I don’t recall precisely, or even approximately, when I began to consider baking an active hobby and not just a slightly cheaper, but more time consuming, way to celebrate an occasion. When people ask how I got into it, I explain that I’d always gotten lucky with my early baking endeavors, which is what encouraged me to continue testing my luck. When I actually look back though, I’m not sure that’s the case.
Back in 7th grade, I’d been amazed that one of my friends could make cupcakes and cookies from scratch and often did so to celebrate friends’ birthdays. I personally received two trays of these frosted and decorated cupcakes on my own birthday. My admiration was so great that she invited me over later that year to bake cookies with her. We invited two more friends to join us, one of whom decided to eat a sizable portion of raw cookie dough that day, prompting me to try it for the first time.
In 9th grade, I baked a massive sheet of boxed, Pillsbury Funfetti brownies for friends in youth orchestra. I didn’t bake the brownies long enough, but it was still a sweet moment for me — and it wasn’t just because my friends were unanimously in favor of the denser, richer texture of my under-baked brownies.
It was the first time growing up that I had a group of close friends large enough to warrant baking a 9″ x 13″ pan of brownies and not be strapped with leftovers for days following. The memory is probably also sweetened by the fact that I’d used the brownies as an excuse to ask out the guy I’d liked at the time. (He said yes.)
The last three years of high school didn’t feature much notable baking. I learned how to bake homemade pumpkin bread with my mom — and once added 2⅓ cups of water instead of just ⅔ cup, which thankfully didn’t compromise the flavor too much. But it was a folly that only made me more envious of one friend’s ability to make incredible homemade pumpkin muffins (that were not weighed down by water).
My Instagram (foodstagram) feed of my college food and kitchen endeavors evokes just as many memories of #collegestudent baking substitutes as it does proper successes, but I can still recognize a shift in the way the way I shared my baking about a year and a half ago. Why? I couldn’t begin to say. Perhaps it was just a matter of time and familiarity that allowed me to take more pride in the treats I made for others and begin offering to make “custom orders” for friends as thank you’s or birthday gifts.
And when it came down to it, I did always seem to get lucky.
Relying on so many years of beginner’s luck to build up my actual baking skills, however, has caused failures — anything from a peeing pie to flattening cookies — to feel larger in comparison to the under-baked brownies of 9th grade.
This weekend, a good friend hosted a cookie social and requested that no one use egg in their baked goods due to the dietary restrictions of one of our guests. Unfortunately, replacing banana with egg is not as simple as replacing buttermilk with yogurt and water, or even butter with yogurt.
In other words, flat cookies do not belong on foodstagrams, and I was incredibly disappointed to be bringing banana-flavored cookies with me. Baking sessions are therapeutic for me; they’re a time to relax and destress. My lack of visible success was upsetting not only because I felt like I was letting people down, but also because I’d disrupted my own relaxation with my own shortcoming.
It took the comfort of three taste testers, the complaints of several other bakers who’d gone through the same struggles, and the warm hugs of many for me to finally make peace with my mangled cookies — and myself.
I have known — for at least a year now — that good food can bring together even better company. I am also, however, always grateful to be reminded that wonderful people can make even the worst foods palatable.
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