A beginner baker in a world full of experts. That’s how I felt starting my first day working for “The Baking Sheet,” our print newsletter, last January. Little did I know I would spend most of my year getting up close and personal with all things cake.
This job has been a chance to combine my writing degree with my love and appreciation for all things baking. Sometimes I can’t help but believe in luck. As luck would have it, I found out Baking Sheet editor Susan Reid was looking for an intern. As luck would have it, she was more interested in writing ability than baking skills. And again, as luck would have it, she’s a skilled instructor. A win-win-win situation.
My first assignment, a premonition of things to come, was to assist in baking cakes for judging. These cakes came from state fair winners from all over the country and the winner of our judging would receive an all-expenses paid trip to King Arthur. A delicious assignment, wouldn’t you agree? This Raspberry Lemon Cake was last years winner.
Another hurdle to jump was recipe writing. Being able to not only bake up something magnificent, but to translate what I did so that someone else can get the same results. Coming from a household baking background, I truly appreciate a well-written recipe that I can follow exactly. Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that not all recipes are created equal.
I think that’s the great thing about The Baking Sheet. Yes, the editor is a first-class baker and can make astounding baked goods practically from memory. But most of our readers are regular people like myself, learning as they go. They’re not shy about pointing out when things in a recipe don’t make sense. It’s a nice balance.
May and June were a blur of (you guessed it) cakes, buttercream, and more buttercream. We were in the process of preparing for filming our Cake Essentials DVD. My task was to make sure as much stuff as possible was baked and whipped up in advance, so the shoot would flow smoothly. We’re talking over 30 different types of cakes (in multiples) and vats and vats of buttercream.
Prior to this time, I had never made any frosting but the super-simple American version. I tend to err on the timid side and certainly never would have made this on my own. There’s nothing like whipping up a recipe dozens and dozens (and dozens) of times to really hone one’s buttercream skills. Needless to say, I can basically make this in my sleep now.
I’d have to say the best part was assisting in filming the cheesecake portion of the DVD. Stepping in front of a camera is a huge step for a timid, shy person, but you might as well go big when facing your fears! A terrific perk of my job is unlimited access to all things cream cheese. I looove cream cheese. Anytime you see a recipe in The Baking Sheet with a creamy, dreamy, cheesy focus, know that I was lobbying for it to make the cut. A nice reward for all the hard work was filling my freezer with those delectable cakes after the shoot was over, my favorite being the NY Cheesecake. Yum!
Not to say I spent the entire year waist deep in sweet confections (although it certainly felt like it). I was given the opportunity to help out at one of our Traveling Baking Demos, spreading the love for all things baking way down in North Carolina. We decided to skip out on lunch one day and take a leisurely drive up in the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was beautiful.
Once a month since September, I’ve traveled with Susan to New York City to assist her while she teaches seasonally themed baking at the Viking Test Kitchens as well as some segments filmed for Mike Colameco’s TV series.
An almost welcome break from baking occurred when our King Arthur test kitchen was receiving an expansion and renovation. As close as I have become with my fellow bakers as they have passed along to me their almost unlimited knowledge and skill, it was time for some elbow room. It was a nice chance to focus on honing my writing skills and to have some real desk time. As you can see… things were getting pretty crowded.
Walls came down, offices were overthrown, and the test kitchen was almost doubled in size (you’re actually looking at the new section of the kitchen where Sue Gray and Frank Tegethoff are now located). Happiness all around.
One of my largest projects was taking all of the Baking Sheet issues, from 1990 through present (we’re talking well over 125), categorizing each individual recipe, and formatting them in a massive index which will be used in our upcoming Baking Sheet app. Overwhelming, yes, but I felt like the luckiest girl to be able to trace King Arthur’s baking evolution from the beginning on. More often than I should admit, I got sucked in by the writing and completely forgot my intended task!
My lessons in the test kitchen weren’t all focusing on baking, either. The Baking Sheet likes to feature savory, meal-like items along with dessert for a more well-rounded feel. We made the Domatokeftedes (Greek Tomato Fritters) in the Summer 2012 issue and these babies have been haunting Susan and I ever since. They are overwhelmingly good paired with the Homemade Roasted Garlic Mayonnaise recipe that it is featured with and for some reason the issue on my desk keeps popping open to that page. If you don’t have this issue, you need to go online and get it!
Looking back, I’d be crazy not to admit that my baking skills have improved by a mile. Practice makes perfect, after all. I’m conquering my fear of long recipes full of ingredients and steps. Anything is possible as long as you’ve read and understood the recipe, and you have all of the ingredients on hand. If you ever have any hesitation, you can always do as I do and get hold of the Baker’s Hotline!
This past year has literally flown right by. I was given more opportunities to grow and learn than I have ever thought possible. It’s kind of funny that my job has come full circle and I was once again given the task of baking up the fair contest cake winners. This time with a much more trained and objective palate.
Appropriately beginning and ending this blog (and past year) with cake, the winner of this year’s fair cake contest is called Masquerade Cake (the yummy rectangular chocolate cake on the right). It will be featured in the Spring issue of The Baking Sheet. True to its name, it’s got a hidden secret ingredient that I wasn’t expecting to enjoy as much as I did. If you aren’t yet a subscriber, please become one and learn along with me! It’s a delicious ride.