Honestly. I don’t know. (I was really tempted to just end it there.)
My family wasn’t really a baking family. Since my mom’s from Jamaica, and she did a majority of the cooking in our house, outside of her rum cake, we never really got a chance to embrace baked goods as a staple (We did go out and get a LOT of ice cream, sometimes up to three times a week. At one point, we literally lived a 2 minute walk from a Baskin-Robbins. That was my shit). My dad didn’t really bake either. My oldest sister doesn’t really do much in the kitchen, and my middle sister didn’t start legit baking until after she had gotten married, moved into her own place, and got pregnant with my oldest niece. Like, I had practically zero baking influences from my family. In fact, whenever there was a bake sale or a class party, I had to bake everything myself. I wasn’t mad about it, but I did wish I had more guidance. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve messed up a batch of chocolate chip cookies because I either overworked the butter, or forgot the brown sugar, or added too much baking soda. I remember having my cookies turn out crispy and flat because I didn’t know that you could literally cream the butter too much (and now you know too).
I guess I didn’t really start to blossom in the kitchen until I reached college. I finally had a kitchen that I could work with and my mom wasn’t there to kick me out (she was not that nice, gentle, homemaker mother that loved having a mini-chef’s assistant. No. That was HER kitchen. I couldn’t do anything when she was in it,… unless it was for school. If it wasn’t for school, she’d be like, “Why are you in the kitchen? What do you want?” I just didn’t want to deal with that).
I started off cooking a lot of pasta dishes because the one recipe my dad actually taught me was his tomato sauce. I loved that recipe and I could easily replicate it and alter it and I eventually made it my own. My current tomato sauce recipe is actually light years away from what my dad taught me. I also got a lot of my favorite recipes from my mom (such as stewed oxtails, corned beef & cabbage, ackee & codfish, and fried dumplings). The problem with those recipes was that a lot of them took time to prepare and she didn’t know how to give them to me for small quantities (for a single or double serving), she could only give them to me in the amounts that she made, which was enough for a family of 5 and then some. I couldn’t blame her though. Jamaicans love their stews and soups and giant steel pots that could feed at least 10 people at one time. She just didn’t know how to cook for one or two people.
Now, I did watch a lot of Food Network to counteract that mass production mentality I was starting to develop. Thank goodness because I almost went out and bought a 15 gallon pot because that’s what I thought I “needed.” Also, thanks to Food Network, I felt more comfortable with exploring the amazing world of baking. Like, they taught me about that overworked butter crap. I learned that a KitchenAid mixer = love. I learned all of the basics that they teach you in the first year of culinary school. For real, I went to culinary school for a bit and everything they were trying to teach me, I had already learned from Food Network and experimentation in my own kitchen. I realized that it was just too much money to be spending on not learning anything. My kitchen and Food Network were my classroom, and that saved me least $20,000 of debt.
I think around my Sophomore/ Junior year of college, I really started to focus on baking. I was just getting bored with cooking and I was tired of going out and seeing every dessert I ever wanted to eat contained nuts in it. Like, really? Ya’ll can’t make that brownie WITHOUT nuts?! You know you could sell more. Along with my restaurant rage, I realized that I already had a decent set of savory recipes, but not sweet. I had already experimented and created a bunch of savory recipes and they were great and all, but I didn’t have the same kind of collection when it came to baking and pastry. So, I switched. I bought a crap ton of eggs, butter, flour, sugar (brown and white), baking powder and baking soda, and got to work. My friends ate well for weeks.
Turned out I had a better affinity for the concepts and practices of baking than I did for culinary. That’s not to say I can’t cook. I can totally throw down in the kitchen. It’s just that I grasped baking easier than I did cooking and I think that was because when I started cooking, I had little to no foundation. When I started baking, I had the basics and customization of culinary down packed, so it was an easy transition. I understood flavor, texture, and proportions, and I knew how to bring them all together into one cohesive, delicious dish. Anyways, I had found my one true love in life (Sorry babe, it’s my truth). Plus, I was a whore for anything with sugar in it. I was in heaven every time I pulled something out of my oven.
After that, my obsession with cookies began. I loved baking cookies. I called myself the Cookie Queen because that’s all I wanted to bake. They were just such cute bundles of love that could be eaten in one to two bites and you didn’t have to feel guilty for eating them. Like, I felt guilty after eating a slice of cake, but I could eat 2-4 cookies and be fine. Guilt Free! I eventually found my favorite oil-based cookie recipe that, when baked, turned out like a brownie bite, but in cookie form. From there, I altered that one recipe in so many ways that I had at least 15 different variants. It was with this same cookie recipe that I started experimenting with gluten-free flours and other allergen-friendly ingredients. That’s when I really wanted to branch out.
Along with wanting to branch out, I realized I had gained a personally uncomfortable amount of weight and since I didn’t want to give up desserts, I decided to make it my mission to make them healthier. I started off with going gluten-free and I was quite successful in that, so I looked into paleo and vegan-friendly substitutions. I chose these two paths because both of them are low in processed foods, low in cholesterol containing ingredients, low in saturated fats, and are the best in promoting a healthy dietary lifestyle. It only made sense to me. I also made a promise to myself that if I ever craved anything sweet, I would bake it myself. I was really into the whole theory and concepts of clean eating and knowing what exactly was going into my body. To this day, I still try to live by that standard, but it’s hard. I get lazy, I get discouraged (my hormones are always out of whack), and I get frustrated, but I at least try.
Even now, I’m still experimenting, trying to figure out how to make things taste as great as their gluten-full, egg-full, dairy-full, nut-full counterparts. And for the most part, I’m actually quite successful. That’s not to say I don’t make any mistakes (that’s why I call myself a professional experimental baker. I’m always trying to make things better, which is code for me trying not to fuck this shit up). I’ve made plenty of them; still do. It’s just that now I have a firmer grasp on what substitutions are effective for whatever it is I’m trying to eliminate, so my mistakes aren’t as horrific (or traumatizing… those damn cookies!).
So, that’s basically my journey into baking. Nothing really inspirational. Just a rage fueled experiment that lead me down the path to my love of delicious sweets.