Over the last couple of years, I’ve developed a bit of a reputation for being the person that brings baked goods to things. It started when I had a roommate whose dad gave us a giant barrel of apples, and I began making apple-based fruit crumbles to bring to Sunday family dinner, and I’ve continued to bake most Sundays and sometimes on weekdays to bring treats in for my coworkers at my office job. I tended to make crumbles, cookies, quick breads, key lime pie, and not much else, but people started thinking I was good at baking in general, so I got the desire to break out of my rut and learn more to match the reputation I was getting.
Last summer I wrote a list of things I wanted to make to stretch my skills. It was a pretty short list: bread, a layer cake, cinnamon rolls, pie (with crust from scratch), apple fritters or other donuts, and cream puffs. I gave myself a year, and here we are!
I’ve made bread a couple times this year. I have a hard time not under-baking my loaves, so I bought a thermometer so I can check the internal temperature instead of knocking on the bottom. That’s helped quite a bit. I’ve been disappointed with the flavor of the yeast I used, but my friends have told me that I should try more brands. I made a lamb stew with homemade bread for Christmas dinner last year and my favorite gingerbread sticky toffee pudding for dessert, and it was so nice to make everything from scratch.
My layer cake as a Victory Sandwich cake. This isn’t what most people think of when you say “layer cake,” but it’s a cake with layers! I made the raspberry jam from scratch, and because I was bringing it to my uncle’s sister’s house on a hot day, I also made my first stabilized whipped cream. I used the method wear you cook a few tablespoons of cream with cornstarch, which is the vegetarian-friendly, and it worked perfectly.
My favorite kind of cinnamon rolls are the messy caramel drenched ones, so I made caramel pecan cinnamon rolls using a recipe that has the second rise happen in the fridge overnight. Perfect for a breakfast pastry. I cooked the batch in two smaller pans, and pulled one out when it was a few minutes away from being done. I wrapped that up tight and froze it, so I could bake them up on a different day and take them to share with friends. That worked out great because the recipe makes a big batch and is a decent amount of work.
Pie with crust from scratch almost didn’t happen within the year. I kept putting it off because pie crust seemed like a lot of work compared my favorite pie-like desserts or cookie crusts, but when I realized how close it was to the anniversary of my list, I dropped everything to make a peach pie last weekend. I was supposed to be getting ready to move, because I’m moving to a new apartment in July, but I used this list as an excuse to procrastinate and bake. I used a recipe from Cooks Illustrated, and it involved a ridiculous amount of work for the filling, but the crust was easy! I used a reusable plastic straw to punch my steam vents because I don’t have any small cutters, and the weather was fairly cool, so handling the crust dough was easy to manage.
The next item on the list, apple fritters or other donuts, got scratched off after I talked to my friend’s boyfriend about frying and realized that dealing with oil was going to be obnoxious, and I couldn’t figure out when to actually make donuts and have people to eat them with. Donuts are only good when they’re super fresh, so I couldn’t make them the night before I did something, and frying is a little unpredictable timing-wise and involves a lot of clean up, so I couldn’t make them before I went somewhere or while hosting a thing. Add in the issue of oil disposal, and donuts were losing their appeal. If the opportunity to make donuts comes up, I’d still like to do it, but they don’t fit well with my baking habits, and therefore I’m not bothered if I never make them.
Last on the list was cream puffs, which I made with the help of my mom! I told her about the list, and she wanted to make something on it with me while I was visiting over last Thanksgiving weekend. We made creams puffs with a pastry cream filling, and my mom had some fancy chocolate sauce in the fridge, so eclairs had to happen, too. Yum!
In addition to everything on the list, I also made cheesecake bars with raspberry sauce, a lemon poppy seed sheet cake with cream cheese frosting, and blueberry cobbler, as well as all of my usual suspects.
I’m feeling a like a much more well-rounded baker compared to 12 months ago, but there’s still so much more I’d like to try! I’m going to make a new list of six things to bake in the next year because I loved the extra motivation that came with writing down what I wanted to do and sharing it. I just need to dream up six more baked goods!