Getting Baked

Getting Baked
Damn the man, damn the perfect body, and damn those calories! Follow the rules!

by Laura Beaulne-Stuebing, September 20, 2007

I don’t browse through fashion magazines. I don’t sigh at ads featuring stick thin models, or let my eyes rest a little longer on photos of buxom blondes. I know it – these images of women are unreal. I KNOW. But it’s hard not to get caught up in the hype of society’s skinny rules.

We’ve all fallen prey to it – the message of the “perfect” body. And don’t say you haven’t – no one is immune. And I’ll admit, I’m just like everyone else –I want to look good too.

And like many, I fear the consequences of overindulging. I like my muffins and brownies – but don’t include baked goods in my diet. And in any baking that I have done – which hasn’t been a lot – I’ve used substitutions to make the treats “figure friendly.” Splenda or stevia, applesauce instead of oil. The results have been more than dismal.

Clearly, I’m not much of a baker – not even close. I don’t have much experience, and haven’t had much success, when it comes to tasty treats. But after depriving myself of desserts, I’ve discovered that I have a real sweet tooth. These days, I’ve been browsing through Vegetarian Times, sighing as I pass bakeries, and letting my eyes rest a little longer on photos of decadent chocolate cake.

I want to be able to call myself a rockin’ vegan baker. Those photos of super-sweet, decadent chocolate cake in food magazines and recipe books look amazing. How super-sweet would it be if I could make something like that?

In some of my more recent cravings, I’ve made further attempts at baking. And again, because I did not follow the recipe and used those “figure friendly” substitutions, they’ve been dismal failures. Too chewy, heavy, gummy, overcooked, undercooked… Not following a vegan recipe exactly just hasn’t worked for me.

Baking, using eggs and milk, is tricky enough. Vegan baking is another level of trickiness. Add a further level – of applesauce and Splenda – and you have the trickiest situation possible. Easy to make irreparable mistakes. Something always goes wrong when I steer off the beaten baking path.

But why do I always take a seemingly innocent recipe, and try to minimize its calorie and fat content? What is this preoccupation with being thin and perfect? I’m a logical person – I know that one piece of tofu cheese cake or a peanut butter cookie will not affect my appearance, at all.

I’ve thought a lot about this. I really, really do want be a rockin’ vegan baker. I want to make my friends cupcakes for their birthdays, end a hectic day with a cup of tea and a biscuit, and surprise my roommates with lemon poppy seed muffins on a lazy Sunday morning.

Not too long ago, I got Vegan with a Vengeance : Over 150 Delicious, Cheap, Animal-Free Recipes That Rock from my local library. Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s no-nonsense, “stick it to the man” attitude was inspirational. Darn it all, I was determined to make something edible. Damn the man, damn the perfect body, and damn those calories! Follow the rules! I decided to stick to a recipe – Isa’s basic scone recipe.

Even though the recipe seemed simple, and well, basic, it was a terrifying experience – I actually used oil and sugar! After sifting, mixing, and scooping, I put the scones in the oven, set the timer, and let Isa’s magic do its work.

After about 15 minutes, they were done – slightly browned on the bottom and soft on the top. They smelled divine. And surprisingly, they tasted divine. It was success instead of failure, for once!

Baking, as I’ve learned, is a science. There’s a reason for oil – it may be high in calories and fat, but it actually serves a purpose. Flour, sugar, oil, salt, and baking soda/powder work together like chemistry.

I’m not quite a rockin’ vegan baker – not yet – but I’m getting there.

First, I figure I should understand the science before I can start doing experiments. Only after being able to call myself a rockin’ baker, vegan-style, can I change ingredients, make substitutions, and watch my waistline. I need to get comfortable with recipes and skilled in baking. I need to let my house fill with the scent of cinnamon raisin anything, and then enjoy the food for what it is – a sweet and special treat that I’ve created with my own two hands.

That’s what baking’s all about, really. Just enjoying the food.

And you definitely can’t enjoy the food when you’re counting calories, watching what you eat like a hawk, and never giving in to simple indulgences, every once in a while. Why even consider trying to look like stick-thin models? If a scone tastes like heaven, why worry about calories?

Man, now I’m craving cinnamon raisin scones… Off to the kitchen!

Laura is a university student in London, Ontario.

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