By Julia Pantoga
I can’t take credit for the terrific title of this new “Domestic Goddess” column. Rosanne Barr originally used the term in one of her comedy routines, but I first heard it when Nigella Lawson, cooking celebrity and cookbook author extraordinaire, named one of her baking cookbooks, How to be a Domestic Goddess. When I saw that title, I had to have that book, regardless of whether or not any of the recipes were any good. As it turns out, many of the recipes are quite scrumptious, but the secret to being a domestic goddess, as Nigella obviously knows, and as the exquisite photographs in the cookbook illustrate, is to make everything look easy and fabulous.
There are tricks to making everything look easy and fabulous, and I intend to use this column to share tricks that I know with you. Not just baking, but lots of things around the house.
But I’ll start with baking. As Ruth Reichl, food writer and editor of Gourmet magazine, says, baking is a cheap trick. It doesn’t matter how simple or complex the recipe, baking impresses people (The message here is to make the simplest recipes you can find.). I am not really a very talented baker, but people think I am because I like to bake, and I do it a lot. Here are some pointers to make baking work for you every time:
1. Use your oven timer, so you NEVER burn baked goods.
2. Whenever you take baked goods out of your house, make sure they look nice. Pick the broken cookies out, turn all of them right side up and put them on a good looking plate (I keep cheery and tasteful paper plates on hand for this sole purpose.)
3. Don’t take baked goods that need a fork to an event where people will be moving around while they are eating. It is sooooo discouraging to watch your homemade key lime pie go uneaten!
4. Unless you love to do it, and you are good at it, avoid complex decorations. A spice cake dusted with powdered sugar (which is easy), looks far more elegant than a sloppily frosted cake.
5. Write in your cookbooks. When a recipe works, write it right on that page. When something goes wrong, write it down.
6. Stick with the tried and true. Whenever you find a recipe that works for you and other people love it, make it over and over again. If you must bake something for the first time, packages are the best source of recipes. The brownie recipe that I used for over twenty years was from the back of the Baker’s Chocolate box. My oatmeal cookie recipe is from the lid of Quaker Oats. I just found a fabulous cake recipe on the back of a raisin box. These recipes have been tested and tested and tested.
Last spring I broke my ankle, and I needed a friend to come to my house everyday and take care of everyday things like making my meals, doing my dishes and sweeping my kitchen. (Needless to say, I was quite unhappy with this turn of events. Taking away my ability to take care of my house is severe punishment indeed.) Anyhow, after a few days of taking care of my house, my friend said to me, “Julia, I had no idea you were so domestic.” Now that’s a real domestic goddess compliment!