By no means did I make the cupcakes in this picture, but as long as we’re talking baking, why not post an indulgent photo?
I have a sweet tooth, a chocolate tooth and a filled tooth. The latter is a result of the former. In order to keep the filling in its proper place and not yank it out mid-chew, I avoid chewing sticky foods on that side. That means taking a bite of the chocolate, transferring it all to the side which is yet unmolested by the siege of sweetness, and chomping it one-sidedly to slush. My jaw does not like this arrangement. It protests. I insist that I’ve received the “overload” memo. It puts up banners and waves flags. It sends a whole “too much strain on this end” message through flag-waving signals. Finally, I give in. I cut back on the chocolate input through chocolate bars and look for substitutes instead. Chocolate mousse. Chocolate cake. Chocolate ice cream. Chocolate choco latte. You get the idea.
It is every chocoholic’s dream to find something that is rich but not overwhelmingly so. I discovered my something the day I started experimenting with the chocolate input in my homemade brownies. I found out that doubling the amount of less-rich cooking chocolate does not have the same effect as using half the amount of a substantially richer brand, and that the less-rich variety will never last long enough to become part of anything baked anyway; it won’t survive the “just one bite every time I walk past the fridge” attacks. Cocoa powder is convenient because you don’t have to melt it before using it. You also get a lot of mileage out of a good-sized cocoa box because you can’t possibly eat the powder by the spoonful as long as your bitter-detecting taste buds work.
When I finally came up with my ideal form of brownies, I went through a brownie-making whirl before finally putting a mental lock on the cocoa box. My denial meter could only take so much of knowing exactly—how—much—sugar—and—oil—I—was—eating. Store-bought brownies do not have any numbers attached to them apart from the greatly bloated price tag.
Anything homemade, however, serves up a plateful of numbers along with the taste. The number of cups (or ounces, if you prefer) dances in front of your eyes. The sooner you fire up the oven after your previous round of baking, the clearer the numbers are. If you leave a decent interval between consecutive baking times, the numbers disappear—and no, buying a brownie in the interval doesn’t help. Not me, at least. Call me cheap, but I have lost the ability to pay in excess of sixty rupees for a single brownie and enjoy it, especially when I was only paying thirty-five for the same thing last year. The knowledge that I can make just my style of brownie on my own, with butter if I’m feeling indulgent and with olive oil if I’m not, with every step of the procedure in my hands, whereas the ingredients for the store-bought version are goodness-knows-what and it’s been sitting on that shelf for don’t-know-how-long—all this spoils its taste. Add to all that the fact that the bakery brownie is only one and the homemade batch can be made to last for days if you want it to, and you have one seriously turned off baker girl.
Now that I wait a while before bringing out the measuring cups, every step of the process is a delight. When the idea slips into my head and makes me put aside whatever I’m doing, I jump with joy on the way to the kitchen. (My brother’s remark when he once caught his otherwise lost-in-books sister in the act of making an excited hop all alone in her room: “I think I wasn’t supposed to see that.”) I actually like using the measuring cups (there, I admitted it, no matter how many “baking nerd” points that gets me.) I enjoy combining the dry ingredients with the runny ones and seeing them wrestle with each other before blending into one harmoniously gooey mixture (and I get a nice “stirred-up cocoa powder” whiff into the bargain.) The smell of brownies in the oven has a warm homey quality to it that would make a really good air freshener.
Then it’s time to stand and wait for the brownies to cool. Or sit and wait. Or just spear a little bit on a fork to test while waiting. Hmm, that was too hot for me to taste anything, let’s try again after a minute. Ah, much better. I wonder how it’ll taste after another minute. Consequently, one-
quarter of it has disappeared by the time the rest of the household comes up to do justice to whatever remains. In the world of cooking and consuming, there is nothing quite as wonderful as something going from just-ready to just-crumbs in half an hour. Even the most amazing gastronomic wonder pales in attraction if it takes two days of pulling it out of the fridge to chip it down to half the original amount, and even then you have to freeze the remaining half to defrost at a later date (and let’s face it, there’s nothing like stuff that’s freshly made). Putting chocolate love aside, I am able to wait until it has cooled down and then cut it into neat pieces and store them in a lunch box (no cookie jars in a house full of dieters) to snack on when the urge hits or share with others. Sharing cuts the number of calories that end up in your system and spreads brownie love to friends who can’t or don’t work themselves up into the baking zone.
OK, now when I said I enjoyed every step of the process, I wasn’t exactly truthful. I didn’t count the cleaning up that comes after the brownie-consuming frenzy. (What, clean up in the time it takes to cool? Whoever heard of such a thing?) The hands and back must pay for the pleasure of the palate. (If you’re wondering how the back comes in, you’ve never washed dishes standing in front of the sink.) Truth be told, I hardly ever pay this price. I usually add the baking utensils to the rest of the dirty dishes waiting to be attended to by the house help. But I always wash the stuff that comes in contact with eggs. You seriously do not want to leave anything coated with egg standing around for any length of time.
Everyone has something like this—something they can discuss in elaborate detail, something for which they can give way to temporary madness, something that gives them a high. If someone does not, that just means that they haven’t found their thing yet. It’s in them somewhere, it can be more than one, and it can be on any scale. You can make the list as long as you like; there are no limits. The key is that it has to require active effort. Something passive like channel surfing or Internet browsing is a peak for some, but that is because they don’t know what making a video or a webpage feels like. For me, the most thrilling part of the entire process is
not that I get to eat something I love, it’s that I’m able to make something I love, whenever I want, and do whatever I like with it. That is a feeling of empowerment that can’t be matched by anything else.
Originally published in Us Magazine, The News.