The Happy Accident

I’ve been having a great cooking week. I made the closest thing to perfect biscuits on Monday. Other than using a pastry cutter instead of my hands I didn’t do anything new. The butter and the half and half were chilled in the freezer for a few minutes, I didn’t overwork the dough, and the temperature and baking time were the same. But these were astoundingly good. They were a little crispy on the outside and flaky inside. And they were all huge, not that it stopped me from eating three of them.

On Tuesday I made pasta e fagioli and, because my lack of alcohol consumption has to be replaced by something, celebratory (or consolation, depending on the outcome) election night brownies. One extra dash of hot pepper flakes and just a bit less water, and we had what Logan swears is the best pasta e fagioli I’ve ever made, which is saying something, considering I’ve been making it for him for 18 years.

The brownies are a complete mystery to me. I seriously don’t know why they turned out even better than usual. I might have used a little more chocolate than usual. I’ve been using Scharffen Berger 99% cacao unsweetened chocolate (sent to me by a very good friend who was, I believe, a bit horrified by my use of less than fabulous chocolate, although she keeps denying it). Having to cut the called-for 4 ounces of chocolate from a larger block means I never get the precise amount; and there were some remnants from the last time I made brownies. I just threw those in to melt with the butter. So, yeah, probably more chocolate than usual. Whatever I did, they were awesome. Even Logan ate some, and raved about them. And he’s not a big fan of brownies.

These were all happy accidents. We’ve all had those – a dish that’s been good in the past, but for some reason comes out fabulous one time. This happens even if a recipe is followed to the letter, e.g. my biscuits. The next time we make it, we try to duplicate what we did, but that is a nearly impossible task.

This is, I think, because cooking and baking may both be a science, but they’re also subject to human activity. Baking is affected by humidity and altitude, although I don’t think my house’s altitude changes from day to day (even though it seems like we can almost feel it shifting because of how wet or dry this crappy clay soil is). It is, however, an understatement to say that it’s just a little bit humid down south, and Monday was particularly so. Combine the humidity with a pinch more salt or baking powder, and a few drops more half and half – both human activities – and I’ll guess you can end up with astoundingly good biscuits.

I could try harder to figure out the science of it, but, for the purposes of this post, it’s not the point*. I’m pondering how, after so many years of cooking, it’s still a bit of a mystery to me. Being a messy and imprecise cook, I never know how anything is going to turn out. Even after tasting, and adjusting the ingredients, my red sauce is different from one time to the next. I’m not planning to bottle and sell it anytime soon, and I don’t see writing a cookbook in my future, so I’m mostly Ok with that. The next time I make biscuits, I will try to duplicate what I did on Monday. There are several variables I can control, but I’m not Mikkos Cassadine. I can’t control the weather.

*I know that understanding the science of cooking can make you a better and more creative cook, so I’m not dissing that idea. Just wanted to clear that up.