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I Used to Know How to Cook

I used to know how to cook. Recently, procedures that used to be second nature have not turned out well…in fact, they have been disastrous.

For example, I wanted to make corn muffins. I had a brand new Teflon muffin pan. Scrounging through my cupboards, I could not find any cupcake liners. Oh, well, I thought, it’s a brand new Teflon pan, so it’s non-stick.

Wrong. I could have sprayed the pan with non-stick spray, but didn’t think I needed to. That’s what I mean about I used to know how to cook.

In the days when I baked on a regular basis, I would not have made a mistake like that.

As you can guess, the corn muffins stuck to their little individual cups. I couldn’t use a metal tool to dig them out, because I did not want to scratch my new pan, so I found a plastic knife saved from a trip to Wendy’s and used that to pry them out. Even with my best efforts, I only got the top half of each muffin. The bottom half of each muffin got washed into the sink in a soggy, gritty, corn muffin mess. Next time I will remember the non-stick spray….I hope.

For Thanksgiving, every year I make my famous butterhorn crescent rolls. This year the yeast proofed beautifully and the dough mixed together very well. The dough sat in the refrigerator overnight and rose well, so it looked like it would be a great batch of butterhorns. I rolled out the dough, basted it with melted butter, cut out the triangles, and rolled them all up into crescent shapes. They even fit onto my four new Teflon baking sheets (which I had sprayed with non-stick spray). Everything was going well.

The rolls had to rise in a warm spot for an hour. This year I live in a new apartment, and couldn’t think of a warm spot that would be suitable. I had heard of heating the oven to 170 for a few minutes, turning off the oven, and letting dough rise in the oven. I thought I would try this. Usually, I cover the rolls with damp tea towels, but it was a little bulky to put four pans in the oven covered with towels. Instead, I dampened paper towels and laid them across each pan. The four pans fit in the oven, and I set the timer for one hour. After about 40 minutes, the yeast aroma was so strong I decided to check on them.

Pulling one pan out of the oven, I could see the rolls had already doubled in size. I tried to lift the paper towel off this batch, and found the dough was so soft and sticky the paper adhered to the rolls. I grabbed my kitchen scissors and cut away at the threads of dough as I lifted the paper towel. Then I looked at the rolls. Instead of looking like my usual butterhorns, they looked like the giant soft white larva of some monstrous moth. Hideous.

Quickly I pulled the other pans out and repeated the process, lifting stuck paper toweling off of the gooey, sticky rolls and cutting the globs away from the paper with my scissors.

Oh, well. Maybe the rolls would recover in the baking process.

I put all four pans into a 350 degree oven and baked them for 15 minutes. You know what happened. The lower two pans charred on the bottom of the rolls. The two pans in the upper part of the oven weren’t too bad, although their strange rising period in the oven left them looking distorted and spiky.

What was I thinking? I used to know that the lower pans would burn on the bottom. How could I forget?

I made myself two sticky note reminders and put them on my recipe... “Do not put the rolls in the oven to rise” and “Only bake two pans at a time.” There was a time when I would have known this, but next year I think I will need the sticky note reminders.

By the way, have you ever notice that chili powder and cinnamon come in very similar looking bottles? But that’s another story.

This essay was previously published in the July 2015 "Senior Review," a publication of AKRE Enterprises.

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