The Muffin Rhapsody

“I feel like a blueberry muffin”, I said to my sister-in-law as we were driving to the YMCA for our evening Pilates and yoga class. “Why don’t you make some”, was her immediate response. Me? Bake?! Hmmm hadn’t really thought about it. My thought more like ‘hey, there is a Kroger nearby, so let’s pick up some muffins for breakfast’.

I love muffins. When I would visit my brother we would pick up a 16 pack of muffins – blueberry, chocolate, poppy seeds – from Costco and they would disappear within a couple of days! Muffins are my comfort food (along with chips and coke) when I am traveling. I like to know that I don’t have to find something to eat if I get hungry and sometimes on a long-haul flight when the airline food is bad, I just unwrap a muffin and scarf it down.

Anyway, there I was contemplating the suggestion to bake muffins and I thought to myself ‘why not’. After all, one of the goals during my ‘break’ was to learn how to cook, and baking is a subset of cooking. My sister-in-law found a recipe that looked simple and I checked to make sure we had all the ingredients. The plan was for her to ‘guide’ me through the process but as always, the best-laid plans etc. etc… she had to be somewhere and so I decided that I would boldly go where I hadn’t gone for a really long time.

The last time I baked was probably in the 1980s when I took a cooking class because my mother wanted me to learn at least the basics. She loved to cook and bake, and would make the most amazing cakes and desserts. I remember she had a customized weighing scale made using two katoris [small steel bowls], (I still have it along with the weights),  and an icing kit with about 24 different shaped nozzles. My brother and I would go through her cookbooks and pick a cake or dessert we wanted. After she finished making the batter, we would have some – raw eggs et all. When the cake was ready we would watch, as she checked if it was done by gently pushing a knitting needle (kept in the kitchen especially for that purpose) into the cake; sometimes the needle would have bits of batter sticking to it and she would say ‘thoda aur time’ [it needs more time] but if the needle was clean we knew that soon we would be eating a delicious dessert.

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Her signature dessert was a mango cake – two sponge cakes, soaked in sugar syrup, sandwiched with mango slices and covered with more mango slices and cream; if it wasn’t mango season, she would use oranges. She would make it for birthdays and parties. The last time she made it was in 2002 for my brother when he happened to be in Bombay for his birthday.

Things are a little different now; instead of a book I have the recipe open on my laptop (at 120% zoom) and the katori scale has been replaced by a range of measuring cups and spoons. After breakfast, I line up all the ingredients on the kitchen counter like tin soldiers ready for battle. Walking back and forth from the laptop to the kitchen counter I measure and check off each ingredient. Soon I have one bowl with flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt, and another bowl with milk, melted butter and eggs. I add the liquid, a little at a time, to the powder, blending with a whisk and soon, gratifyingly, have a smoothly blended batter. Giving into my childhood memories, I take a spoon and taste it – yummy! So far so good.

Next I spoon the batter into the tray and place it in the 400 degree preheated oven. I keep myself busy for the next 20 mins by reading a book and then poke one of the muffins with a steel needle to check the status. There is some batter sticking to the needle… hmmm the recipe said 15-20 minutes… maybe I need to move the tray up one level’. 10 mins later I test again – smooth – Really!! Wow!!!

Exhilarated, I pull out the tray carefully and leave it to cool for 5 minutes as suggested. Aft20140718_115336er 10 minutes, one more test – will the muffins slide out easily or stick to the pan. They come out clean – Hoorah! Soon I have 6 perfect muffins sitting on a plate. They look like little hats!

And now for the final test – the taste test…

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Much happiness as my niece, enjoys the ‘muffins’ of my labor!

Inspired and enthused by my success, I make two more cakes in the following days… a moist chocolate cake which we had with chocolate frosting and mint choco-chip ice cream, and a Blueberry Buttermilk Cake!

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As I contemplate my success and how much I enjoyed baking, this quote by Regina Brett reflects my thoughts: “If baking is any labor at all, it’s a labor of love. A love that gets passed from generation to generation.”

Thanks, Moms! I know you would have been so happy to see me baking!

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