Saturday, December 20, 2008

What can go wrong? I have the recipe.

Two foodie friends gave me a cookbook when they saw us at Thanksgiving, a cookbook from a bakery in Paris. They'd been there recently and knew I loved pastry.

Since this is Christmas time and all, the recipe for chestnut and chocolate tart leaped off the page and pleaded to be made. The directions didn't look too bad, the ingredient list not that long, and the taste of chestnut and dark chocolate in a buttery pastry case taunted me from the moment I saw the recipe.

The recipe calls for a standard pie pan or "some smaller tart pans" with no mention of the dimensions of these smaller pans. That alone should have alerted me to the possibility that this cookbook falls in the "cook till done' category, cookbooks that trust the cook to have enough experience and to have acquired helpful instincts so that details are not necessary.

Yet, I continued, trying to call up as much of my baking experiences as I could to decipher some of the instructions. I am more a cook than a baker; my instincts for cooking have been nurtured since I was nine while baking is something I came to much later. Till today, I am still not terribly confident if the dough I'm kneading is of the right consistency, or whether I have over/under worked it.

I set aside a couple of hours for the recipe, but the combination of my not-enough baking experiences and the fact that this is a new recipe made sure I took close to four. The tarts turned out well, I think, although the chocolate cream is too thin and I had to substitute almond paste for chestnut paste because I couldn't find chestnut paste anywhere in town.

How this applies to writing is easy to see. Just because we have a "recipe"--include the ingredients of strong characters, real conflicts and tangible setting, mix and heat using concrete noun
s and active verbs--that has worked for other people hundreds of times doesn't mean I can make it work for me, at least not right away. And even when the results are decent, they're still far from excellent. My tarts tasted fine, but they look ed amateurish. Anyone can tell, at one glance, that they had been make by someone who was new to this.

I have to make many more tarts (like this gentleman here) before my tarts will even approach excellence.

I'm back to my keyboard to knead.

(Rose Bakery by roboppy, kneading brioche dough by yarnivore, Michael, Brick Street Bakery by fortinbras from Creative Commons.)

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