Learning is a funny thing. I have no idea how it happens. The question I probably get asked the most is: how did you learn to cook?
I have no idea. There are very few things that I remember anyone actually teaching me to make (among them: handmade tortillas, Rellenitos, and most other Guatemalan dishes I know how to make). Most of my cooking knowledge comes from observation and experiment. That’s right. Experiment.
Try recipes. Make changes. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
When I worked at a French bakery, I watched the chef make cakes, tarts and galettes full of envy, because I wanted to make things as beautiful and delicious as she did.
Then I went home and tried it. The result:
All because I watched the chef make it, then I wanted to try it myself. But inspiration doesn’t only come from watching the pros.
Here’s the most recent example of my constant experimentation.
An experiment inspired by an experience. In Italy, I had a chocolate-wine gelato. I had never had chocolate and wine together. It seemed like such an unlikely combination, but I was completely intrigued. I figured it was worth a try in cake form too.
adapted from Hershey’s “Perfectly Chocolate” Chocolate Cake
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups sweet red wine (such as Port or other sweet red wine)
1/2 cup boiling water
Pre-heat oven to 350F. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.
In another bowl, beat together sugar and oil. Beat in one egg at a time until just combined. Alternate mixing in dry ingredients and red wine. Lastly, stir in boiling water.
Pour batter into a greased and floured bundt pan. Bake 40-50 minutes (this will vary depending on your oven).
Allow to cool completely, turn onto a plate, top with chocolate ganache (optional) and serve!
I thought the chocolate and wine combination was interesting. The chocolate flavor dominates but the wine is not far behind. Most definitely a nice break from traditional chocolate cake. For some, it might seem blasphemous. Straying from a recipe is a recipe for disaster. But I like to think of recipes more as guidelines.
From there you learn what works and what doesn’t.
Replacing milk with wine in chocolate cake. Success.
Using less butter in Italian Buttercream Icing. Failure.
How else are you supposed to discover the next best thing?