Brownie s'mores.Editor's note: Dreading the task of baking something special for Fourth of July week? Zester Daily contributor Susan Lutz has suggestions.
By Susan Lutz
I hate to bake. That's not to say that I can't bake. I just don't like it very much.
Over the past 10 years, I've baked a lot. When I got married, I gained not only a husband, but also a stepson, and I quickly learned that baked goods go a long way with boys. I don't want to be stereotypical and say that the way to a man's heart is his stomach. But the evidence is compelling. It may not be the best way to express love, but making delicious desserts is a simple and satisfying way to show almost anyone that you care.
RELATED: Secrets for perfect frozen desserts.
Cooking is a necessity and therefore something most of us take for granted. Dessert is an "extra" -- a treat we don't have to have.
So I've become a baker. And I've learned a few things about baking over the years. These top five secrets have made baking desserts easier, and the recipients happier.
1. Remember the end goal: happy eaters.
The greatest pleasure of baking is its capacity to evoke awe and joy. Baking is a crowd pleaser. Perhaps not in the process (because for me, baking is not a cook pleaser), but in the delivery from cook to eater, and in the eater's obvious pleasure as the sweet carbohydrate goodness is consumed.
2. Know your audience.
In my opinion, there is no point in making a 14-layer cake with home-dried strawberries and freshly grated coconut for a 3-year-old's birthday party. I don't mean that children don't appreciate fine baked goods -- I have a daughter who loves croissants more than cake. However, on the day your child's birthday party, you may wish (as I frequently have) that you'd put more effort into foods that provide sustenance for kids who don't want to take time to eat and less effort into baking. Most kids will eat any kind of cake that's put in front of them. Why go to the extra trouble of making a fancy dessert when the birthday boy just wants a thick slice of chocolate cake? Sometimes the simplest desserts are the best.
Of course, the flip side of this rule is that there are times to go all out with baking. I recently went to a grown-up party of food-preservers where someone brought dozens of homemade profiteroles. She was a real baker and she knew that she'd be bringing this finely crafted dessert to an informed audience who would really appreciate her skill and hard work. We did.
3. Don't make "mini" anything.
Baking is not a good multi-tasking activity and as a mom I live my life as a multi-tasker. The proper baking time for tiny baked treats is short and the window for perfection is shorter. In my opinion, mini baked goods should be left to the professionals. They get paid to give baking their undivided attention.
I do, however, make individually portioned baked goods when it seems like the path of least resistance. I recently invented a recipe for brownie s'mores, simply so I could avoid making cupcakes for my daughter's class at school. Making brownie s'mores involves nothing more than scooping brownie batter into cupcake liners and topping each portion with graham cracker crumbs, chocolate chips and marshmallows near the end of the baking time.
If you're not a chocolate lover, but you bake for someone who is, embrace the chocolate chip, or chocolate shavings if you bake primarily for adults. For chocolate fans, a little chocolate will cover a multitude of baking sins. And for the non-chocolate lover, eating something with chocolate chips is much more palatable than eating something that's made entirely of chocolate.
5. Avoid any baked good that you do not like to eat.
No matter how much time and effort you spend in making baked perfection -- if you don't like it, the whole thing becomes a complete waste of time (and makes you irritable as the rest of your audience gobbles up your treats.) Cook for yourself as well as your family.
I made brownie s'mores for dessert tonight. My youngest daughter was covered in chocolate within seconds, and she looked so cute that I couldn't resist asking her how she liked her dessert. She looked up at me sweetly and said, "I don't want to talk, I'm too happy." Moments like these make me think that I may grow to love baking after all.
So when you bake, make yourself happy, both in terms of the process and the results. And send me your cake recipes.
Zester Daily contributor Susan Lutz is a photographer, artist and television producer. A native of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, she currently lives in Los Angeles, where she is writing a book about heirloom foods and the American tradition of Sunday dinner. She also blogs about the subject at Eat Sunday Dinner.
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