OK, so I’m totally not a master baker. But so far this year I’ve tackled two baking projects that were sort of intimidating to me and I totally nailed them, so my confidence is the baking realm is soaring.
The first project was biscotti. I wrote about my second batch here, but my premier batch came a few weeks earlier. I’m not even sure why I wanted to make biscotti. I’ve never been the biggest fan of them, since I prefer soft or chewy cookies. I think I wanted to make something almond-flavored, which traditional biscotti definitely are. So one Saturday night in January, as we watched George Clooney’s Haiti telethon on TV, I found myself a recipe and got to work. Since I was sort of nervous about attempting the cookies– the double baking, the specific texture of the finished product– I chose this detailed recipe from Cooking for Engineers. It was great– the photos with each step reassured me that everything was going OK. I made some slight modifications– I omitted the orange zest and added a splash more almond extract, since I wanted just plain almond biscotti. I also used whole almonds, which I toasted for 10 minutes and then roughly chopped. To my surprise, the whole process was actually really easy. The dough was incredibly simple to make. I baked the logs, sliced them, then baked the slices, flipping them over halfway through. Instead of finding the process fussy, I kind of loved it. And the end result was bursting with almond flavor, crunchy, and not too sweet. I could hardly believe that I’d made them. I took them in for my co-workers the following Monday. One woman said they looked so even and professional that I could’ve bought them from the store, and another said they took her right back to her honeymoon in Sicily. Don’t I have the sweetest co-workers? Anyway, I was hooked. Biscotti are easy and fun to make, plus they impress people :-). I just love that I know how to make them now.
But now, guess what I made on Sunday for the first time ever. It’s not a sweet baked good. I made naan, the South Asian flatbread. Let me tell you, I love naan. It’s a necessary part of going out for Indian food (which, of course, doesn’t happen very often for me here in Estonia). The thought of being able to make it myself practically makes me giddy with happiness. I can’t tell you what recipe I used because I discovered that there are a million different recipes for it, so I used the ingredients from one but the cooking method from another.
It didn’t turn out exactly like restaurant naan. The bread puffed up in some spots, as you can see, but not quite as much as it should have. The taste was slightly different too– I didn’t feel like learning how to clarify butter, so I just brushed them with regular melted butter before they hit the oven. But still, they were good. Really good. Chewy, slightly sweet. After our first batch (we baked them 3 at a time in a super-hot oven with the top broiler on), J said they needed more salt, so subsequent batches were sprinkled with sea salt, as you see above. It was a good choice. Just like with the biscotti, I was surprised in the end by how easy it had been. It inspires me to make some again soon, maybe try a slightly different recipe, see if I can get a different texture.
I hope this post doesn’t sound too much like I’m patting myself on the back. I think my point is just that I can be quite anxious in the kitchen when trying something new, and discovering two new things that are good and that I love to make is a huge boost to my kitchen self-esteem. And I love that no matter how much you cook or bake, there are always new things to discover, and things that make you take a step back and think, “Wow. I can’t believe I made that.” But I did.