Chef Emily Cook on recipe development and forgiveness
Baking is therapeutic for many, myself included. My mother taught me how to bake when I was very young. I remember pulling up a stool to the kitchen counter so that I could mix together the butter and sugar to make cookies. She taught me how to level off the measuring cups, which spoon was a tablespoon and which spoon was a teaspoon. She taught me how to let yeast do its magic.
I failed a lot, too. I learned the hard way what happens when you forget the baking soda or if you don’t measure an ingredient correctly. I’ve thrown away batches of bread because I’ve gotten distracted and didn’t set a timer.
At Chicago’s Community Kitchens, we talk about making mistakes a lot. We also talk about the second chances the program offers for many of our students.
One of the things I like the most about cooking – and the hospitality industry as a whole – is its forgiveness.
Sometimes recipes don’t turn out right. We don’t see that as failure – we look at it as a learning opportunity. Sometimes it’s not about nailing it perfectly, it’s about not messing it up. The trick is just to not mess it up the same way twice.
This recipe for cornbread that I’m sharing with you has gone through a lot of trial and error. I had to throw out a batch yesterday because I tried butter in the pan instead of oil and it burned. When I write recipes, I think about ways that I may mess it up. I walk through it carefully in my mind before I start measuring ingredients. I envision how might this go wrong, I take a step back, and then I go for it.
Julia Child once said “The only stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking, you’ve got to have a what-the-heck attitude.” She’s so right. We often ask our students in Chicago’s Community Kitchens, “What’s the worst that can happen?” And, honestly, the answer is it goes in the trash and we try it again later.
I took my own advice today with the cornbread recipe and tried another batch today. I made this one with grits because that’s what I have. I slathered it with butter and drizzled it with honey. It was my lunch today and I couldn’t be happier. Because I had failed before, I’d like to think it tasted sweeter today than it would have if I’d nailed it the first time.
- 4 oz butter, melted and cooled
- ¼ cup vegetable oil, plus more for pan
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup cornmeal
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup milk
- Place a 12” cast iron skillet on the middle rack of the oven. Preheat the oven and the skillet to 425 F.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs, and milk. Add the melted and cooled butter and mix.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix to combine
- Remove the hot cast iron skillet from the oven and coat it with some vegetable oil. Carefully, add the batter to the hot skillet and smooth out on top
- Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden and delicious