Let Off Some Steam

Latticework Pie Crust. Photo from Pxhere, Public Domain

In baking, as in life, it’s important to let off some steam every so often.

When you’re baking a pie, the recipe will usually instruct you to make some slashes or holes in the top crust before putting the pie in the oven. This isn’t just to make a pretty design, although some people do get very creative and make decorative cut-outs of hearts or dots, or even create a latticework effect in the crust.

The real purpose of these openings is to let the steam escape. If there’s no outlet for the steam building up under the crust, the filling will burst through and spill out. Your pie will end up looking like an unsightly mess.

Sometimes we need to let off a bit of steam, too. We get frustrated or angry at the circumstances in our lives, and need to “vent” our feelings.

David certainly did his share of venting in the Psalms. He let loose with some very raw emotions, crying out to God to intervene in his situation.

Surprisingly, God seemed okay with David’s outbursts. In fact, David was the only person in Scripture whom God called “a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22).

I believe David’s example can give us a key to how to vent appropriately without letting our emotions explode all over, making a mess of our lives and leaving us bitter.

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When Bad Cakes Happen to Good People

Cake Explosion Photo by Raffi Asdourian on Flickr CC BY-2.0

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, recipes don’t turn out the way they’re supposed to.

Your soufflé turns into a pancake; your cookies are as hard as hockey pucks; or your cake is a soggy mess. Any way you slice it (if it’s even possible to slice it), the recipe results in a total disaster.

Sometimes it’s due to a mistake on your part. You accidentally added twice the amount of an ingredient called for (guilty!); you used Shake ’n’ Bake instead of graham cracker crumbs for the dessert base; or you put the pizza in the oven for 450 minutes at 15 degrees, instead of 15 minutes at 450 degrees.

Or maybe the fault lies with someone else. The recipe’s author might have led you astray by inadvertently calling for 1/2 pound of flour instead of 1/2 cup’s worth. You only discover later that the recipe contained errors when you see a correction printed in the next day’s newspaper or blog post. But by then, of course, it’s too late: your family is using the rock-hard muffins you made as door-stops.

Often, you didn’t see a recipe fail coming at all. You followed the instructions to the letter, but it still didn’t work out. The ingredients may not have behaved as you expected due to humidity, altitude, or their age. Your oven may be hotter or colder than you realized, or your flour is harder than the type tested in the recipe. It wasn’t your fault, but just the nature of baking.

As Marian Keyes puts it in her cookbook, “Saved by Cake,” sometimes bad cakes happen to good people.

It’s the same in our lives, isn’t it? Sometimes things go wrong even when we’ve tried to do everything right. Our lives don’t turn out the way we expected.

But there’s good news for the believer in God: He can redeem any mistake and turn things around for your good and His glory.

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You Already Have What You Need

Baking ingredients
Photo by Kathy Moreno on Wallpaper Flare

I love desserts that you can make on the spur of the moment, with ingredients you already have in your kitchen (like the recipe for coffee cake below). The ones where you don’t need to make a special trip to the store to find an uncommon or rarely used ingredient.

For instance, I love the flavour of pistachios, but rarely keep them on hand in my cupboard. Walnuts, on the other hand, are more likely to be found year-round in my kitchen. If a recipe calls for nuts, I know I’m bound to have some walnuts I can use.

Or what about an ingredient like rosewater? It sounds like it would create an exotic dessert, but who keeps rosewater in their pantry?

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Lick The Bowl!

Child happily licking the bowl of cookie dough
Photo by pxfuel

When I was a little girl, I always loved baking cookies with my Mom. The best part was when I “helped” her clean the mixing bowl.

Many people have fond memories of their Moms letting them “lick the bowl”: that is, scraping up and eating the bits of leftover cookie dough on the sides of the bowl.

My Mom would go one better than that, however. She’d deliberately leave not just the scrapings, but extra spoonfuls of cookie dough in the bowl for me to eat. Sometimes I wonder if more of the dough ended up in my stomach than on the cookie sheets to bake!

Isn’t God like that with us, too? He sometimes gives us unexpected favour or extra blessings in our lives just to show us how much He loves us.

We find an illustration of this favour in the beautiful Biblical story of Ruth.

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The Sweetest Perfume Can’t Be Bought

Vintage perfume bottles
Photo by domeckopol on Pixabay

We humans can’t help but react instinctively to a beautiful smell, can we?

In my last post, The Perfect Recipe for Bread, I mentioned how wonderful the smell of freshly baked bread is in your own home. The same is true when you bake a cake, cook a roast, light a scented candle, or when you bring a bouquet of flowers inside: the aroma fills the whole house and gives you a deep sense of pleasure.

You get the same pleasing effect when you take a walk in your neighbourhood and can detect cooking smells emanating from houses as you pass by: here someone’s making a rich stew, over there a spicy curry. Even better is strolling by someone’s garden and being enveloped by the scent of the lilacs or roses growing there.

But what if a beautiful aroma could permeate an even bigger area?

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The Perfect Recipe for Bread

Photo by Momentmal on Pixabay

There’s nothing quite like the smell of freshly baked bread in your own home, is there?

More and more people are finding this out. One of the surprising consequences of the pandemic-associated lockdowns has been a resurgence of home baking. So many people have been baking bread at home in recent months that some stores have even run out of yeast and flour.

For beginners, it might take some time to get the knack of baking bread from scratch. Even for more experienced home bakers, baking the perfect loaf of bread will take numerous tries and repeated tweaks to the recipe.

The Bible has a few things to say about this life-giving substance. By tracing the story of bread through the Scriptures, we can see how the “recipe” improves over time, culminating in something we all desire:

The perfect bread.

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How To Make Maple Syrup

Collecting maple sap the traditional way, in buckets

Sometimes the sweetest things take the most effort to produce, don’t they?

Take, for instance, maple syrup, one of Canada’s iconic products. We often use it atop pancakes or waffles, or in desserts (see below). This delicious liquid starts out as sap collected from sugar maple trees.

Right now it’s maple syrup season in Eastern Canada: as the weather warms, the sap in the trees starts flowing freely. Holes are drilled into the trunks of the maples, and buckets or tubing collects the dripping sap, which is then transported to a central location.

And then it’s ready to be bottled, right? No! Actually, the process has only just begun.

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Stay With the Tried and True

My Mom’s and Dad’s 1915 Five Roses Cookbooks:
They each brought a copy into their marriage.

Do you have a collection of old family recipes or cookbooks? Many of us are fortunate enough to have such treasures, lovingly passed down to us. They’re worth hanging on to.

The recipes might be contained in a cookbook, or written down on index cards and filed in a plastic or wooden box. They may be handwritten and neatly organized in a binder, or simply clipped from the newspaper and stuffed haphazardly into the pages of an old cookbook.

But no matter how the recipes are filed, there’s an easy way to tell which ones are the best:

The pages they’re on are a bit of a mess.

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Get Ready for God to Act

Pouring cupcake batter into prepared muffin tins.
Photo by Gina Dittmer.

When you read a cake or muffin recipe, it will usually instruct you to preheat your oven and get your baking pans prepared before describing how to make the dessert itself.

But why do it in this order? Why not make the batter first, and let it sit there in the bowl while you leisurely grease or line the baking pans and let the oven slowly heat up?

There’s a very good reason to have everything prepared before you start the actual baking, and it has to do with how leaveners behave.

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Short But Sweet

Scottish Terriers: short but sweet!
Photo by Trisha Shears on Wikimedia Commons CC BY-2.0

Last week, the Scots celebrated “Hogmanay,” or New Year’s Eve. A particularly delicious treat often consumed there on this holiday is shortbread, which is a Scottish invention. It’s not really a bread, but rather a buttery, rich, crumbly type of cookie (recipe below).

But why is it called “short” bread? Is it vertically challenged? Well, yes, it’s quite a flat cookie, but in this case the word “short” means something different.

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