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Practice makes perfect in the kitchen

Practice makes perfect in the kitchen

My grandma is the cute old lady who always has cookies–for her granddaughters (obviously), for the kids next door, for the people who work at the bank. Whenever you go to her house, chocolate chip cookies and pizzelles will be there, without fail. If you’re lucky, there will be nut quiches or rolled almond cookies (my personal favorites, but also the most time- and labor-intensive). Special occasions call for something you can slice–cheese pie, icebox cake, cherry pie.

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Even though my idea of baking at home often revolved around refrigerated cookie dough in Costo-size containers, I still realize how important it is that my grandma’s traditional recipes don’t disappear. With that in mind, I try to schedule cooking courses at Mimi’s when I’m home. While the results generally turn out delicious, the process can be a bit frustrating. She makes everything look so easy!

One thing she always tells me: “I’ve had years to practice. Of course I’m going to be better at it than you!”

It’s true, of course. But it’s hard to remember when you’re in the kitchen, trying to prepare that perfect meal. We always want things to turn out the right way the first time (ah, the metaphors for life). But sometimes you have to ask questions, to try again, to fail in order to succeed.

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So I come to my point: my first clafoutis kind of sucked. (These are the little failures I don’t generally divulge.) I forgot to butter the dish. I should have used a smaller pan. I failed to add the kirsch until the mixture was in the oven. But I didn’t give up! I asked for advice, and tried again. Here’s what I learned:

  • Use cream or whole milk. It’s dessert, don’t skimp with fat-free.
  • If you want a extra-rich clafoutis–and who doesn’t, really–use two eggs and two egg yolks. No counting cholesterol here.
  • No kirsch in the pantry? Try using Amaretto or Grand Marnier.
  • Cherries are NOT your only option. I used cherries and a peach in my last one, and the juiciness of the peach was divine. Apricot and raspberry is going to be my next combination.

The second (and third) attempts were glorious. Sure, there’s still room for improvement and experimentation. But the lesson is that just because you fail once doesn’t mean you won’t succeed the next time. Now…does anyone have any clafoutis and/or baking disaster stories to share?

  • My grandmother makes a amazing birthday cake, and I've tried to mimic the icing but she just eyes it. After decades of making it she no longer needs to know how many cups, she just knows.

  • Thalia

    as an aspiring baker (going to school in the fall!!) i'm beginning to hard core practice in the kitchen. my latest attempt was BREAD. which is quite sad that i hadn't made it before, but the yeast thing always intimidated me. the bread didn't rise for over four hours, and the first loaf wasn't fully baked. the second one came out alright though! trying again is always key 🙂

  • Oh my, do I have some cooking disasters (baking is another level completely! Don't even ask!)
    When I used to be a vegetarian, my dad taught the BEST pasta dish with a creamy tofu & pesto sauce. I thought I could definitely convert the in-laws from tofu-haters, but alas, twas a disaster! Instead of the core tasty ingredient of basil, I accidentally bought baby spinach. Oh, it was so so gross, and therefore, they won't let me try to change their minds about food again 🙁

  • Mimi

    Practice does help to make it look easy. The first cake I ever baked was for a library bazzar which was a bad thing to do. The first cake should have been for family to see how it turns out. Part of the cake stuck to the pan. I took it off and tasted it – so good, I ate all that was stuck on the pan. I made the frosting for the cake but there was this hole where the cake had stuck to the pan I scrunched up some wax paper, put it in the hole and proceeded to frost over it. Put it on a white doily and delivered it to the annual bazzar. As I got older, everytime I passed the Library, I cringed to think – what must the person who bought this cake thought when it was cut for serving and someone got a piece of wadded up wax paper in their slice.

  • camorose

    My grandma does the same thing! She just knows everything by sight. However, she has tried to start quantifying things so it's easier for me to recreate, which I really appreciate 🙂

  • camorose

    Yup! As long as you note your mistakes and don't make them a second time, they're “learning experiences,” not mistakes–or at least that's how I like to think of them 🙂

  • camorose

    Awww that is rough! Basil and spinach are definitely NOT the same thing–I'm always terrified I'm going to make a mistake like that when preparing dinner for other people. I think my main problem is forgetting to butter the pan. Or burning myself. Both tend to ruin meals that would otherwise be perfectly good!

  • camorose

    Well, that definitely does make me feel better! At least the one I baked for people turned out better–I scraped the first one off the plate and ate it myself 🙂 It definitely tasted good, but the aesthetics were definitely lacking. I need some more cooking classes when I'm back 🙂

  • LostInCheeseland

    Me and brownies don't get along. For whatever reason, they always come out hard as a rock and stuck to the pan. I suppose I should keep practicing but I'm tired of wasting all that good chocolate! Okay, you convinced me. I'll give it another go 🙂

  • camorose

    Mmm homemade brownies? I might need a recipe for this…

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  • KATIE

    Christine, your MIMI must be so proud of you!! I hope she is reading this blog!!
    Hope all is well. Looks like you are having a FUN summer!!!

  • camorose

    Very fun! Heading to Paris tomorrow, I'm definitely looking forward to it 🙂

  • camorose

    Very fun! Heading to Paris tomorrow, I'm definitely looking forward to it 🙂