little harder. Remember though baking is not cooking, baking is chemistry with a delicious outcome. Weights and Measures are in the recipe for a reason, these are not suggestions, these are chemical equations. Do not deviate from the recipe or you will pay the price. Soundtrack: “Evil Maniacal Laugh” Just remember this is about creating not killing yourself to make others happy. Pastry is art!

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