Baking, as we used to say when we were small, always got my mad up. There seemed absolutely no margin for error or indeed creativity, Baking was just so Draconian. And boring. Cream the sugar and the butter, always. Until your aching arm fell off. No tasting, no extemporising, just clinical orders.
At one of my many schools, I did a year of what they called housecraft. At 11, I just wanted to eat cakes. Instead, we were dictated the rules of the kitchen, the order in which to wash up, how to keep the cloths clean, how to order the cupboards, how to remove stains with baking soda, clean windows with vinegar. I was achingly bored until I was asked to leave the class for cleaning the cake batter bowl with my bare hands. Then licking them. The following term I helped with the baby swimmers instead.
Cooking, on the other hand, seemed to positively encourage such wanton sensuality. Such blowsy measurements, so many methods - a handful, a pinch, taste as you go; simmer, fry, roast, sear. No hanging around waiting for things to bake, rise, prove. It's an ongoing process; the food is ever at the end of the wooden spoon. It seemed more sociable too; people gather round a stove for tasting, discussing, adding, telling tales.
When I got very thin and miserable a few years ago, a clever friend asked me to make some cakes. I finally had an oven that stayed at a constant temperature and some scales that measured to the nearest nanogram, so why not? I also had many amazing bits of kitchen equipment that did all the drudgery, and so I baked my way through several books.
I discovered that there is a certain comfort in the strictures of regulation, the removal of any personal input which makes life, should you need it to be, rather clear and straightforward. Here are your weights and measures, here is the method. Do not deviate and all will be well. Your kitchen will smell like a buttery golden childhood and after the exact amount of time, you will be rewarded by the springing triumph of a risen cake.
Now that I am perfectly happy again, I still take great pleasure in the strict discipline of baking. A fifty shades of flour if you will. The thwack of spatula, the whip of whisk. The bossy dictation of the rules I must follow if I am to have pleasure. The naughtiness of a stolen finger lick. The achingly interminable wait for the timer to go off and the sweet release of cake from tin.
I don't think I've got my mad up any more.