I have finished my final testing of all the recipes which number 127, and Woody has about 43 he has not yet tried. Many of the recipes he will test several times in an effort to ensure that we have chosen the best possible option or variation. Each recipe he tests gives us the opportunity to fine-tune the writing and often the technique as well. I will miss the testing phase but will be remaking many of the recipes just for the shear pleasure of enjoying them again and sharing them with friends and family.I'm now embarking on one of my favorite parts of book production: writing the headnotes. Once this is done comes the chapter intros, special techniques, equipment, and ingredients sections. This will probably take the entire summer at the end of which point we will be getting ready to engage the "heavenly bakers" to try out many of the recipes. The most interesting thing I now have to report now is a major change in the entire writing process that has caused me to see the manuscript in an entirely new light.
A few months ago I posted a fantasy wish on the blog that I've had for many years but never thought would be realized. What I was dreaming of would make writing the recipes easier, faster, and more accurate. After giving, up one day out of the blue, there was a response on the blog that yes--it could be done. I should start by explaining that if I were to write a recipe just for myself and Woody, it would be only the ingredients and their weight in grams (with the exception of minute ingredients such as baking powder which would be in teaspoons and tablespoons.) But since many other bakers still want to have the ounces and volume, it is necessary to go through the laborious and exacting process of calculating, rounding off, and proofing these values. My wish was to have a computer program that would enable me to enter an ingredient in a chart on a word document, enter the grams, and have it automatically fill in the volume and ounces. This would not only be easier, it would also be far less prone to error. I knew it could be done on an excel chart but then I would have to go through the process of cutting and pasting. The person who came to my aid was Rebecca Riordan--an award winning author and gifted systems architect. She said that she learned how to bake from The Cake Bible and wanted to return the gift. So, in a leap of trust, I put my entire life on hold for 10 days and nights as she created and we tweaked the program. The miracle is that I have a Mac and she has a PC so she had to rely on me to report back the results of each of her efforts. This involved 100's of emails--in such a frenzy of typing one often crossed over another as one of us was answering a prior email while the other was issuing forth a new one. (At one point Becca wrote that I think faster than she does and I replied: "No! I only type faster than you do!") I was so fortunate that both Becca and I were able to carve out this uninterrupted space of time because programming involved a whole new language for me and I needed to hold in my mind numerous thoughts as to how I wanted things to work--how I wanted to round off numbers--which codes I wanted to give to ingredients, what is the best way to measure specific ingredients. Those 10 days were among the most intensely focused of my life and finally--tada! There was my dream macro-enabled document. I put in 'bap' for bleached all-purpose flour, put 100 grams in the grams cell, hit my special two key stroke code, and there it all was--the ounces, and the precise cup plus tablespoon volume including (sifted into the cup and leveled off). I cannot describe adequately the joy this gave me. But the best is yet to come! Revisiting the values of the liquid ingredients such as water and milk, I realized that the way in which I expressed their volume was no longer the best. In my first book I listed it as "liquid cup" because I wanted the reader to understand that it should not be measured in a cup designed to measure solids such as flour. Next book I changed it to "fluid ounces" which I never liked because fluid ounces rarely correlate with the weight in ounces so this potentially was confusing. But I chose fluid ounces because many measuring cups had those markings. The eureka moment arrived when I realized that most measuring cups designed for liquid now have milliliter markings! Not only is this more detailed and precise than fluid ounces, it is the system of measure used by most countries around the world. So I made up a chart for myself to convert about 200 entries from fluid ounces to mL throughout the manuscript. In future, thanks to Becca's program, this will be entered automatically as well. Eggs had to be handled in an entirely different manner. I gave Becca a chart with the values of whole eggs, yolks, and whites, up to about 16. Now when I put in 1 yolk, the volume, ounces and grams all fill in automatically. When I put in 2 yolks or any number up to say 16, I also get the precise values filled in. This is also the case for egg whites and whole eggs. At the end of our project, as another precious gift, Becca, a born teacher, taught me how to make ingredient additions and changes so that I could now be more self-sufficient. I also loved seeing how programming was accomplished. Our work took many hours but the blessing is that it will now save enurable more. And when we reached the end of my goal, Becca and I had our first phone conversation, which lasted for 4 hours. We discovered what we suspected all along during our emails--when little thoughts and stories crept in between our calculations--we are true kindred spirits--now friends for life.