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Jfood Can't Bake - Any Other Home Cooks Have This Problem

Jfood is not afraid of any recipe. After cooking for college roommates, two little jfoods, mrs jfood, hundreds of dinners, he is very comfortable in front of his stove and his knives are a part of his arm.


He can not bake to save his life. As he writes this post, there is a apple crumb pie in the oven, and what a battle. So after jfood has commented on many topics it's time to throw himself under the bus. He just wants to know if he has company.

Jood was supposed to play cards with his buddies tonight but work interfered with many so the game was postponed. Mrs jfood was heading to the movies so jfood told himself, hey let's make an apple pie. So on the way home he buys some frozen Oronoque frozen crusts (please no comments he knows) a half a dozen apples and gets ready. Grabs Mrs jfood's copy of Kathleen's Bake Shop Apple Crumb Pie recipe and starts.

First he takes two crusts and blind bakes them. So far so good. Take one out and puts it on the counter and goes for the second. Kerplunk, it falls off the mitt and onto the floor. Now the dog looks up and smiles. Jfood cleans up the big pieces and the dog finishes the job. Jfood takes the third crust and blind bakes that one. Carefully onto the counter when ready. Jfood cuts the apples and that's easy and right in his skill set. Then he screws up the seasonings once and throws it out. Second time OK. Makes the crumb topping and leaves aside.

Then he places the apples in the two tins and looks. Man, these will be the thinnest pies in the world when they are over. So he takes all the apples, well at least the ones that do not fall on the floor and makes one big pie. Crumb topping on top and into the oven.

So in cleaning there are two ruined pie crusts, apples on the floor, flour, sugar and cinnamon on the counter and a very happy dog.

So do others have the same problem with baking even though they are not afraid of any entree recipe?

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  1. cooks and bakers. never the twain shall meet.

    13 Replies
    1. re: steve h.

      steve...while i appreciate the kipling reference, i have to respectfully disagree...yes, i realize that those of us who possess the required skills that qualify us as both cook and baker are rare, but we do actually exist :)

      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

        (I disagree that we are rare.)

        and jfood, that's a day in ANY non-pro baker's kitchen! quit being a drama queen (king).

        Recipes from tried and true cookbooks (Joy, BH&G,etc) are handy for reference as to spicing, quantity of filling, timing, etc) Practice efforts aren't supposed to all be perfect, though you could get lucky. And I'll guess your knife skills came at the expense of more than a few bandaids !

        Press on jfood, press on!

          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

            Yes, indeed we do. But you can't bake like you cook (i.e improvise, play around with amounts of ingredients, etc.). At least for me, baking needs to be pretty precise and I need to be careful to follow the recipe. And maybe technique needs to be a bit more practiced with baking (when is the dough wet enough, folding without killing the ingredients, etc.). I thoroughly enjoy both.

            1. re: bnemes3343

              An astute comment. Especially about how baking isn't conducive to improvisation until you really know all the elements that create a wonderful baked product.

              Precise measurements are a must. For a few years now, I have preferred to weigh ingredients, especially flour -- the end results are much better.

              And basic chemistry...know how leavenings work (baking soda, baking powder, yeast), what each needs to work, etc. Know what gets in the way of yeast rising.

              And last, the correct size of pan and correct oven temp make an enormous difference. This is one area where improvisation without knowledge can really get you into trouble.

              Good luck, jfood. Rooting for ya.

              1. re: maria lorraine

                Thanks ML. Made Ina Garten's Apple-Pear Crisp tonight and it is in the fridge cooling off. But not without adventure. I got called into another room to answer a question and left the crumb topping going in the mixture. So it's not as crumbly as jfood would like.

                Jfood thinks it's the absolute best recipe for crisp he has ever tasted. Gets a "10" on the jfood recipe scale. Now if the cook can match the recipe, it will be a helluva dessert.

                1. re: jfood

                  Thanks for the rec, as I've never tried her recipe. As a fan of apple crisp during winter months, I appreciate trying new recipes. Here in the midwest, it's one of the best, most affordable winter fruit dessert options.

                  So far, the best one I've found was a Vanilla Apple Hazelnut Crisp at Traveler's Lunchbox, if I recall. The only thing I do differently with her recipe is to use cold butter for the crisp topping rather than room temperature, as I like the texture it produces a little better. I'll try Ina's recipe next, though. She's pretty reliable for baking recipes, in my experience.

                2. re: maria lorraine

                  Maria, I amazed that some people refuse to accurately measure, improvise crucial ingredients and don't know the few basic pastry techniques, and yet still expect baking to work.

                  Salt and other seasonings can usually be changed, up to 30% w/o effecting structure, but the first time you bake a new recipe, you most follow the recipe EXACTLY, this means NO SUBSTITUTIONS AT ALL.

                  I agree that a digital scale is nice, but even Rubbermaid measuring cups and spoons can create great baked goods, if proper technique is used. You don't need a Kitchenaid, Cuisinart or sil-pats but following directions is crucial. I know that many will say that following directions isn't fun or takes away creativity, but baking is much more precise that cooking and the margins of success are much tighter.

                  I have found that good bakers are GREAT savory cooks, but there are a lot of good cooks who cannot bake. The time that is spent learning how to be a good baker will be instantly reflected in everything else you cook, so please invest the time and effort.

            2. re: steve h.

              I'm going to disagree on this one too. I've had friends tell me this over the years then come to my house, or to something I've catered. I can and do bake and cook tho I find that I'm frequently asked to bake cause others don't feel they can. Practice, practice and no matter what my mom tells me - I only follow recipes to the letter the first time!

              1. re: AlaskaChick

                alaskachick and goodhealthgourmet,
                i stand corrected. not the first time i've been wrong :-)

                1. re: steve h.

                  wow, steve, do you ask for driving directions too? ;)

                  as i said, i know it's rare to find someone who can do both well. but i think in addition to possessing the capacity or skill, it's also a matter of what you enjoy. i have a dichotomous personality - i'm pretty evenly split between left-brain & right-brain qualities. so while the left side of my brain relishes in the exacting and scientific aspects of baking, the right side embraces the freedom for creative expression in cooking. [like alaskachick, i typically don't follow recipes when i cook].

                  most people are much more inclined to be heavily left- or right-brained instead of equally balanced between the two.

              2. re: steve h.

                I am both a cook and a baker, but ... somehow I developed a black thumb for yeast! When I was in college I made yeast bread with no problem, but somehow in my 20s something went very wrong ...

                I was so unused to failure in the kitchen that I said, OK, no problem, there's a whole world of baking I can do with baking soda and baking powder which have never failed me ... so that's what I've been doing ever since.

                I cook without recipes and bake with them ... I do very occasionally improvise when baking, but not usually. So my approach to the two activities is completely different ... Cooking is much more forgiving.

                1. re: steve h.

                  I am an accomplished home cook, but consider myself a failure as a baker - solely on the basis of one miserably abortive attempt to make bread over 30 years ago (I do bake cornbread successfully). My wife, however, is both an excellent cook & master bread baker. So the twain do occasionally meet.

                2. Well, if it makes you (or jfood - I imagine that "you" are feeling awfully good right now) feel any better, I've noticed that a number of apple pie/tartin desserts that I make never seem to call for enough apples. And, I do recall that you made a tarte tatin once, so you can't be a general abject failure at baking. Given that you used frozen pie crusts (I do too sometimes) it sounds more to me like a general negative confluence of events, rather than poor baking on your part. That said, I do find baking more particular than "cooking", and have a much higher percentage of failures when baking rather than cooking. Perhaps this failure will make you feel better:


                  PS - so did you only have three apples per pie? Sounds like far too few to me.

                  Edit - Just to add - I actually consider myself a decent baker (with several buches de noel under my belt - grin), but every once and a while, a recipe just fails abysmally - or I do. Made my husband a chocolate cake for his birthday once and it was simply atrocious.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: MMRuth

                    I'm a long-time cook who's spent the last year trying to hone my baking skills. I guess that it's the lack of spontaneity allowed in baking that is my own undoing, as I have also made some big errors. I don't have a dog, but my SO is a very kind, hungry type of guy, and will polish off just about anything. Be of good cheer, Jfood!

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      yes tart tartin was an easy event, once jfood learned how not to "seize" the caramel. Threw away four or five batches before he figued out to leave it alone.

                      1. re: jfood

                        Exactly - I threw out one batch the first time I made it ages ago, and did the same after not having made it for a while.

                      2. re: MMRuth

                        That looks like a close cousin to my first attempt at tarte tatin a couple of weeks ago. I was making two, one a gluten-free crust for my son, the other pate brisee, and destroyed both. (Lots of baking experience, love to do it, but do have an occasional disaster.) A charred, solidified mess. Bummed the family out, after all those delicious smells cooking the apples and caramel.

                        Luckily I redeemed myself this past weekend and managed to get it right.

                        The leftovers were good, too. I turned the tarte back over into a pan so the crust was on top, and reheated in the oven. Not too soggy, almost as good as fresh from the oven.

                        Keep plugging, jfood! We all have battle stories.

                        1. re: bear

                          For some reason, I've had no trouble making apple ones - but that plum one - ack! Congratulations on your eventual success - I do the same thing with putting it back in the pan.

                      3. ROFL!!!!!

                        I do think it is a confidence thing. Tho I am not sure you have a great recipe. Blind baked shells are usually for things that do not need a bake or only a small one.

                        When I started reading yoru post...I thought only 6 apples for how many shells? Apples are a high water content item, as in they cook down.
                        Dropping a pie shell, is just that. You dropped X. I bet you have dropped lots of Xs but are just hyper aware of this one. Same with slicing the apples.

                        Now baking does requires some precise measurements and procedures; but I suspect that is not what is vexing you. I think it is just not a thing you think you can do; a confidence thing.

                        I can bake and make desserts. I do not like desserts, so do I do them as well as someone with a passion for them does? I doubt it. My Mom Loves to bake!!! That passion shows.

                        Jfood, be jkind on yourself.

                        1. The last cake I made was for my SO's 26th birthday. (He recently turned 42) And I still have the burn scar on my wrist. I absolutely can't bake, I hate to bake, I won't bake. Luckily the cake-deprived SO will make pie, pizza, bread, cookies and, yes, cake. I love to cook almost everything else, though, especially soups and stew-y things. I even enjoy cooking meat, though I don't eat it much. Baking..pooh!

                          1. I agree with MMRuth, on two counts: first, you'd probably be better off with six apples for ONE pie and second, there were mishaps that had absolutely nothing to do with baking. You can't fault yourself for accidents.

                            No harm using frozen pie crusts, either. I've been baking for years--usually successfully--and I just made my first from-scratch pie crust four weeks ago! And if you've made a tarte tatin, then you're one up on me. I am impressed!

                            I also agree that cooking seems to be a bit more "forgiving" than baking, which is more akin to engineering, chemistry and physics.

                            1. jfood, I know you're not a food twit. You can do this. Dorie Greenspan's latest book is bomb- proof, as are all of Rose Levy Berenbaum's books. If you follow any of these recipes, you're good to go. Berenbaum, in particular, has tried to address the needs of nascent bakers. Give it a try, and you will triumph!

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: pikawicca

                                True - I've never had a failure with The Cake Bible - absolutely love the white spice cake - wonderful around the holidays and a great gift when made in mini bundt pans.

                                Makes me wonder if there are more "bad" baking recipes out there than cooking ones.

                                1. re: MMRuth

                                  The top row of the cookbooks on the cookbook shelf are jfoods arranged by cuisine. The first book on row 2 which is for mrs jfood is the Cake Bible. Jfood stares at the recipes all the time wishing he could make them and then cries in front of mrs jfood pleading with her to make them. she usually agrees (love that woman) but jfood knows it will cost him hours on the elliptical.

                                  1. re: jfood

                                    Well, do have her make that white spice cake - I think it may have almost a pound of butter - but no eggs!

                                2. re: pikawicca

                                  Oh my experience has been the exact opposite. Berenbaum defeated me! I could never keep up with all the nitpicky details in her recipes. I had the book for years, and not once could I get a recipe right. It was so frustrating and intimidating! I gave the book away in the end, and I hope someone else is using it with more success.

                                  1. re: Kagey

                                    The nitpicky details are what make it work for me I think - I like all the v. precise instructions. That said, I think I've only made some of the simpler cakes.

                                  2. re: pikawicca

                                    Maida Heatter is also fabulous--extremely detailed instructions, and has a real passion for teaching (and chocolate!).

                                  3. Oh dear.... I know you can do this.
                                    One crust for the bottom, apples cut into slices directly into that crust, a couple of cinnamon shakes, allspice, cloves, butter, sugar over that....another crust over top. Slice a few escape slashes in the top crust.
                                    Bake, 375 for.... I dunno, until top crust is golden.... looks cooked..... whatever a finished pie looks like to you.

                                    As Churchill once said, " Never give up. Never, never, never give up."

                                    1. Out of the oven all. To answer some of your questions and THANK YOU for all the encouragement.

                                      - 6 apple, one pie crust
                                      - mrs jfood first did the blind baking and jfood thought the added flavor to the crust was outstanding. try it, it's a great idea from a great baker

                                      So it is out of the oven. Two ruined crusts are down the disposal, the counters have been scrubbed, the dog fed and a slice is 60 minutes away. Here's a photo of the result. Not bad for a lousy baker.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: jfood

                                        That looks wonderful. Serving coffee? I'll be right over!

                                        1. re: jfood

                                          Looks tasty to me! Is that your first CH photo, btw? Completely envious of the countertop (as compared to my nasty little two 2' x 1.5' laminate counters).

                                          Sounded initially though as if the six apples were meant for two pies, had calamaties not ensued.

                                          1. re: MMRuth

                                            yes first photo from the cell phone.

                                            That's the marble center island. mrs jfood knows every stone dealer in westchester and fairfield counties and it's the nicest example of this type of marble either of us have seen.

                                            jfood's instincts kicked in when he saw the measly amount of apples when he divided into two shells. combined into one and that was definitely the right move.

                                        2. My first and only apple pie fiasco was sort of the opposite. Loaded with apples, we never got to them. My home made pastry could not be penetrated by anything short of a chain saw. I learned later that one does not roll pastry for 45 minutes and keep adding water as it dries up and get warmer. My italian girlfriend's family had cannoli's and other backup and thanked me for the gesture. That was 31 years ago and I still feel the humiliation. She later dumped me and married a doctor; I don't know if the pies were a factor.

                                          1. LoL

                                            My family chains and padlocks the oven anytime I say I have an urge to bake something. My results include some pretty impressive bricks and hockey pucks.

                                            1. jfood...I stink at baking. Period. Yeast hates me. Pastry hates me. Anything that needs to be rolled with a rolling pin hates me. I can handle easy muffin batter, cupcake and cake batter and chocolatiering, but the other stuff totally eludes me.

                                              Ive learned to cope by finding a really good local bakery. Pie looks totally bitchin' though. Congrats!

                                              1. I find the hungrier and more excited I am to enjoy my baked goods the worse it turns out. So, I act non-chalant, hard to get, - I don't care if the cookies burn - and voila! Call me Gale Gand.

                                                1. My mother was a fantastic cook and an incredible baker.

                                                  This gift must skip a generation.

                                                  I am an okay cook (rather hit and miss with dishes coming out FABULOUS or just...okay) but my baking leaves a whole heckuva lot to be desired.

                                                  I feel your pain, jfood. But life does indeed go on. :)

                                                  1. I feel your pain. I will cook pretty much anything...however when it comes to making the simplest baked goods I am at a lost.

                                                    I tried baking the chocolate chip cookie recipe on the back of the nestle chocolate chip bag twice and I failed miserably each time. HOW HARD IS IT TO BAKE CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES? come on now

                                                    at least I'm good at one thing (:

                                                    1. I am with you here...very good cook, horrible baker. In fact, I have absolutely no interest in baking anything. Except for brownies and Chocolate cookies.
                                                      The fact is, I have several good bakeries near me where I can go purchase something far better than I would ever be capable of making. Plus, probably less expensive, and without the frustration and without the sound of the smoke alarm as I attempt to bake.
                                                      As my father says: "A person has got to know their shortcomings in life and just deal with them"! Baking is one of mine.

                                                      1. jfood, man (or dog, whichever) of good taste, have faith that you bake a lot of humor and wisdom into your posts, hence your readers. Thanks!

                                                        1. The big difference in baking and many other recipes is that you have to be more precise. You can't just eyeball a half-cup of milk. Unless you're an experienced baker, you can't put things together so they just *seem* OK. If the recipe is for two pies, don't try to make one big one.

                                                          Though I'm not a big-time baker, I've never had any problem when I follow directions precisely. If I get confused and forget an ingredient, there's trouble. It starts with looking over the components before going shopping and making sure you will have everything. Don't just buy a few apples. Make sure you have all you'll need. Of course, this is why some people avoid baking.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: mpalmer6c

                                                            Good point about the precision. And I am definitely NOT about precision when I cook. And I don't think its as important with pies: after all, you can kind of peek at them and tell when they are getting done, and a little extra cinnamon never hurt an appe pie....

                                                            But I live at altitude, so regular baked goods do have to be adjusted, and I probably don't have the patience to do that.....

                                                          2. jfood, I can relate.

                                                            Well, sort of. Not to the pie thing...pies are about all I seem to bake right. (see my profile) But cake? bread? cookies, even? Forget about it! I have one of those bread making machines and I can't even make THAT work right!

                                                            I blame my lack of baking skills on my first husband. He was a wonderful baker (maybe that was his only redeemable quality?). He had all kinds of wonderful sweets up his sleeve. So I never had to bake when we were together during those formative years. And it stuck.

                                                            I do pies for Thanksgiving, and on other occasions throughout the year when the urge strikes. And they are very good pies, if I do say so myself. But apart from that, desert in our house comes from the fruit bowl, the freezer, or the bakery.......

                                                            1. I love both cooking and baking. But I must admit baking is far more treacherous. I can go through wonderful spells where every pie crust is resiliant, buttery and blissfully easy. But then they turn on me and become sodden and brittle. It becomes a matter of pure defiance of the Baking Gods for me to overcome the flat dense cakes and the coddled chocolate. I think it's the tempermental aspect of baking -- no matter how precise you are -- that proves the undoing of many a cook. Baking is operatic -- all arias and swooping chords, with wild highs and lows, while cooking is more like folk music, easy, dependable and fun. It becomes a challenge to figure out where I've gone astray in my baking endeavors and correct it. Sometimes that takes a few tries, which is more than most cooks can handle. But when the perfect golden crust bubbling fruit emerges from the oven, when the cake is fluffy, moist and flavorful and the ganache is silken and rich, it's all worth it.

                                                              1. I think people view baking and cooking as an either/or proposition because they require very different personalities - pastry is much more exacting, often takes longer, requires more attention to detail and certainly more patience. Cooking is faster, based more on instinct than recipes, and typically requires speed and juggling numerous tasks. I find I can do both, but it really depends on my mood!

                                                                And I think that for either, the most important step is to demystify scary-looking dishes, whether it's roasting your first leg of lamb or making your first loaf of bread. Watch carefully someone who knows what they're doing, then go off by yourself and practice. Until I was taught, I always thought puff pastry was really difficult to make. Now I think it's easier than pie pastry, albeit requires short bursts of activity punctuated by long periods of chilling. As long as you have supportive people who gamely try to eat your mistakes and tell you how to do better, learning to bake is a lovely experience.

                                                                1. jfood, I feel your pain. One Christmas I decided to save money and give my friends gifts of food...marinara sauce, which I do well, and Viennese Nut Ball cookies...very simple, few ingredients. The sauce, while expensive to make, turned out beautifully. I was aware that in baking, one must be very exact, and I was. Rolled the batter into little balls, placed them on the baking sheet, and baked exactly as the recipe said. They came out of the oven smelling wonderful, and looking even better. I let them cool, and then was supposed to roll them in confectioners sugar. Got everything ready, even the tins I was going to put them in. I picked up the first one and it turned to dust in my hands. Same with the second...third, and so on. For some reason each time you touched one it crumbled into...dust. I was able to taste the dust at one point and it tasted delicious...but needless to say, I wasn't going to gift my friends with holiday dust...that was the last time I baked something sweet and it was years ago. Now baking something savory? Not a problem. I just figure I will leave the baking to those who can! (although your pie looked delicious!!!)

                                                                  1. I'm guilty of being a horrible baker too (check out my profile). Hell, half the time I'll mess up a box of brownies. Cooking? Step aside... I can saute, braise, julienne, chop & dice with the best home cooks. Baking is way too scientific and exact for me. Precise measurements, rising, etc. I just don't get it. I wish I did.

                                                                    There are a few exceptional folks who excel at both, but I am not one of them!

                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                    1. re: lynnlato

                                                                      Reading these posts, I was concluding the same as lynnlato, baking seems more precise-science experiments using baking sodas,powders, potions. Whereas cooking is more forgiving and with more opportunity to be creative. I also lack the coordination to indent a pie crust around the edges. What is the secret to that anyway?

                                                                      1. re: foodseek

                                                                        Foodseek, I tend to use my index and middle finger, plus my thumb to flute the crust.

                                                                        I am continually amazed how difficult some people make baking. You do have to understand a few chemical reactions, but anyone who took HS chemistry already understand the concepts. There are about culinary 6 techniques that you should know, but even those aren't critical.Please do not be afraid to bake, as it just isn't that difficult, plus you can always eat the mistakes.

                                                                        The effort that you put into learning to bake always makes you a better savory cook so please take the time to learn.

                                                                        1. re: Kelli2006

                                                                          Thanks Kelli - trying to picture the finger formation- I never give up on trying to make a pie crust because after 32 years of marriage my husband still has hope. He loves pies and I make them just not with a decent crust like his mom's. Probably never will but it doesn't stop me from trying. But, on the flip side I do prepare a better spaghetti sauce than her so all is not lost.

                                                                    2. Practice makes perfect. I'm an excellent baker who's won many accolades for breads, rolls, cakes, pies and pastries, but I've been baking for decades now. I didn't start out a brilliant baker, and there were failures and mistakes along the way. Plenty of doughs failed to rise in my early years, and cookies burnt to a crisp, and undercooked cakes.

                                                                      Keep on baking, and you'll get there. The more you bake, the more you become comfortable and the more your confidence will increase. Why don't you start with a simple pound cake (Berenbaum's Cake Bible has an excellent recipe) or the overnight no-knead bread that's so popular on chowhound?

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: Roland Parker

                                                                        I grew up baking by my mothers and grandmothers (her parents owned a bakery in France) side and I have never found baking to be difficult. I will admit that baking has to be more precise, and requires a knowledge of food science, chemistry and a bit if technique, but once that is acquired you can substitute ingredients, and throw recipes away.

                                                                        I baked professionally during my Jr-Sr years of college and for a few years after, but I still find time spent in the kitchen very relaxing. I am far from accomplished, and will readily admit that my sugar ability is extremely lacking. I am proficient at cake decorating, but I would rather let a friend do the artistic decorating, and I'll bake breads and pastries.

                                                                        There are a few tools that are necessary to reliably bake and that would include a decent digital scale, liquid and dry measuring cups and a probe thermo. A Kitchen-Aid mixer and Cuisinart food processor help, but aren't required.

                                                                        The best books IMVHO, on the subject are Harold McGee's book on food science, Shirley Corriher's "Cookwise" and I love Bo Frieberg's baking tome from the CIA. I have never been of fan of Rose Levy Berenbaum, but her recipes do tend to work.

                                                                        Chowser, Candy and a few others who post are possibly even more experienced that I am, judging from their posts. I completely agree with "Alaska Chick" that recipes are only to be followed on the first time, to get a baseline.

                                                                        Most of my recipes (when I use them ) have 3-4" of footnotes, addendum's and suggestions. There is not 1 recipe that will give you all the qualities that you seek, so feel free to modify.

                                                                      2. I am an avid home cook but I SUCK at baking. Because I've lived in apartments for 20 years, I've really never had an opportunity to get used to working with and creating good dough. I just don't have any place to roll it out. Because we rarely eat dessert, I don't really make things like cakes and stuff so when I try, it doesn't come out very good.

                                                                        I think it's because baking is really an exact science; you have to have absolutely correct amounts of things as well as good "conditions" or things can fail. I was never able to make a decent loaf of bread, even using my breadmaker, until I was able to find fresh cake yeast; none of the dry yeast works for me. I fault my skills rather than the yeast, since everyone else seems to cook with it fine.

                                                                        This is why my Mom always makes the pies for thanksgiving :)

                                                                        1. I bet to differ. You CAN bake. You DID bake. And if you look at the Zen of it, you also made your dog happy. A freshly baked apple pie and a happy dog...sounds like a good evening.

                                                                          1. Great post, Jfood! I used to have this problem, mainly with cakes. I could cook any regular food with no difficulty, recipe or not. But making a cake would leave me feeling exhausted. Flour everywhere, bowls, spoons, cups, and measuring devices strewn all around, and me swearing I'd never attempt to bake again. It seemed like way too much work for way too little return.

                                                                            If you're actually interested in a book that makes things a lot easier, check out Nigella's How to Be A Domestic Goddess. I got that as a gift a few years ago, and it changed my life. It probably won't help keep the blind-baked crusts from falling to the floor, but it sure makes it easier to bake!

                                                                            1. Absolutely. Maybe because I don't own measuring cups or spoons? I just have no patience for things that need to be entirely precise. Chocolate chip cookies are about as advanced as I get on my own...for everything else, there's Duncan Hines.

                                                                              1. I've baked one or two resounding successes in thirty years, but looking back through my memoirs...I promise you are not alone.


                                                                                1. Sure. They really are two different things mentally and physically. The baker/pastry chef has to weigh everything. It's like quantitative chemistry. You have to be precise and follow the formula with most baking. The savory chef has the freedom to throw some of this and that into a dish and to expand, change and alter a formula/recipe without causing extreme failure of the dish. Sure it may not be as good as you had hoped but you can fix that with a little modification. It's not impossible to be good at both as long as you don't try to be a pastry chef while using a savory chef's methods

                                                                                  I was much better at organic chemistry and hated quantitative chemistry. to date I am a much better cook than I will ever be at baking.

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. re: scubadoo97

                                                                                    don't be discouraged jfood! apple pie is one of the hardest baked goodies to get perfect! my mom the pie genius always uses 2 or 3 different types of apples to get great texture and taste in her apple pies. she makes her own crust & is a master after 40 years of pie baking.

                                                                                    baking is a different set of skills & has to do with organization, measurements, chemistry etc and once you get the knack of it, you'll feel more comfortable. the r.l. berenbaum--some people dig it, some don't. if you don't like berenbaum's approach, try the following baking books--they have been godsends for me: baking with julia--dorie greenspan, how to bake--nick malgieri, baking in america--greg patent. if you follow the recipes precisely you will get great results and a better understanding of what's going on and why. it's a practice makes perfect type of thing-- make the cake or crust a few times over 3 weekends & see for yourself how much you improve!

                                                                                  2. I am with you there... I mess up boxed brownies all the time, boxed cakes I do ok with. Pies, no way. Very ambitious for you to try pie, and like you i would have bought premade crust (which I do for quiche dishes anyway). My first and only tarte tatin was a disaster that ruined a pan.
                                                                                    But for some strange reason I am good at bread!!

                                                                                    1. Let jfood give a follow up. The responses have been great, thanks all. Jfood used 2 granny smiths, 2 macs and 2 cortlands hoping to get a blend of flavors and sliced them into about 3/8" slices to achieve that "brick wall" look when you slice.

                                                                                      when he woke up this morning more than half the pie was gone. Now jfood ate 1/4 of it with a big glass of milk during Grey's Anatomy/Without a Trace. he thought one of the apples was a little mushy, one was a nice texture and overall the flavor of the pie had a nice tartness. The crumb topping was great and the blind baking really adds a deeper flavor to the crust. Overall he gives it a 5-6.

                                                                                      Then the pie maven arrived from the movies and she was in a great mood since she really liked the movie, Gone Baby Gone. She took a sliver to the family room and then took a bite and jfood felt like he was on Top Chef. She asked if jfood fololwed the directions then told me she normally adds a little more sugar than the recipe calls for, and jfood agrees. She also gave it a 5-6 and jfood was happy with the score.

                                                                                      The crucial vote was the dog's. She sat at attention in front of Mrs Jfood and you could see the "please give me more" look on her face. She liked it

                                                                                      Rewind to the second paragraph above and see that only half remained. When jfood came down at 6, mrs jfood was already working on her office for 90 minutes and he gingerly brought the pie into her office and stared. She looked at it, gave a smile/shrug and admitted she already had a piece and that it was much better when it cooled off. Then that million dollar smile and Friday's ain't so bad.

                                                                                      Thanks again and now onto an Opera Cake. Only kidding.

                                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: jfood

                                                                                        Mazel tov. Knew you could do it. FYI, Macs are generally not used for baking, I believe due to their high water content, hence the mushiness of some of your apples. If you ever see Northern Spy apples, grab them and savor them. They are great to bake with. Good texture, good flavor. Hard to find and limited growing season. I found some at the Union Square Greenmarket last year right around this time of the year. Keep up the good work.

                                                                                        1. re: jfood

                                                                                          Huzzah for Jfood the baker! I'm a good home cook and a decent baker. The distinction I notice between cooking and baking is that we can riff on a recipe for a chicken stew and it turns out incredible, we can't riff on a baking recipe because its bound in chemistry, no riffing allowed. Darn, wish I'd paid more attention in high school chemistry!

                                                                                          1. re: jfood

                                                                                            Well...now that jfood has it down...tell him I'll need the pies for Thursday here by no later than four o'clock.

                                                                                            1. re: jfood

                                                                                              Bravo, jfood! I knew you could do it.
                                                                                              Eastern Golden Delicious are my apples of choice, not the GDs that are western grown. Mixed with Granny Smith the pie has a nice balance of sweet & tart. But then apple pie makers have many variations on the theme. Experiment.

                                                                                            2. Well, after reading this post, I realize that I am not the baker that I thought I was.I am an okay cook, some things turn out great, others not so much. Jack of some trades, master of none. I made a new recipe for a friend who just had a baby-saved some for the family-we had it last night-yucko! Note to self-always try out a new recipe BEFORE trying on others.(Duh!) Pies are not my thing-although I do make a scrumtous pig in a blanket. (pie dough rolled out covered in butter, sugar and cinnamon and rolled up and baked) I purposely stay away from anything using yeast-scary. I stick to cakes and cookies and brownies. So tackling an apple pie is very courageous of you jfood. Now if I could just get the courage to tackle your braised beef recipe....

                                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: chocchipcookie

                                                                                                braised beef is about as simple as it gets triple-c. brown the meat, throw everything in a pot, throw the pot in the oven and take a nap. if jfood can do an apple pie triple-c can do a braise. go for it. jfood finds the hardest part of a braise is choosing the wine. since he is absolutely clueless on wines he goes to a store that has little signs under the bottles. he reads a lot and then decides.

                                                                                                1. re: jfood

                                                                                                  maria lorraine would like to sweetly suggest that jfood read this thread on the wine board that talks about inexpensive wines for braising. the suggestions are quite good.


                                                                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                    Absolutely awesome, thank you so much ML. The normal jfood method is go to his favorite store which places little signs with overview and rating in front of each bottle. Takes his price point of $10-13 per for his cooking and goes at it. Then he takes up to the owner who knows he is selling a case in any event and the price point is fixed and they go through the bottles and talk a little. Jfood has his sharpie and writes on the lables.

                                                                                                    Now he can go armed with some more data and he and the owner can have a better discussion.

                                                                                                    Thanks again

                                                                                              2. I can bake if there is no cake decorating involved. For some reason I can't stop messing with the frosting. If something needs two or three swipes of the spatula I'll try to do it. Then I decide it doesn't look good and after about 50 more swipes I have a mess on my hands. I would practice more, but then I would have to buy a larger belt.

                                                                                                1. YES. I cannot bake an apple pie to save my life. I have the same problem. After many many attempts, I am now so scared I won't even try. I make something else.

                                                                                                  1. Oh, Jfood, how I can relate…here are my two attempts at baking this week. I wanted to enter the local paper’s holiday cookie contest – don’t ask me why, because I really am not that good of a baker, but a food related contest was tempting. First, the recipe called for finely chopped walnuts that were to then be added to the flour. I tried to save a step by throwing the nuts and flour into the food processor at the same time. Not good – the nuts didn’t become “finely chopped” and I had to dump the whole mixture onto the cutting board and chop the nuts and flour together. The next fiasco was adding this mixture to the creamed butter and sugar. Like a good little baker, I was adding it a scoopful at a time. It was all going so well until I accidentally dropped the scoop into the mixture. Not only did the scoop get smashed to smithereens, it flung the dough all over the kitchen until I could get the cord unplugged. So much for that batch of cookies. Take 2.

                                                                                                    My husband has requested a pumpkin cheesecake for Thanksgiving…I looked longingly at the beautiful pumpkin cheesecakes at COSTCO, but just couldn’t bring myself to do store-bought. I thought I’d get a jump-start on it this morning by finishing the crust before going to work. It needed to be refrigerated anyway, so that way I could just dive into the filling tonight. I finely chopped my pecans for the crust, grinding the graham crackers separately. Combined the two, and uh-oh…that wasn’t a 1/4 cup of pecans like the recipe called for, but a 1/3 cup. My 1/4 cup measurer had been desecrated earlier in the week by the cookie disaster. I added more graham crackers and sugar, then melted the butter – I was so flustered and in a hurry to get to work on time (I still had to drop the cookies off at the paper this a.m.) I quadrupled the butter…luckily I caught that little snafu before pouring it into the dry ingredients.

                                                                                                    That’s my attempt at baking in a 48 hour period There may be further updates when I attempt the cheesecake filling…wish me luck!

                                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                                    1. re: nancyhudson

                                                                                                      Look, for what it's worth, the baked stuff at Costco is really pretty good. It's actually better than a lot of free-standing bakeries and definitely better than most supermarket bakeries. So don't feel bad if you really just can't do the baking thing, though I do believe that perseverence conquers all (or mostly all, anyway).

                                                                                                      As far as your merry misadventures, it seems to me that most of them could happen regardless of whether you were cooking or baking. I have picked up the wrong measuring cup or spoon, have dropped things on the floor or in the sink, have turned my head from the stove and burned things. Sometimes, whether I am cooking or whether I am baking, it gets downright ugly. One little piece of advice, which I think you have already learned the hard way. Don't try shortcuts like the nut/flour chopping thing. Usually a recipe is written a certain way for a reason, whether it's cooking or whether it's baking and what you think makes perfect sense does not. Just take a deep breath, relax and do not pick up the phone or carry on a major conversation while you are making the cheesecake filling. I find that most of my screw-ups happen when I get distracted by a conversation.

                                                                                                      Good luck.

                                                                                                      1. re: nancyhudson

                                                                                                        oh I do relate to your problems with baking. That is very close to what happened to me every time I tried to bake anything at all, until last year.

                                                                                                        Since I was now not working outside the home, I had the time to try different things. I went through many cookies, tarts, scones, biscuits (still can't do them) pies, and quiches oh and muffins too. I can not make an apple pie. I want to, but there is not an ounce of confidence with that one. But the rest I think I've conquered, and its all about studying the recipe in advance and working it in "your head". Read it over and over until you see yourself doing the steps perfectly. That way all your tools, ingredients and liquids are right where they should be.
                                                                                                        You can do it!

                                                                                                      2. Hmm, I don't buy that you can't bake. On two different threads now, I've read posts where you mention that you make molten chocolate cakes, and that they're easy to do. Whoops, I mean *bake* molten chocolate cakes. And you do tarte tatin, which many veteran pie bakers are leery of. You're on your way.

                                                                                                        1. I cook, and I bake, and there's no problem. My dear SO cooks and occasionally tries to bake, but only, and I mean ONLY if he has a clear, step-by-step recipe to follow. This past weekend, he decided to bake me an apple pie. He whipped out ol' faithful Fanny Farmer, and went to work. I saw that he was busy slicing apples, making dough, fitting it into the pan. On one of my forays through the kitchen (just to make sure that everything was going OK), I grabbed a couple of apple slices from the bowl where they had been tossed with the sugar, cinnamon, etc. I asked, "Did you put in nutmeg?" since I knew that was in the recipe, and he said he did. I don't use much nutmeg, so it's not a very familiar flavor to me.

                                                                                                          After the pie was in the oven, I found the can of paprika sitting on the counter. With an uneasy feeling, I asked if this was what he used for nutmeg (he has a habit of doing things like that) and he said no, this (pointing to a jar in the cupboard) is the nutmeg he used. After I picked myself up off the floor, I gently pointed out that the "nutmeg" was in fact cumin! I knew those apple sliced I tasted were a little off. We were a little afraid to taste that pie once it came out of the oven, but it turned out pretty OK. The flavor was "interesting" and the cumin was not overwhelming. I just won't let him bake anymore!

                                                                                                          So jfood and others, take heart. We learn from our mistakes. That which does not kill us only serves to make us stronger.

                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                          1. re: Missyme


                                                                                                            Add some nutmeg and cinnamon (make sure Mr missyme reads the lable) to some whipped cream or on some vanilla ice cream and those flavor should sing.

                                                                                                          2. I'm so bad at baking! But I think it's partly because I don't bake very often. We don't eat many sweets and when we do have them in the house they end up in the garbage. Which reminds me I need to throw out that birthday cake from last week...
                                                                                                            I'm about to embark on a cheesecake myself and have read the recipe 10 times even though I have made this cake before and it has always been perfect.
                                                                                                            All my ingredients are out and checked and double checked. I get so worried about screwing it up, one would think I was about to perform major surgery the way I set everything up!

                                                                                                            For me I think the issue is I can tweak any entree/dinner recipe to adjust the taste, but when baking, you don't always know if it's any good until it's done and there's no going back.
                                                                                                            The dog in the equation cracks me up, there is a reason my dog won't leave the kitchen when I'm cooking, eventually something is going to make it onto the floor... Which is fine because it's one less thing I need to clean up.
                                                                                                            I'm sure your pie tasted wonderful BTW!

                                                                                                            1. I consider myself a cook and a baker, and don't think I'm all that rare a phenomena. Yes, each takes skills sometimes independent of the other, and baking is more about formulas and understanding chemistry where cooking is often a little more forgiving. it helps enormously to have been doing both since I was a kid, and to have learned the hard way that you can't futz much with some things. It helps to know where you can experiment with baking, and where to stick to the formula. Get some good recipes, ones you feel you can rely on the writer, set aside some time, and go for it. This sounds like just what you did, Jfood, and the results were certainly appealing, based on that photo. Now you know you might taste the apples next time and gauge the amount of sugar called for in the recipe. Good bakers have made plenty of mistakes, dropped crusts on the floor, and turned out some meh, some good, and then finally some stellar results. That's just the way it works.

                                                                                                              1. Okay, jfood, you probably know me by now, so I'll fess up to my baking inadequacies too. I am a really great cook, and actually can bake a few things -- like from-scratch cookies or muffins and cakes from mixes (if you can call that baking) -- mostly because I have been doing these these as long as I can remember. I recently did a good job with home made banana bread, which is somewhat hard to ruin. But my cakes never look good, and sometimes I just can't get the texture right. Pie crusts are always iffy unless ready-made, and fillings always are too wet. Frosting a cake requires a desire to be artful with a spatula and the patience of Job. My cakes look lopsided, and I have even been known to use two different chocolate frostings (from the can) on the same cake without realizing it. The colors didn't match, and I never noticed it. Someone else noticed, and I just laughed it off.

                                                                                                                No, don't be embarrassed. There are bakers and there are cooks. You chose to be a cook, and that is no small feat. Leave the puff pastry for those who actually care more about preparing dessert than cooking the meal. No slight intended for either side, just my two cents.

                                                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                                                1. re: RGC1982

                                                                                                                  Actually, I think perfect banana bread is quite a feat ;) I've seen it sticky on top, imperfectly mixed, dry, tasteless, color off ... so many things can go wrong.

                                                                                                                  1. re: foiegras

                                                                                                                    Mine always comes out still gooey in the middle, and collapses. I suppose I could fill the collapsed place with whipped cream and give it a fancy name, but everyone would know it was a failed banana bread.

                                                                                                                    Other than that, I can bake bread, and I can bake cookies, and I'm quite confident with pies. But my major weak point is cake--even from a mix.

                                                                                                                    1. re: revsharkie

                                                                                                                      I just made banana bread last week ... the night before Thanksgiving in fact, when I realized it was either fight the cold front & the grocery store holiday crowd, or bake something for breakfast. Somehow there is something very satisfying about baking something with just the ingredients you have to hand ...

                                                                                                                      Anyway (thinking of this thread and feeling rebellious) I substituted with abandon--sour cream for buttermilk, ran out of brown sugar so added molasses & regular sugar, no nuts, etc. It was lovely ... and btw, I didn't measure the sour cream or bananas, and felt that my batter was more liquidy than it "should" have been ... so I just kept testing with my trusty toothpick till it came out clean. Are you testing yours, or just taking it out when the recipe says?

                                                                                                                2. I can bake a pie, but several years ago lost skill in gelling gelatin, baking yeast bread, and baking cakes. So, yes, sometimes certain things elude us. But you can cook rings around me. If I can make piecrust you can too. I am baffled why you would blind bake a pie shell for apple pie.

                                                                                                                  Start simple. Get a friend to make basic crust with you sometime. For the filiing use the recipe on the back of a Minute Tapioca box.

                                                                                                                  In my experience, no one ever complains about the quality of a homeade pie. They are so rare, people eat them no matter what. They eat them and thank you sincerely.

                                                                                                                  Go forth and make a simple pie!

                                                                                                                  1. I think like others have said, it's a question of practice. You've been cooking for years and by the sound of things Mrs. jfood has been taking care of the baking. With practice will come confidence and recipes will go smoother. If you think back to the first time you held a knife, it probably didn't feel like an extension of your arm from day one.

                                                                                                                    (my 2 cents as a baker first cook second)

                                                                                                                    1. Your ability to cook qualifies you as one of the lucky ones in my book. Judging by the picture of your pie, it seems you can bake as well, though I am sure it is hard(though probably tasty) being wed to an incredibly accomplished baker when you are uncertain of your own skills.
                                                                                                                      I am a terrible cook and only a marginal baker, though I have consistently been trying in the kitchen for the past couple of years. The only thing I have mastered is salads and no bake desserts =) (unfortunately not a joke). I try to be positive about my lack of success in the kitchen and gleefully acknowledge that the lack of palatable food helps to keep one slim. I can think of much worse fates than sustaining on raw fruits, veggies, and fro-yo alone.

                                                                                                                      Also, love your blog.

                                                                                                                      1. I love to cook and not to bake for the most part. I find that with cooking if you have all the ingredients you usually don't have to presciecly measure to make it come out perfect... not so with baking- a handful of flour and pinch of sugar does not make a tender moist cake. Baking is a more exacting science and I tend not to like being that exacting... I have learned over the years what types of things I can bake and not be that exacting but I still prefer to pull out my pots/pans and a few onions, garlic and saute to my hearts content.

                                                                                                                        1. Having read the "shortcuts" thread, I think I understand why some folks are having trouble with baking. "I never sift." "I don't use measuring spoons--I substitute spoons from my flatware drawer." Bakers, take a gander at that thread, it will curl your hair :)

                                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                                          1. Baking is actually much easier than cooking if you are careful to measure properly and follow the recipe exactly. It's only when you improvise (particularly on your first attempt) that you run into trouble. I can bake and cook pretty well, but cooking took longer to perfect because there are often vague instructions and variations in heating, pan thickness, etc.

                                                                                                                            6 Replies
                                                                                                                            1. re: Orchid64

                                                                                                                              Baking is "easier" than cooking because cooking is art, whereas baking is, yannow, chemistry.

                                                                                                                              1. re: ozhead

                                                                                                                                Why, what a provocative thing to say! You seriously don't believe there's any art to baking? At all?

                                                                                                                                1. re: amyzan

                                                                                                                                  There certainly is to my baking ;)

                                                                                                                                  But it's only to a certain type of personality that baking is easier. I do both (well, if I may say so ;) & no question, baking is way more demanding.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: amyzan

                                                                                                                                    Of course there is art to baking, but all the art lies in the preparation -- because once you put the item into the oven, your work is done and from that point forward it's chemistry.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: ozhead

                                                                                                                                      There are certainly cooked dishes where restraint is a part of the art of cooking well. In other words, the end result will be much better if you don't futz with some processes, and let the chemical reactions occur. Browning or grilling proteins is a good example. I'm not arguing baking isn't rigid at certain points, but cooking benefits from understanding chemistry, too. I guess I just don't perceive the two as totally different or somehow opposed. I am lucky that I grew up doing both, I suppose.

                                                                                                                                  2. re: ozhead

                                                                                                                                    Chemistry, ahhhh...there's the rub. Chemistry lab was my worse subject in college, bar none. And as I was making an apple pie (the one item I can bake!) this morning I thought about why I am an ok cook and a lousy baker (see my profile..). I always did poorly in Chem lab because it involved a lot of measuring...and I hate to measure things!!! I have lived in this house for 17 years, and I have yet to own a set of measuring spoons. I have exactly one measuring cup in the house, a true cup-sized one, and its plastic without very visible marking lines. If I need a 1/2 or 3/4 cup I estimate. Estimating works for pies, which are somewhat forgiving (especially if you "cheat" on the crust.) It might even work for cookies. But breads and cakes require more precise measurements...and when you throw in the fact that I live at altitude and have to contend with pressure and heat issues....well, it just doesn't work for me.

                                                                                                                                    But I do love the "art" of cooking. I read a recipe, get an idea, and then try it on my own...sans measurements and sometimes with my own embellishments. It usually works. After all, art is in the eye of the beholder, no??? :-)

                                                                                                                                2. I hear your pain, jfood.
                                                                                                                                  I too will happily take on the most complex of savouries. MrCris thinks I'm an excellent cook, which is all I need to hear. I might manage a cake - if the moon is in an auspicious quarter or if I hold my head just right. But most of the time, baking fails.
                                                                                                                                  My first loaf of bread was fabulous - I didn't know what I was doing, and now don't know how I did it, but every other loaf since has been thrown out. I think the baking gods were just toying with me. I've learned my lesson - my mother-in-law is a wonderful baker, and I will just watch and enjoy her work and not tempt the gods with my foolishness again.

                                                                                                                                  1. Two things have helped me when it comes to baking. Purchasing some good qulity baking sheets and pans, silcone liners and a few other pieces of equipment my friends wife, a pastry chef, recommended. And, the single most important thing (according to Gail), was to force myself to learn patience - to measure precisely, divide/cut/roll precisely and evenly and, to take the extra steps necessary to make things really special. I find baking to be a very different art / discipline and, IMHO, any experimentation needs to been done in small increments.

                                                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                                                    1. re: vonwotan

                                                                                                                                      She's absolutely right ... patience is key. You need to know what you're doing before you start taking shortcuts ...