I’m the first to admit that I’m not a baker. My husband is a close second. When he hears muffin tins clanging or sees a dust cloud of flour fumigating the kitchen, he says things like “baking is a science” and “you are following a recipe, right?” (Italics are totally his.)
I try. I honestly try to follow a recipe. But the world plots against me. Take the other morning.
I am making green lemon cupcakes for St. Patrick’s Day and follow The Recipe to the letter. Well, except for omitting the lemon curd filling and butter cream icing because they are each sub-recipes and therefore omittable. Let them eat plain cake.
First cream the sugar and butter. Measure and mix the dry ingredients. Allow four eggs to come to room temperature. I stumble a bit on the “room temperature” part. How will I know? But that’s silly. I’m not a Coors Light drinking idiot unable to discern temperature by touch alone, relying instead on color-changing technology. I’m a big girl. With hands.
Focus. I grate the peels of three lemons. And squeeze them. Confident that I’ve obviously turned a corner, I read the end of The Recipe which, granted, should have happened earlier. But who’s that organized? I’m spontaneous. A common excuse for the unorganized. The recipe taunts me from my computer screen. “1 cup buttermilk.” Buttermilk? Who in the hell has buttermilk? I sure don’t.
Give up I don’t. And like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Martha Stewart speaks to me from beyond. Beyond Connecticut. (I’m a post-prison-time-in-a-West-Virginia-slammer Martha fan because that’s just badass.) She says, “Make your own buttermilk.” Right. Something about adding vinegar to milk so it can curdle. Was it red wine? Rice? And will that work with soy milk? No. Stop it. Substituting signifies the beginning of the end. I’ve come so far. And I’m just not ready to curdle anything on purpose.
Vulnerable and teetering on a recipe-breaking precipice, I fall. I part the wide plastic strips of the dairy case at Los Primos Productos Latino La de Todos (I shit you not — that’s the store’s name) and grab a tub of sour cream because with “sour” in the name it seems to belong to the buttermilk family. Or is at least a red-headed stepchild.
My job now is simple. I find another recipe for lemon cupcakes calling for sour cream. Four eggs becomes three. Easy. Baking soda is added and less baking powder is needed. Unable to change the baking powder/salt/flour mixture, I just sprinkle some extra baking soda to compensate having no idea what either of them actually does to the baking process. I dump in the entire tub of sour cream without measuring because I don’t need an inch of sour cream tempting me on Taco Tuesday. That’s just smart.
The new recipe doesn’t call for lemon juice. Thinking this wrong, I pour some in according to the first recipe. Lemon cupcakes should be lemony. And I figure the extra liquid will compensate for the absence of buttermilk, a philosophy that I also apply to most math problems. And that’s it. I’m good. Actually I’m better than good. I’m free. My own girl. And technically still following a recipe.
And when my husband says it’s the best cupcake he’s had in years and applauds my finally following a recipe to its completion, I can say, honestly, yes, yes! It did feel good to follow a recipe. Both of them.