When I was about 16 years old, I watched my first episode of a Martha Stewart television show. She was baking mixed-berry muffins, and I watched attentively, consumed by her methodical, detailed lesson. Drain frozen berries so the muffins don’t get too moist. Mix gently to prevent the berries from getting crushed and streaking through the batter. Use an ice cream scoop to give your muffins a consistent size.
I loved these tricks and details, was inspired by the suggestion that I could create something beautiful and delicious. I had baked muffins before, but never with this kind of thought and precision. I was happy to know that you should fill muffin tins about two-thirds full for a nice, perky finish, or that having all of your ingredients at the same temperature helps make your mixture better and results in a finer finished product. I still remember the relief and joy when I pulled my own batch out of the oven, golden brown and smelling amazing.
I continued my experiments with baking, inspired by the careful lessons. My love for baking has grown steadily since, and now as a chef, it’s one of my favourite tasks in the kitchen. (Not all chefs hate it — no matter what you may have heard about a divide between freewheeling, improvisational cooks and scientific, rigorous bakers.) I love the alchemy and rhythm of baking, getting lost in shaping cookies, frosting a cake, or rolling truffles. When I’m stressed out, I bake: here is a reliable comfort in knowing that when I mix butter, sugar, eggs, flour, and milk together, I will end up with a delicious, satisfying cake — even if I'm not sure how the rest of my life is going that day.
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Baking is a perfect lesson in letting go and having faith. Regardless of what you’re making, at some point, that thing that you’ve been working so hard on has to go into the oven, and you can’t be involved. All you can do is trust that you’ve done everything correctly and wait patiently — or sometimes not — for the timer to go off.
I think the wisdom of this lesson extends far beyond the kitchen into life in general. We can do things with the best intentions, make informed, knowledgeable decisions, and use proven methods to get the job done. But there is always a part of the process that is beyond our control, a moment where a bit of faith and waiting are required to see things through to the end.
I’ve been binge-watching episodes of The Great British Bake Off on television, and one of my favourite bits is watching the contestants kneeling on the floor with their noses pressed against the glass window of the oven door waiting for things to finish baking, hoping they turn out well. Their discomfort is palpable. Eyebrows furrow, voices falter, and the only thing that tames this beast is the ding of the timer, finally allowing them to open the door and investigate.
It is, really, all any of us can do. You put in the best stuff you’ve got with care and attention, and then you step back and let go.