Baking Confidence

I had an absolutely filthy thought recently. It was mid afternoon and I was working on some very boring paperwork in the office when suddenly, out of nowhere, a soft, slightly warm and moist fat scone slathered with real butter, juicy raspberry jam with a generous dollop of cream sauntered nonchalantly into my thoughts. I tried hard to ignore this naughty scone that was salaciously dancing around my head and winking provocatively at me, as I knew to respond would mean leaving my desk and the dull but important task at hand.

If I’m honest naughty thoughts, like this, are a common distraction during my day. I should add that it could just as easily have be a savoury and sophisticated seductress rather than something simple and sweet; one can never predict other than to know it is usually bad, very bad.

The problem I generally have with the sweet wickedness is that it is often better in my head than it ever actually tastes. This is, sadly, a reflection on the mediocrity of bakers at large, rather than my over active imagination. We’ve all been in that place where the carrot cake, cheese cake, cherry loaf or cupcake seduces us with their enviable good looks from behind a glass case. It is often bought with the promise of something wonderful only to cheat us by sometimes being too dry or even, dare I say it, tasteless. Overall I find you have to be careful where you have your cake should you want to eat it as well. Breads often suffer from the same fate. Bread can so easily give you that ‘come hither’ look, particularly when placed near bread ovens that give off that heady, bready aroma; reeling you in from the moment you step across the threshold.Baking Ingredients

The difficulty lies in the fact that good baking requires more science than art. While the latter is of course necessary, the former is where the taste comes from. Overuse of any one ingredient can throw the balance so easily when working with flour, sugar, butter, eggs, baking sodas and raising agents. There is plenty of room for error and it should be approached with all the precision of a science experiment. I would also be suspicious of the plethora of celebrity bakers out there. Baking really is a huge trend at the moment, everyone seems to be doing it and to be honest I would advise that you stick with tried and trusted. As it happens there is a new book on the horizon called Pastry by Richard Bertinet, published by Ebury. I’ve seen a few extracts and with sweet and savoury recipes and excellent tutorials about the science behind pastry, I would have to recommend it. Richard Bertinet is a French chef and baker and to be fair, the French definitely know a thing or two about pastry.

However back to our present dilemma of how to turn the baking mess around. First of all if you find a good baker, bakery or coffee shop then shout it from the rooftops and make sure everyone knows about it. We are quite blessed in this neck of the woods to have some great bakers on our doorstep. Hickeys Bakery in Clonmel, The Cookie Jar, Mags’ Home Baking in Nenagh, The Tipperary Kitchen and The Scullery to name a few. The other thing we can do to help, and yes I agree this is a bold move, but we must start telling people if we haven’t enjoyed their cake. I am as guilty of this as anyone out there and I’m in the retail trade. I have often just paid up and said nothing; it’s an Irish trait that is not at all virtuous. You don’t have to be rude or loud to get the point across, but I think most people would appreciate the honesty and constructive criticism. If we don’t tell people about a problem they will never know that they have one. The other thing is that if only one in ten chooses to be honest, the baker or coffee shop assumes that the one individual is just having a bad day or has damaged taste buds. As a consequence we all suffer; bad cake lingers on, the coffee shop/bakery plods along and you make a mental note not to buy or eat their cake again. This doesn’t help anyone.

Great baking, sweet or savoury is a something to be cherished. It is a skill, a science, a craft and while some people will be naturally gifted, just like the pianist who plays by ear, for most of us it will need serious adhering to the rules. However perseverance, application and concentration in the baking area will lead to untold treasures and compliments once mastered.

Steak and Kidney PieWhether it is a luscious pastry clad steak and kidney pie, tasty bread, a tea loaf or a special cake it should always, always, always taste as good as it looks. The flavours should be balanced and carefully matched as no amount of cream will disguise a disaster.

Going back to my filthy thought of the day, I never actually realised my scone fantasy. I knew a common supermarket lump of plastic wrapped, cooked dough with a shelf life of ‘forever’ could never match the smooth, jammy, siren in my head. I grabbed that tempting, cream covered hussy and pushed it firmly out the door of my mind. I went back to my work and it was only a matter of seconds before that minx’s cousin, spicy lamb meatballs, popped up centre stage. In the end I just gave up and went home for my tea.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of  James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Food Market Monkstown and Avoca Rathcoole. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers

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