A friend once said something very wise about the difference between baking and cooking: cooking is an art; baking is a science. And I ain’t no scientist!
I wholeheartedly concur. It’s not that I can’t bake, in fact, my recent (dare I say) stunning success in recreating Momofuku’s insanely rich and delicious Crack Pie shows that when I put my mind to it – and have a talented and extremely patient co-conspirator sharing the helm – I am actually capable of producing some pretty delectable confections.
For the most part, however, I am really quite a terrible baker, because the specifics of baking – the need to measure, and sift, and put in exactly what the recipe tells you to – run afoul of my whatever goes culinary philosophy. And of course, my laziness. And so it is that desserts at our house consist primarily of pieces of dark chocolate, dates, and the occasional sliver of candied ginger, artfully arranged on a small plate and consumed with whiskey, brandy, or something vaguely resembling brandy.
As another friend recently said, shattering my delusions: real brandy doesn’t come in a plastic bottle.
Now, you might be thinking that this all sounds quite lovely, and indeed, a treat plate, when consumed in conjunction with a comedy nightcap, sends one off to bed in an extremely satisfied state. Still, I long for the aroma of something sweet and bubbly (or crumbly or crisp) coming out of the oven.
When I was a kid there was always dessert: apple pie with cheese, date bars, chocolate chip cookies, Brown Betty. Like most kids, we looked forward to dessert from the moment we got home from school and saw it sitting on top of the stove, cooling. In those days, we would lobby hard to gain recognition for the validity of presserts. And when over and over again we were told that this would never happen, I would comfort myself knowing that when I grew up, I would be making and eating desserts whenever I pleased. Then I grew up.
Sometimes, I become obsessed with the idea of dessert, and rifle through the cabinets between episodes looking for something to whip up. This happened a few nights ago between episodes of Party Down, and brought forth a sigh of despair from my husband, who foresaw an hour of chaos (on my part) and waiting (on his), resulting in the production of something that was likely to be, at best, merely palatable. True, we had no eggs, or flour, or cocoa, and the cane sugar cubes – which I had already tried (and failed) to dissolve in a bowl of banana bread batter – were ill-suited to any task.
And then I saw it: a can of sweetened condensed milk, bought months ago for some dinner party or another, long abandoned and forgotten about and sitting dust-covered at the back of the shelf. I quickly googled desserts, condensed milk, and in a second, was whipping up something good.
Turns out, all you need to do with sweetened condensed milk is add a few spoonfuls to a cup of yoghurt and mix it together. Then you stick it in the fridge, and in an hour or so, you have something resembling pudding. Recently, after watching an episode of Master Chef, I realized that what I am really lacking in the kitchen is flair. So to flair it up, I added about a lemon’s worth of zest and some coarsely ground black pepper. Later, when I pulled it out of the fridge, I topped it with some frozen blueberries, some more lemon zest, and a couple of halved ground cherries for decoration. It was, in a word, delicious. And simple. And soon, as there is a still a plethora of the stuff in a container in the fridge, I will embark on a vanilla-pistachio version with a little red chili for kicks.