The Reluctant Baker: Hate Baking? Have Hope!

I fumble frosting. I skip sifting and I don't have the patience to whip and whisk and work on a cake all morning, only to see it crack it half when I attempt to flip it out of the pan. That phrase "Easy as pie" ... what a lie! I'm not a natural baker, but I keep working.

Have you ever seen a carpenter lean back with such satisfaction and brag about how he made his whole log cabin with his own two hands? That's why I keep try to create entire meals -- from salad to cake -- by myself instead of relying on my excellent local bakery. I want the thrill of saying "I did this all by myself" too, don't you?

The fussy precision of leveling off measuring cups of cake flour and tempering chocolate make me crazy, but I keep baking anyway ...

The smells and flavors of baking keep drawing me back, striking my senses in a way that braising beef and simmering tomato sauce can't. One of my earliest childhood memories is of my great-grandmother standing in a red housecoat pulling a lemon cake from the oven and sprinkling it with powdered sugar (that's my kind of cake, no icing required!)

A few years ago, I decided to brave baking again. After baking a failed Shirley's Tunnel of Fudge Cake, I decided to try making a cake so easy a French kid can make it.

Clotilde from Chocolate and Zucchini says yogurt cake -- Gateau au Yaourt -- "is often the first cake that French kids learn how to bake." My first attempt at making this cake was a success! I decided to make simple cake over and over again, de-coding the mystery of its puffed center and light but satisfying flavor. I learned that, for my oven, I needed to extend the baking time a bit. Then I flirted with adding orange zest and a little more rum for a different flavor. When I was sure I had mastered the cake, I made two of them for my office mates, served with strawberries and whipped cream.

If you're a reluctant baker too, we suggest starting -- like I did -- with a simple plain cake recipe. Look for a yellow cake recipe (save the chocolate for the professionals!) from a trusted source, like the Joy of Cooking, Cook's Illustrated or this yogurt cake recipe. Build up your kitchen confidence and use up the tub of about to expire yogurt that's been lingering in the back of the fridge. Make your cake multiple times over the course of a month. Take careful notes and stash the notes in your silverware drawer to refer to next time you make the cake.

You will soon master this classic recipe and you'll have a perfect way to end a meal all by yourself.

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