The Food and Wine Hedonist

leave your inhibitions at the door

Are you a Cook or a Baker?

Let’s just get this out of the way right now – I suck at baking. As much as I’ve tried, I can’t do both.

Why are the two disciplines different? They both use the same science, right? All you need to do is mix a few things together, apply heat, and – voila! – you have Chateaubriand. Or a Pound Cake. Whatevs.

But they are different. With cooking, there’s a lot of leeway in the recipes. Don’t have spinach? Who cares! I’m sure kale will work fine. Overcooked the turkey? Make turkey chili. Overmixed the toum? I wrote a whole post on what to do with it. Put in ½ a cup of butter instead of ¼ cup? That’s not a mistake, that’s GOLD!

I used to watch Justin Wilson on PBS years ago, and I don’t recall him EVER using measuring cups or spoons. Right Justin?



With baking, you have to be precise with EVERYTHING. You can’t just stick a measuring cup in the bag of flour and scoop it out. You have to spoon it into the cup, and then level off the excess with a knife. Otherwise, that extra 1/64th teaspoon of flour will make what you’re baking too dense. Overcooked biscuits? I’m sure there’s a youth hockey team you can donate them to. You can’t open an oven dip your finger in a soufflé to test what it’s missing. And forget about trying to substitute baking soda for baking powder. Apparently there’s a difference.

Cooks think on the run and are constantly making adjustments. They can monkey with ingredients, volumes, and cooking times to fix recipes that have either gone awry or were never good to start with. Bakers are precise, use only what’s on the recipe and follow the instructions word for word. You’ll never see the following in a recipe for croissants:

Step 8 – Taste it and decide whether you want to go all Emeril and “Kick it up a notch!” BAM!


I like to think of it as cooks being like artists who love grey areas and unknowns and often display their rebellious streaks when necessary. Bakers are either scientific or anal-retentives, who thrive on total accuracy. Or complete cowards who are afraid to deviate from the path, sticking to what’s comfortable to them

If it sounds like I’m being harsh on bakers, it’s jealousy – I suck at baking and it hurts that I can’t do it. Sure, I can turn out a terrific Pineapple Upside-down Cake every once in a while. But that “every once in a while” translates to one good cake and 20 failures.

I recently came across a recipe for Tangerine Cake that looked and sounded absolutely wonderful. It seemed pretty easy enough and tangerines were in season and on sale. And I did everything exactly. like. the. recipe. said. It hurt my head to follow it like that, but I persevered.

tangerine cake whole


The result? It did turn out pretty and smelled wonderful. It was supposed to be dense and moist, but it turned out dry and cakey. It was drier than Gandhi’s flip-flops. I did substitute flour because I couldn’t find almond meal, so maybe that’s why it turned out like that? But the recipe said that I could.

So there, it’s the recipe’s fault…


Tangerine Cake

I took this from The View from the Great Island and she calls it “Flourless Whole Tangerine Cake.” I suppose if you do use almond meal, it technically is flourless. Like I said, the aromas while preparing it and eating it were absolutely fantastic. At very least, using the whole tangerine was a cool technique that was completely new to me.

– Preheat oven to 350 F

– 3 large tangerines (to make about a cup of puree)

– 3 eggs

– 1 cup sugar

– 3 cups almond meal or flour

– 1 tsp baking powder

– confectioner’s sugar for dusting

1 – Step one is the only time consuming part of this cake. Wash your tangerines and put them in a saucepan covered with cold water. Boil for 15 minutes. Drain the pan, refill with cold water, and boil again for 15 minutes. This boiling removes the bitterness in the citrus skin.

Tangerines boiled

2 – Rough chop the tangerines and remove any seeds, do this on a plate so you don’t lose any juice. Put it all in a food processor and process until completely smooth. You’ll have to stop and scrape down the sides a few times. The color and smell will be amazing. My finished puree weighed 11 1/2 oz, and was about a cup.

Tangerines chopped

3 – Set aside, or refrigerate until the next day if you’re doing this in 2 stages.

4 – The rest is a one bowl deal: Beat the eggs and sugar until light and creamy. Fold in the almond meal, orange pulp, and baking powder, mixing until combined.

5 – Pour into a buttered 9″ spring form pan.

tangerine batter

6 – Bake for 50-60 minutes, until lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

7 – Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan to finish cooling.

8 – Dust with confectioner’s sugar. Decorate with some citrus zest if you like.

tangerine cake slice


What do you think I did wrong? Are you a cook or a baker?



About thefoodandwinehedonist

I don't know everything about the world of food and wine, but I'm not going to let a small detail like that stop me from blogging about it.

25 comments on “Are you a Cook or a Baker?

  1. ksbeth
    June 12, 2013

    i have this exact same issue. while i love to bake, for the beauty and art of the results, it gives me fits, for everything has to be so exact, so measured, so timed. my nature is to improv, go with the flow, a little of this, a little of that, etc. why i am a better cook )

  2. trixfred30
    June 12, 2013

    I’m definitely not a baker – a combination of hot sweaty hands and an inability to stick to the instructions (also I think a lot of recipes are not actually tried and tested)

  3. Go Jules Go
    June 12, 2013

    Reformed baker. I’ve come over to your side, FWH! It SEEMS like the almond flour could have made the difference in the moisture, but sometimes that shiz is a total mystery – and I’ve been baking my whole life. It is frustrating when one little slip-up costs you time, money and sanity.

    Maybe Rache can solve this mystery…

  4. acrusteaten
    June 12, 2013

    Definitely a cook. BAM!

  5. mythineats
    June 12, 2013

    I am totally a cook. I like to bake on occasion but the whole waiting around, doesn’t depend so much on me but on the oven temp, ingredients, etc… if the dessert comes out correctly is not really something that I enjoy doing. But nonetheless I do enjoy baking……just find myself way better at cooking!
    Nice Post

  6. Tara Bongiorno
    June 12, 2013

    Yup, not a baker here either, even though I try. That’s why soup is so awesome. Can’t ever mess that up. This cake looks delicious.

  7. armchairsommelier
    June 12, 2013

    LOVE to cook . . . hate to bake! If I bake something, it involves break & bake. Or slice & bake if I’m feeling fancy. I just don’t have the patience for “real” baking. That, and I’m bad at it . . . Salud!

  8. PinotNinja
    June 12, 2013

    I am totally with you on this one. I’m definitely a cook, although it has not dissuaded me from routinely undertaking baking projects that are way above my pay grade. The husband, who is a total baker, always watches me with a completely pained expression (I banish him from the kitchen while I bake) as he yells things at me like “a cup of sugar is a rule not a suggestion” and “yes, it does matter whether that thing in your hand is actually a teaspoon or a tablespoon.” I generally ignore him. And my baking is generally a disaster.

  9. afterthekidsleave
    June 13, 2013

    I’m a baker. I love cooking and the freedom involved with it, but baking thrills me like no other. I suppose I am particular, but the results are always worth it!

  10. the winegetter
    June 13, 2013

    Yeah, Nina would disagree about the being exact in baking thing, but my experience is like yours. I am much more comfortable as a cook than as a baker. The whole idea of measuring spoons etc. creeps me out.

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  12. primalktc
    June 13, 2013

    I’m also a cook and not a baker. But I recently had a craving for my boyfriend’s mom’s oatmeal cookies so I got the recipe and tried my hand. They came out great! Who knows, there might be hope for me yet.

  13. teacherpatti
    June 13, 2013

    I think it depends on your personality. I am one of those people who needs routine and responds well to directions. Baking is very literal and if I follow the instructions, I will probably come out with a good finished product. Whenever I try to go off-recipe in cooking, I don’t do so well.

  14. acrusteaten
    June 17, 2013

    Just wanted to let you know that I nominated you for the Shine On Blogger award. You can see the post here: Keep it up!

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This entry was posted on June 12, 2013 by in Cooking and tagged , , , , , , , .
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