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Cooks vs. bakers

Hi,
I am a reporter for the Baltimore Sun and I am looking for some thoughts on the differences between "cooks" and "bakers:" their mindsets, their rivalries, the differences in their craft. I'd be interested in hearing from both home cooks and professional chefs. Thanks

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  1. My feeling is that cooks are more intuitive and more likely to tweak recipes as they go along based on personal preferences or ingrredients on hand. Once you "know" how to cook, you understand how certain flavors and textures go together and often times don't need a recipe just an idea. The need to measure specifically is often a sticking point for cooks versus bakers. I love to cook and have found that the eyeball method of measuring is a complete disaster when it comes to baking. Bakers are definitely a more patient and precise lot and I love to eat the results of their efforts.

    3 Replies
    1. re: baseballfan

      Thanks, baseballfan. Would you be willing to identify yourself with a name, occupation and hometown...for my story? you can email me privately at susan.reimer@baltsun.com

      1. re: baseballfan

        I'd agree only insofar as most cooking allows for more mistakes while still producing an edible result. Having eaten more "intuitive" but abominable meals cooked by people under the delusion they were being creative just because it didn't actually look like a disaster, I can't agree that cooking is any more or less "intuitive" than baking. Except that beginners can get away with more mistakes. But to do either well, you must learn the basics well, and then start improvising. And at that level, baking is certainly as creative or intuitive as anything else. It's like any creative art or craft - you can't express yourself in the medium until you understand the medium. I think what throws people is that baking mistakes are usually more obvious, while cooking mistakes can be passed with "it's supposed to look like that." LOL

        And this comes from a cook-type, who started to learn to cook in the kitchen of his baker-mother... I can bake acceptably well (including some pretty fancy stuff), but the lack of constant engagement in the process tends to bore me. I'm fine up until it goes into the oven, but then I'm ready to be done, and except for stuff like bread, pound cake and muffins, you're not...

        1. re: baseballfan

          I love to cook. I love to bake, typically desserts. I love the more "forgiving" nature of cooking. I love the "wow" reaction I get when a dessert gets to the table. And, I love to needlepoint--I love the creativity in selecting the materials and the stitches, yet patience and precision are critical to projects not looking like a craft project doomed for the garage sale. I must have serious psychiatric issues.

        2. Cooks seem to be less text book as bakers are by the book. Baking is a science and you need to understand why certain ingredients work for a bread to rise or not. Cooks combine flavors to accomplish what they want and is not always from following a recipe. For instance, I never follow a recipe. I take pride in altering a standard recipe to call it mine. There are few tricks in baking.

          You will find cooks to be more rugged, aggresive, agitated and anqious. A baker seems to be more intellegent, calm and easy to work with. I have been in this business for 16 years. Most everyone will tell you the same things I have.

          I am a professional chef

          You will never find a chef who is an incredible cook and an incredible baker. I have never seen it. I think the reason is because, bakers use the left side (science/ grammar) of their brain to excel as the cook will use the right side (art/ math) to excel.

          10 Replies
          1. re: CHEFBUCK

            Great analysis. I am in the cook category. I do bake pies at Thanksgiving, but it is really an effort. OTOH, I am able to prepare and cook the entire Thanksgiving feast for 25+ with no problem. I LOVE when I see an exact recipe for a baked item on the home cooking board. I made a fabulous peach pie from a recipe on these boards a few weeks ago.
            I am not a professional chef, but, like you, do not follow recipes when cooking. I know what I like, what my family likes, and what ingredients compliment each other.

            1. re: CHEFBUCK

              That's exactly what I was going to say ChefBuck. IMO, English and Art majors make great cooks but if you want dessert, ask an engineer.

              1. re: southernitalian

                Interesting - in my household, it is the opposite. My husband is an engineer by training, and wouldn't bake to save his life because it would require following a recipe. When he cooks there is never a recipe involved (rarely a side dish either - but he's getting better!). I actually like both cooking and baking, though I taught myself to cook by strictly following recipes. In the past several years I've become more confident and experimental about my cooking, however, and have fun playing with ingredients that I've picked up at the farmer's market etc. Certainly baking is, I think, much more of a science, and in some ways requires mastering of techniques to get the recipe to turn out correctly - i.e., knowing when the egg whites are whipped properly. I think I've had a lot more baked goods turn out to be flops than savory recipes, despite following the directions.

                1. re: MMRuth

                  The same goes in my household. My husband is an engineer/IT person and loves cooking, improvising but hates baking. I'd much rather write but love baking. But, I attribute that to having a sweet tooth. My husband doesn't have one.

                2. re: southernitalian

                  I think I fit the bill... I'm a chemist and a better baker than cook. I absolutely love how you can dissect baking down to the molecular level. I spend a lot of time learning about the underlying principles with all of the techniques and ingredients. Salt fools the taste receptors, acid/base reaction makes my red velvet cupcakes fluffier, properly-handled yeast and gluten make a good loaf of bread, etc.

                  It's funny how my work and my favorite hobby are basically one in the same. I joke that I'm essentially "cooking" at work, but it's quite true. And without understanding how my reactions work, I won't be able to tweak them to produce the results I want. Same goes for my baking. Once I understand how certain methods work, I start experimenting with them. If something goes wrong, I like to break it down to the last detail for troubleshooting.

                  I'm a pretty good cook, but I think baking suits me a lot better. On a related note, I keep my kitchen the same way I keep my workspace. Obsessively clean. When I cook/bake, I keep things organized and regularly pause to clear off or wash dishes. Guess I'm not that good at leaving work at work.

                3. re: CHEFBUCK

                  I am a math atheist and do well with cooking and baking. I think it comes down to knowing that when you are baking you are using a formula and there is not much wiggle room except with something like flavorings or adding nuts for texture. It is funny, in my home I am the chief cook and pizza dough maker. My DH who has no math issues, and at one time was an English teacher, where I was a Home Ec Ed and Art History major, is a great bread baker. I got him started with it years ago and then got out of the way. He is a good cook too but generally leaves it to me

                  1. re: CHEFBUCK

                    I know it's rare, but don't forget Michel Richard!

                    My husband used to work in teh industry and he, like many of the folks here, says that the bakers were calmer than the cooks - but he always attributed to the fact that as a line cook he could sleep late, show up at work, work like crazy until midnight or 2AM, go out and party until 4, and then do it all again the next day. The people doing baking/pastries had to come in much earlier, and were much more isolated from the manic energy of the kitchen, so he always attributed more discipline to them.

                    1. re: meg944

                      No. The bakers would leave the kitchen around 8 am after ten hours of bench work and would do some serious drinking until about Noon. What a blast. And yes, there ARE bars that are open at 8 AM.

                      1. re: jlawrence01

                        Hah! He'll be amused to hear that.

                    2. re: CHEFBUCK

                      What an interesting analysis, chefbuck.

                      I learned to bake 40 years ago but only started cooking (in earnest) 20 years ago. I agree on the more forgiving nature of cooking. I find that I can experiment, but only just, when cooking. After having encountered some sad failures in baking, I now stick to the recipe. Although......I do add an ingredient or alter a dairy when I can.

                      I like cooking, but I love baking. And I dislike math!

                    3. Fun topic. I have worked as a chef and a baker, both personally and professionally for over ten years. Every style of food preparation that I have been involved in has been totally unique. That is what I love about making food. Each time I have become proficient in an area of food preparation to the point of really expressing my creativity through that avenue, I move on to a new challenge. For me, all of it will take a lifetime to develop and master, because I am constantly changing and enjoying the journey. Chefs and bakers are artisans and their creations reflect their thoughts and who they are. I feel that both require skill and creativity. There is definitely a bigger margin for error in cooking, so in that way baking utilizes more precision, most of the time. But I have thoroughly enjoyed being creative in baking and have created phenomenal desserts, sweets and even breads without measuring. Just like in cooking, once a person has spent time learning how ingredients work synergistically, he or she can use the alchemy of flavors and textures to create new wonders. Currently, I am exploring a food that is neither cooked nor baked, raw food. You would be amazed at what can be created when you challenge yourself to use all raw ingredients. The sky has no limit. Have Fun.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: allinone

                        What a terrific post, allinone! Simply terrific.

                        I do both. Been cooking & baking at home for more years than I want to admit - love the creativity, and just started culinary school (local community college, so the cost won't break the bank). My goal is to be the best I possibly can - I love the challenge, & want to learn everything.

                        And yes, I've also worked with raw foods in the past (veggies & fruits). There is so much to learn..

                      2. I'm much more of a baker than a cook (hence my name). And my family, friends and co-workers would definitely be more likely to describe me as "intelligent, calm and easy to work with" rather than "rugged, aggressive, agitated and anxious." I find the precision of baking to be a nice, relaxing change from the chaos and inexactitude (if that's a word) of my job and the rest of my life. And while I enjoy the chemistry of baking, what's drawn me to it ever since I was a kid is the magic - it never ceases to amaze me how the same basic elements - sugar, flour, butter, vanilla, chocolate - can be totally transformed into so many different baked goods. On the other hand, when one cooks beef, fish, pasta, vegetables - the end result may be delicious, but almost all the time, at the most basic level it's still what one started with. Does that make any sense? I also love the "art project" aspect of decorating cakes and cookies. Plus there's nothing like the rush I get from serving a pie, cupcakes, candy, whatever, and having people taste it and then say "You made this?!"

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: cookie monster

                          Thanks,cookie monster. Would you be willing to identify yourself with a name, occupation and hometown...for my story? you can email me privately at susan.reimer@baltsun.com

                          1. re: cookie monster

                            "And while I enjoy the chemistry of baking, what's drawn me to it ever since I was a kid is the magic - it never ceases to amaze me how the same basic elements - sugar, flour, butter, vanilla, chocolate - can be totally transformed into so many different baked goods."

                            Yes! This sums up exactly how I feel about baking. It is just fascinating to me.

                            "Plus there's nothing like the rush I get from serving a pie, cupcakes, candy, whatever, and having people taste it and then say "You made this?!""

                            I love this part too! :)

                          2. Pastry, Baking deals with exact science. Chemestry. Once a dough or batter is made, It generally can't be corrected. Pastry and Baking require accurate measurements and temps. Cooking can be corrected as you go.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: rednyellow

                              But bread requires a much more intuitive nature, IMO. Sure, there are the ratios of water to flour, but there are so many other subtle factors (humidity, etc.) - in the long run, I will just 'feel' what is right - or wrong - about the dough.

                              My cakes & cookies are according to a recipe, of course, but I tweak and add stuff after I am familiar with whatever I am baking. Some things don't lend themselves to that - but others do (I love to bake biscotti for that reason - I make them different all the time, because I add different things, but the batter [usually] stays the same.)