I have a confession to make: I suck at baking. The fact that I spend a fair amount of time talking, writing and photographing food, people get the impression I’m the right person to ask about baking tricks for walnut roll. I’ve never done one, to be honest don’t dare to make it. It would be a disaster of epic proportions, I can already see the oozing bubbly filling dripping from bumpy shaped alien form. And the sight of yet another baking failure gets me furious, despite being fairly calm. Over my abundant “disaster” experience I’ve learned the best thing to do is to shuck everything in trash, clean the kitchen (basically, pretend it didn’t happen) and start all over on something safe. Eating a disaster, which is still edible, results in dull pain in the stomach, like swallowing your own anger and shame. I make effort to use quality ingredients and don’t want to discard food, which pisses me off even more. Still, I advise to discard and go on, where as Julia Child would cheerfully smile and try to save what is left of unfortunate dish: “Never apologize, be fearless”, she would sing with her high pitch phlegmatic voice.
It’s true, kitchen requires guts and determination. Trial and error under a vast array of changing variables. And you need to test and experience all of them. Some can be learned from books others by mentors, but there are lessons you must have by yourself. To make progress, you have to have failures. It’s essential element of progress, and the sooner you accept that, the better. To become successful in any discipline, the thing that matters the most is your attitude. Not so much talent and abilities, those are extenuating circumstances. Unfortunately there are many people with no talent who get to the spotlight because of their sheer determination.
So please fail, do not let it discourage you, although it can be quite deflating. Researching this topic I found a very therapeutic exercise – google image search “baking fail”. After you had your share of laugh, proceed to video search, and somewhere in there should be a video of Gordon Ramsay bleeding all over Ellen show. Apparently he hasn’t cut himself for 10 years, but I bet he did it quite a few times as a sous chef. I happen to have one of Ramsay’s cookbooks, there is a fantastic portrait of him covering his face with his hands followed by a quote: “We learn only by making mistakes, so don’t be afraid of them, I still fail and still learn new things – that doesn’t stop me and it shouldn’t stop you. Keep going until you lose that fear.”
But failure is only useful if you know where and why you failed, this is where progress happens. Well, not necessarily, I always and constantly fail for the same reason – I cannot resist the urge to change something in the recipe. Like I’m completely unaware of the complex chemical and physical magic behind each recipe. Like that the different oven, flour, baking pan, longitude and altitude are not enough. No, I change flours, sweeteners,… who cares if I’m substituting powder with liquid, I’ll add another egg. Ever since I’m baking gluten free, the failures tripled.
But I still bake, I love it actually. It’s the experiment component behind it that gets me. Similar to developing a photo, baking is where you insert your effort in the equation and leave the magic to do the rest. I always sit in front of the oven in the first and last minutes of baking, like observing image appearing in the developer fluid. When I get it right the happiness and matching pride is immense – I came up with this and it works. So there is purpose in the many cakes that ended in the trash, here I quote Edison: “I didn’t fail, I found 10.000 ways that don’t work.” This is the third quote used in this article, don’t recall doing that since my academic years. It’s no coincidence, I quoted so many exceptional people on the subject of failure. And Edison was a shmuck, a clever shmuck, and yet his greatest mistake was that he fired Tesla, but that’s another story full of failures on the way to reach grand new discoveries. So again, please fail, as much as you can.
This article was first published in Mrvica magazine.