Sunday, December 5, 2010

9:36 p.m.

An image of yesterday's batch. After the first attempt, I had to make more, this time with bigger, juicier apple bits and more topping. Mmmm.

This afternoon I took a deep breath and partook in a bit of culinary chemistry. I decided to pursue a recipe that had been on my mind for days and faced my biggest baking fear: conversions.

With the cold weather, temptation of comfort food, and an oh-so-deluxe food processor as an early Christmas present, I couldn't resist an attempt at tasting what might happen when flour, butter and sugar combine.

For me baking is the ultimate challenge. Even a recipe as simple as the one on the back of Tollhouse chocolate chips is loaded with obstacles. Baking powder instead of baking soda? Was that 3 cups of flour or 4? There is an obnoxious exactitude to baking; one that I never encounter when making dinner (usually because I steer clear from anything savory-pastry-related). If you pour too much wine in the pot, the stew will eventually soak it up. My fear of the oven, however, is absolute. And despite my bizarre affinity for my high school anatomy class, I've never been a science girl. This avoidance of chemistry, paired with the British Imperial system of measurement, makes baking all-the-more intimidating. Yet tonight, I couldn't get the idea of nutmeg out of my mind.

Enter eatmakeread's recipe for Spice Apple Muffins, and this afternoon turned into a proper gladiator-style challenge of Cups versus Grams.

Things started out okay. I bought the right ingredients. Butter melted. Apples roasted. T helped with the conversions. I precisely weighed dry ingredients on the plastic scale. I factored the meniscus into my liquid measurements. Soon the smell in the kitchen actually qualified as fragrant. Things looked like they might taste delicious, at least until I reached for what I thought to be the ground cinnamon, and instead dumped a teaspoon or two of ground cumin into the mixing bowl. Guh.

So as dinner's soup simmered on the stove, I began again on dessert. This time my measurements were hastier. I quickly weighed flour on the scale and swapped teaspoons for pinches. I might have even thrown in some dashes. Yeah, I'd say the second time around was more fun. More fly-by-the-seat. And when the muffins, topped with a crumbly coat of cinnamon and sugar, went into the oven, my once dismal hopes were elevated to realistic. Patiently I endured an invisible chemistry class, with the hope that my concoction might, might be tasty.

My thoughts raced back to several weeks prior, when after plugging through hours of an uninspired writing session, I surrendered to my own literary ineptitude and made cookies. The batter looked — and tasted — delicious. I had splurged on Green & Black's chocolate. If I couldn't write, I thought, maybe I could make a living feeding people. Visions of opening a bakery/cafe formed loose and fast. By the time the mix was ready, I was 10 years ahead of myself. In a daydreamy, batter-induced stupor, I doodled apron designs until it was time to check the oven. I was abhorred to discover that the beautifully shaped doughballs had melted into one ugly, flat, brown crisp that hardly resembled anything you'd dip in milk. Santa would have turned these cookies down.

Tonight, with the memory of failure still fresh in my nose, I worried. Despite quick checks on the oven confirming that the batter was indeed rising, I refused to trust any sensorial organ except taste. Butterflies abound, my stomach prepared itself for an impending failure. But I was wrong. The muffins were delicious. Somehow the ingredients — the nutmeg, crispy butter, brown sugar and apples — mixed exactly how they should, and I was rewarded with spiced apple muffins that served as more than tonight's dessert...or tomorrow's breakfast. They became a dozen small symbols signifying that I not only stand a chance at converting cups to weights, but also that I'm adjusting to life here. The days may darken at 4, and the oven temperature might be impossibly read in Celsius, but I now know that 1 cup of flour equals 125 grams, one egg is equal to one egg, and butter tastes good no matter where you are.

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