Right Brain Baking

We got a text from our daughter the other day, lamenting the dismal failure of two Christmas treats she tried making-those Special K wreaths you cover with green-dyed almond bark, and a pretzel, M & M, and white chocolate, milk chocolate chip confection. Neither set up, and were real messes.

Daughter has turned into a very fine cook of soups, casseroles, and main dishes, but admits she is no baker because she “cooks from the heart”, adding what she thinks would be good and deviating from the recipe. That just doesn’t work for baking. Baking is a first and foremost a science. The decorative part is secondary.

Daughter’s cooking style is that of a person relying more on their right brain than their left brain. I am a left brain person, who rigidly follows recipes until I get brave enough to alter things. Artists, poets. and musicians do a wonderful job using both sides of their brains in their arts. You just can’t wing your way through it when you bake. Flour can only absorb so much liquid, you need just the right amount of leavening, chocolate melts at a certain temperature, and you have to understand how fats interact with all of it. It is amazing anyone can bake.

How do you approach a recipe? How are you at following instructions? What science classes did you like/not like?

56 thoughts on “Right Brain Baking”

  1. First time, follow it as closely as possible. After that, alter as desired. I will admit that after more than 45 years of being the primary cook, I know that most recipes are just starting points for the dish (EXCEPT FOR BAKING!) I Agree with Renee that baking is a science and involves precise formulas, temps, amounts, etc.

    I’m the one in the family who gets out the directions for assembling that new piece of furniture or electronic thing or appliance or whatever. My wife just wants to see a picture of what it looks like before diving in and trying to assemble it. I try to go step by step, but it seems that lately, directions are so poorly written or illustrated that you’re pretty much on your own no matter how you put something together.

    I loved chemistry in HS. Didn’t care for biology Struggled with physics but learned a lot.

    Chris in Owatonna

    Liked by 6 people

  2. It was fun in Invertabrate Zooloogy to dissect squids. When we were done, we cooked them over bunsen burners and ate them. I loved the biological sciences, but disliked chemistry and wouldn’t even think about physics.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I liked the first biology class I had a lot, especially dissections. The second class in 10th was complicated for girls. The teacher liked to rub our bra straps. Fortunately I was flat chested and my uncle was his teaching colleague, so he mostly left me alone. That was enough to put me off biology. We had some b-a-a-a-a-d pervy teachers.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. OT: Actually referring to a recent post about ads and jingles. At the time I couldn’t think of any jingles besides those mentioned by others. I recently finished a book set in the 50’s and three jingles were referred to, which jogged my memory. Several more popped into my head as I was falling asleep last night. So here they are, for better or worse:
    – “You can trust your car to the man who wears the star…the big, bright
    Texaco star”
    – “See the USA in your Chevrolet….”
    – “Double your pleasure, double your fun with Doublemint, Doublemint,
    Doublemint gum”
    – “Winston tastes good like a (bang bang) cigarette should”
    – “You’ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with
    Pepsodent”
    – can’t remember the whole thing but it ends “with Folger’s in your cup”
    – not sure which coffee brand (maybe Maxwell House) that featured a
    coffeepot percolating to a jaunty wordless tune.

    I generally don’t like commercials – my favorites were Mikey and Life cereal (“He likes it!!) and any of the Christmas ads featuring the Clydesdales.

    Liked by 6 people

  4. Now on to today’s entry. I follow baking instructions to the letter – having learned the hard way that you can’t improvise if you want edible results. Overall I follow instructions although as Chris notes, sometimes the instructions and/or illustrations are poorly done and leave you guessing.

    My favorite science class was geology at UMD, taught by Dr. Richard Ojakangas (husband of cookbook writer Beatrice). However, that doesn’t really apply to nursing so I had to take chemistry, biology, microbiology, pharmacology, anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology, and biochemistry. Of those, I enjoyed micro- and pathophys the most. Biochem was the hardest – too many complicated formulas to remember (Krebs cycle, blood clotting cascade, etc.).

    Liked by 8 people

    1. I use Beatrice’s stollen recipe, which she has altered over the years in subsequent publications. Her initial one in Bon Appetit had toasted, sliced almonds in it, which I continue to include. I became brave enough to turn it into a sourdough version, which necessitates more flour but yields bigger loaves. Husband is nuts for sourdough, and he keeps plain and rye sourdough starters going all the time.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. I look at recipes as a place to start and a compilation of suggestions
    I have more failures in baking then you left brained people but it all seems to work out OK my sourdough is fine my pizza crust is fine my bread is fine I don’t do enough baking to find out where I’m messing it up too much and even when I’m trying hard to follow I still tweak stuff that’s just part of the deal
    My son the newfound master chef is very exacting and went out but the scale that measures things in grams so that he can add just the right amount and he has the quarter teaspoon in the 8th teaspoon down to an art I tend to guess about what it is and when my kids measure my guesstimate it’s always within range
    pd like to be a baker but gluten free means it’s all for someone else because gluten free baking is not a rewarding experience yet
    someone will figure out how to make baked goods out of almonds and chickpeas but until they do i’ll make thick soup instead

    Liked by 7 people

  6. I approach a recipe like I approach painted lines in a supermarket parking lot. They don’t have the power of painted lines on a public road, but they are still just paint. Whereas, on a public road, I need a good reason to disregard a painted line, on a parking lot it’s all up to how ai feel at the moment. Recipes are like that.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Someone told me wants to stop signs only apply when they’re on roads the ones in parking lots and various other places that you will notice once you plug this into your mindset are someone’s idea of how to direct you but they are not laws I treat them accordingly and it’s very freeing

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Lines, directional and stop signs in parking lots are there for a reason. To my mind, disregarding them shows little consideration for your fellow shoppers or neighbors. Parking in spots reserved for handicapped drivers is not OK either.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. You are right, disregarding the lines is inconsiderate, and I take their suggestions when other vehicles are moving about the lot. But when it’s empty or nearly so, I feel free to drive carefully and safely without regard to the paint on the ground.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. There is a great old cartoon about parking that made the rounds of the psychology world years ago. It featured cars parked in every possible inconsiderate to illegal manner. Then underneath each car was a psych diagnosis. The narcissist’s car was easy to spot.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. I love those studies! I participated in an North Dakota State University psychology study about fingernail biting . I wasn’t cured.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Are used to love science it’s kind of like math it’s so easy all you have to do is plug in the right answers and you’re done there is no creative aspect to it other than the way you go about it

    The best one ever was the old sludge test where they gave you a vial full of stuff and you had to use your scientific brain to figure it out backwards as to what was in there the boiling points and melting points and thickness of the junk helped you decipher what was in your flask and the people around you all got different flasks of stuff so you couldn’t keep copy their stuff that was great but I also enjoyed chemistry and biology except for dissecting frogs which I did before my turning vegetarian but that let me know that it was something that should be considered because I was really affected by killing the frog for a project
    are used to have a science lab partner and we would meet every Sunday night to go over the questions at the end of the chapter to be prepared for the tests on Monday and it was a great story or because I did things the way that I did them I had 120 point average out of 100 possible on my tests at the end of the year but the teacher failed me because I didn’t fill out the lab assignment tasks correctly even though he knew he had seen me there he was such an OCD person that he needed to help me fill it out the way that he wanted to help me fill it out and thought that feeling me on the class was the appropriate response to teach me my lesson what it taught me was More about him than it was about me he was such a schmuck

    Liked by 6 people

  8. Are used to love science it’s kind of like math it’s so easy all you have to do is plug in the right answers and you’re done there is no creative aspect to it other than the way you go about it

    The best one ever was the old sludge test where they gave you a vial full of stuff and you had to use your scientific brain to figure it out backwards as to what was in there the boiling points and melting points and thickness of the junk helped you decipher what was in your flask and the people around you all got different flasks of stuff so you couldn’t keep copy their stuff that was great but I also enjoyed chemistry and biology except for dissecting frogs which I did before my turning vegetarian but that let me know that it was something that should be considered because I was really affected by killing the frog for a project
    are used to have a science lab partner and we would meet every Sunday night to go over the questions at the end of the chapter to be prepared for the tests on Monday and it was a great story or because I did things the way that I did them I had 120 point average out of 100 possible on my tests at the end of the year but the teacher failed me because I didn’t fill out the lab assignment tasks correctly even though he knew he had seen me there he was such an OCD person that he needed to help me fill it out the way that he wanted to help me fill it out and thought that feeling me on the class was the appropriate response to teach me my lesson what it taught me was More about him than it was about me he was such a schmuck

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I always thought recipes were merely suggestions? Not that I cook or bake enough to know…
    I’m about to bake my first batch of Amish Friendship Bread for the year. I don’t change too much of that. I’ve heard of other people changing it a bit…The size of the eggs might change. And sometimes I use large puddings and sometimes a mix of small and large.

    Usually my problem is losing count of the 6 cups of flour between 3 and 4… SHINY!

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Most recipes I see as guidelines, and I will often deviate both in terms of measurements and ingredients. There are both advantages and disadvantages to this. When once in a blue moon something turns out exceptionally well, I’ll most likely not be able to reproduce it. On the other hand, at this stage of the game, I have enough experience that I rarely produce a complete disaster.

    I’m not much of a baker, and have very limited experience with it. Partly this is because I don’t care much for sweets and I don’t really eat much bread. Baking also requires much more exacting measuring than I typically do in the kitchen. Most of my friends know not to ask me to bring dessert for a pot luck dinner.

    Liked by 6 people

  11. I went to college as a physiology major. After two years I transferred enough credits to the U that it would only have required one science class at the U to have a biology minor. I still read heavily in math and science. I used many metaphors from science and math to teach English. Sort of related, I considered getting a degree in American Studies at the U. Then I would have encountered Steve.
    It is odd to hear Bea called Beatrice, but that’s what she used in her books. She was good when she baked for Julia.
    I follow recipes rather closely except about spices or substituting for or replacing things that made her sick. Now I cook for a late supper but often my own inventions.

    Liked by 6 people

  12. In high school, I loved chemistry. Having done semi-poorly at algebra, I avoided physics with regret. For many years, I subscribed to Scientific American thinking of myself as an 1800’s amateur scientist. All I did was duplicate work with prisms. No original thoughts on light.
    Evolutionary Biology classes were easy and I enjoyed them as I gave the required answers but not believing the theories. I’m not a creationist ie the Biblical six literal days to make everything. Maybe I should have spoken up more but didn’t.

    Liked by 6 people

  13. Like many of you, I pay more attention to amounts when baking vs. cooking, especially the first time I try a recipe. Husband has tried baking a couple of things, post-stroke, without the benefit of even looking at a recipe, with some very INTERESTING results.

    In 8th grade I took an experimental science class that entailed one semester of physics – we didn’t get into a lot of the math, which helped. I satisfied the college physics requirement with astronomy, which I loved; I imagine that class would be very different today, 50 years down the road. Ben’s geology class also sounds interesting.

    I liked biology a lot, and would take an ornithology class in a minute – also read things like The Hidden Life of Trees (Peter Wohlleben) – we’ve learned so much in the past few decades about how interconnected everything is.

    Liked by 5 people

  14. With cooking, especially soup, anything goes and the soup is forgiving, unless there is too much water in the broth. Then nothing tastes good. With baking I follow a new recipe to the letter, then after I think I know what I am doing and how it works, I start to take liberties until I have it the way I want it to taste. Baking is pretty sensitive and touchy at times.

    I am having a horrible day. Our family conflict is on-going and my sister appears to be falling apart from the stresses in her life, which are significant. I think she has snapped from all the pressure she has in her life. Her son in particular has been a problem child from the day he was born, and he is making choices that are unwise, to say the least. I set some limits with him, she has rushed in to “defend” him, and it has become ugly.

    This is all about my mother’s memorial service…and my mother has not yet passed on. Go figure. Tomorrow I get tested for glaucoma, a diagnosis which scares me.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Jacque, I feel your pain. Truly I do. I have a similar issue with my sister and her daughter (to whom I used to be very close). I hope your glaucoma test comes back with a result that also includes a path to deal with it, if need be.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Oh, thanks PJ. The support from the Baboons helps a lot. My poor sister. There must be things about her son that I do not know. She is reactive and feeling threatened by everything. She has two grandchildren from this son. From what I can tell from her shrieks, she feels the limit I set with her son somehow threatens the relationship with her grandchildren. I feel hurt by her behavior towards me, but she must be in agony.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Forgot to say that if it is glaucoma developing it is very early—I get checked yearly. One eye is under the magic number and one eye is just over by a point. The Dr. says it is completely treatable if that is what it is.

          Liked by 4 people

    2. I’m so sorry, Jacque. These family things are so hard. I have a brother who hasn’t spoken to the rest of the family since Mom died just over a year ago. It’s so painful. I miss him and his family so much. I send them cards and letters. I send him texts and remind him that my door is always open if he ever wants to talk. I give him my love. It’s all I can do. I feel your pain.

      Like

  15. Second question: Do you follow instructions.
    Yes.
    But.
    Do the instructions make sense?
    Will deviation from them make any difference?
    In a practical application, I have encountered this problem.
    Commercial flooring applications have always given wide latitude ie our butts are covered
    Documentation is my forte. Notes about temperature etc have saved my employers several times. Documentation of the recipe works!

    Liked by 6 people

  16. Where baking is concerned I always start with the recipe. However a lot of my favorite recipes have notations written on them or Post-it notes. If it doesn’t turn out the way I want then I jiggle it around a bit. It took me a long time to get to my current starlight mint surprise recipe. I experimented with butter versus margarine vs shortening and then I experimented with the kind of mint — about five years ago finally got it just the way I like it. Non-baking recipes?? All bets are off.

    Liked by 5 people

  17. I follow the recipe when baking but that’s the only time. I don’t do too much baking anymore.

    I make a lot of soups and stews and I’ll read a recipe once then just use some of the ingredients as suggestions and make it the way I want to and with the ingredients I have ready. There are a few soups and stews that I make often. They basically turn out the same each time because I’ve made them so often and I tend to have the right ingredients on hand.

    Liked by 2 people

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