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If I Could You Can!

Jan 1, 2011 | From the kitchen of Rose

Many people think I was born knowing how to bake, which is far from the truth. And many people wonder at my penchant for precision. Here could be the reason:

I didn't start baking anything until I was 17 and left for college. My first pie, cookie (and I mean cookie not cookies), and cake were all failures.

The pie was a lemon meringue whose filling would not thicken, even after (in desperation) I dumped 3/4 of a box of cornstarch into it. This taught me about hard water and its effect on starch gelatinization.

Home on Thanksgiving break I thought I'd try something easy and foolproof: the oatmeal cookies on the back of the Quaker Oatmeal container. Instead of cookies it spread and baked into one giant cookie. Could it have been the recipe or the way in which I measure the flour?

The cake was at the end of my freshman year when I returned home once again and decided to try my hand at a cake for my parent's anniversary. It was a chocolate cake from a Duncan Hines mix and it came out of the pan in several pieces. This was because back in those days the instructions on the box were to grease the pan and didn't include grease and flour or parchment liner at the bottom.

Another lesson I learned from all these disappointing experiences was that there is little more discouraging to a would be baker than early on failure. This could have put an end to my baking. Instead it sparked in me a determination to understand what went wrong and ultimately to convey and share what I had learned so that others would never have to experience the disappointment that I had.

My fourth baking experience was such a success it spurred me on. Ironically it was with what most consider to be the most challenging of all baking: a basic white bread loaf. It was from the Joy of Cooking. This book became my model for clarity of instructions and inclusion of all the tips to ensure success. So there you have it--proof that practically anyone can learn to bake given a detailed and accurate recipe and the willingness to follow it!

Comments

ivy--that is SO wonderful! just today woody booked his ticket so you'll be meeting him as well. i'm really looking forward to this. and i hear they have invited joanne chang to come as well! won't this be fun!

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Dear Rose,
I thoroughly enjoyed this post. The Cake Bible is one of my two most coveted books, and I refer to it often. When I first read through the book, rather than feel intimidated by the precise nature of it, I was anxious to get started.
My first attempt (I believe it was the Golden Genoise) did not yield beautiful results, and initially I was frustrated. Once the results improved, I grew even more motivated to keep trying more of your recipes. It is nice to hear that you had your own learning curve.
On a side note, I am extremely excited because I will be attending your demonstration class and book signing in Cambridge this April. Looking forward to meeting and learning from you!

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I love this post, Rose. Great inspiration for anyone to see where one can begin and end up, with effort and determination.

Zach

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judy, that is a lovely compliment. it reminds me of one from many years back when my assistant also named judith said: "if ever i need brain surgery i want you to do it!" at least i THINK that was a compliment!!!

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brenda, did you know that dear maida heatter discovered after testing all the recipes for her cookie book that her oven was off 25˚F so she retested them ALL! i'm not sure i would have done that!

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Rochelle Eissenstat
Rochelle Eissenstat
01/ 4/2011 03:03 PM

Thank you for such a reassuring message! And for your inspiration!

The first thing I tried to bake was also a lemon meringue pie. Who knew how many steps and techniques it needed?

Your first forays into baking reminded me of my teen age daughter. The first thing my then 14 year old daughter tried to make was a Duncan Hines Brownie Mix. Bless her heart. We had just moved to Israel and she did not realize that the oven was calibrated in Celsius rather than Farenheit degrees. There was no 350 on the dial! So she cranked up the oven to its maximum setting of 250 degrees and figured she would just let it bake longer! This is 482 degrees Farenheit!
After a careless glance at the box's instructions, she poured in 1 full cup of water instead of 1/3 cup. She DID put in the correct amount of oil and eggs. She put the pan into the preheated oven and LEFT the kitchen. About 30 minutes later, I got home to be greeted by her announcement that she was baking brownies. One look at the oven temp convinced that we had a big hard cinder in there. But her 2 mistakes - the too high oven temp and the too much water actually added up to a very tasty moist chocolate cake! Some people are just lucky!


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Baking was my father's hobby -- he wouldn't let my mother use his MixMaster. He'd learned to bake from his aunt. I still hear his voice telling me how to whip egg whites, how to level off a measuring cup. I have gone well beyond my Dad's projects and sometimes bake for weddings and showers. My son, now 28, likes to visit and to bake with me. We made pecan pie before Christmas. He's happy thinking how these skills have been passed down from his grandpa to me to him.

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Hard to believe you ever screwed up just as I did, struggling to teach myself to bake from recipes in my teens! The liquid lemon pie, the cake torn in hunks from the pan, the cookie-blob--I've done 'em all. It's why you and Maida Heatter are my goddesses--because of the CARING implicit in a perfectly tested and written recipe, virtually guaranteeing a joyous creative outcome! What a gift (that we, in turn, pass on to our happy baking beneficiaries)!

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Like many here, I started very early as well... My grandmother (nonna) would sit me on top of her kitchen table, with a bowl of cake batter and a wooden spoon and let me stir the batter after each egg addition she would make (she would also let me lick the bowl) always explaining the reason why every went the way it did and those little tips and tricks that grandmother pass on – she worked at a bakery for over 25 years when she lived in Italy, so there was tons of knowledge stored waiting to get out.

These memories are what sparked that "baking bug" and from then on it was a internal yearning to learn everything from her, no only to keep her close to me (by that time we were living far way in another country) as much as to master the art of baking. My first baking book was the Cake Bible (still have it after all these years, all worn out and plenty used!) and I love everything about it, there were plenty of successes as well as failure but each one of them gave me another learning step to store away.

My nonna is long gone, but every time I bake a cake, I’m taken back to my childhood sitting on top of her kitchen table, mixing each egg into the batter, listening to her. And that happens every single weekend when I bake along with the HCB group. Thank you for giving me back those memories and for opening me up to more tricks, tips and becoming a more daring and confident baker.

I cannot wait for the next book to come along!

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One of the (many) things I loved about The Cake Bible was its attention to the chemistry and physics of food. Baking is more engineering than entrée cooking is, and those who disrespect that notion may end up with less than perfect results.

I don't have any true baking disasters to share, but some less than perfect results. I e-mailed you a few years back about gelatin substites in a Kosher kitchen, because I made the Strawberry Maria for a friend named Maria and the strawberry whipped cream wasn't structurally stable because I used agar instead of gelatin. Everyone ate it, but I knew it could have been better. You suggested I try Kojel next time. Well, I never got around to doing that, but I did purchase some Kolatin recently after seeing it sold on Kosher.com, and am looking forward to trying it on that cake. Maria has a big birthday coming up, and I might get to spring the cake on her again!

If you all can stand another quick story, I like to tell also of the time I tried a WWII cake recipe out of a cookbook of my great-grandmother's which used mayonnaise instead of butter as the fat. I baked this cake up when I was thirteen. I grew up in a Miracle Whip household and had never seen real mayonnaise. I didn't know that Miracle Whip isn't mayonnaise, and so that's what went into the cake. The cake baked okay, but as you can imagine, it was nasty.

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Love your story! And your determination.
Reminds me of my own early baking/cooking disasters, like the time in college I set a hot frying pan on the industrial carpeting floor in my dorm, and it stuck when I went to get it again. My roommates' laughter and my humiliation didn't stop me, and in the 10 years since I've learned a lot, including from your books!

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Happy New Year, Rose! Well, I had a very patient mom and aunt who let me experiment until I got it right... and the first time I got it right was when I opened the Cake Bible and made the first recipe in the book! My mom tasted the butter in the cake and told me "now that's what I'm talking about!" Being from Louisiana with all the fresh ingredients she needed only a few steps away from the kitchen door, she was a superb baker as was my grandma. So I am most appreciative of your accomplishments and all that you share.

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I can't say I had too many spectacular failures early in my baking career. I suspect that had a lot to do with my mother, who has a degree in home ec, and used to teach math. Of course, there was that one anniversary cake for my parents that my sister and I tried to make with caramel frosting, when there wasn't enough powdered sugar in the house to thicken it properly, and it soaked right through the cake. Dad claimed it was delicious, but we knew he was just being nice.

Because of my Mom, I learned fractions, addition, multiplication and division in the kitchen, baking.

I was introduced to the Cake Bible by my supervisor for my Master's thesis. It was an MMath at the University of Waterloo, in the School of Computer Science. The scientific approach in your books truly appeals to the geek in me, Rose. I suspect the same can be said for many, including my supervisor. I love the "Understanding" sections in your "Bibles", and it's been a real joy to bake my way through Rose's Heavenly Cakes with other bakers from around the world.

My husband gave me the Pie and Pastry Bible for Christmas, and the gift couldn't have been more well-received.

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What a great story, Rose. Thanks for sharing that with all of us. My story is similar. I've always helped my mom with her baking but it always occurred after the ingredients were measured or dough was made. Then about 7-7 yrs ago I borrowed The Cake Bible from the library and was so mesmerized by it, that I wanted my own copy for my upcoming birthday. Guess what? Hubby got me all 3 of your bibles :) Of course, Baking Magic on PBS also helped a lot to get my "baking groove" on :) Thanks again for all you do and continue to do, for us, home bakers. I'm loving RHC (and the HDB club) and I'm already looking FWD to your new book. Happy New Year, Rose!!!

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That's truly turning lemons into lemonade and lemon curd and lemon cheesecake! Most grateful you persevered and paved the way. Baking the recipes in Rose's Heavenly Cakes with Marie's group was a highlight of 2009 and 2010 and now 2011. Not only have I learned the importance of weight measuring and correct temperature, but am passing these skills on to the granddaughters without even trying. Happy New Year Rose.

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Dear Rose,

We are all lucky that your early baking fails did not turn you away from baking but rather, brought you closer to perfecting the techniques to inform a generation of bakers, professional and amateur.

I know there are e-books, kindle and iPad versions of cookbooks coming out but I will always treasure the hard copies I have collected of your books. I hope that I can share them with my boys (Age 8 & 3) who are already showing an early interest in baking ala Betty Crocker.

I'm eagerly awaiting your new book. Can I say that you could write a book on something as ordinary as rock cakes and still manage to make them the most delicious and downiest ever :)

Happy New Year, Rose. May it be filled with delicious things, wonderful experiences and the kindest friends.


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Rose, I am very appreciative of your dedication to detail and precision in your recipes. After I successfully baked my first loaf of bread using your Basic Soft White Sandwich Loaf recipe in The Bread Bible back in 2009 (and this is after numerous failed attempts at bread-baking using imprecise recipes from other sources), I now steadfastly refuse to buy any more cookbooks which do not list ingredients by their weight measure. I'm sure I've saved myself quite a bit of time, money, effort and heartache just by doing that!

Have a wonderful, fulfilling and delicious New Year ahead, Rose!

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thank you all for your lovely responses! great way to start the new year (and the next book!)

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That's a great story! My grandmother used to tell me, "if you can read, you can cook." I took her wisdom to heart, and have been cooking and baking from the time I was an early teen. I appreciate the thoroughness of your recipes and will not attempt to do something unless I understand the directions. Of course, this also goes for other things such as putting together furniture and children's toys. Always read the directions first!

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Happy New Year Rose, I don't know what the bakers all around the world would have done without you. Your word is the last one for so many of us. In fact I would say that you have actually spoiled us by guiding us so much, so much so that there have been times when I pick up a book and start looking for "Rose's" clues to get the perfect results, only to realize that Rose is not the author of the book in hand. So you are an inspiration for all of us. Thank you for being there.

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Wonderful story, Rose. Thank you for sharing! 3 years ago I didn't know how to bake. Tried to make gingerbread cookies and bread. The cookies was hard as rock (didn't know about high-altitude adjustment and I'm sure I measured the flour wrong). The bread didn't rise at all. Then I found your forum, your books, and HCB.

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What a great story! Mine is very similar, which is probably not much of a surprise. And your books (particularly the Cake Bible and the Pie and Pastry Bible) have been a great assistance and inspiration over the years as I strive to improve my home baking.

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