I have friends that are daunted by the task of baking and whilst I wouldn't call myself a pro baker, I'm reasonably comfortable with using the oven and over time, the oven has become a rather good friend of mine and seems to work with me to get things right. Occasionally, some recipes don't seem to work so well (and here I blame some recipe books that have gone too quickly to print and haven't been road tested) but probably the largest factor in a failed recipe is laziness. It's when I duck upstairs to do something else and forget about watching the oven or in a rush, I forget ingredients (e.g. leave out the sugar) or I do steps back to front and ruin how the ingredients should be incorporated.
Making this recipe for Apricot Bars from Bill Granger's 'Simply Bill', the mistake I made was one I always make - forgetting to let it cool in the tin before lifting it out of the tray which I guess is only a small thing for an otherwise tasty recipe.
Preheat oven to 180 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together 155g plain flour, 95g brown sugar, 115g caster sugar, 2 pinches of salt and 1 tsp baking powder.
Rub into the dry mix 175g chilled and diced unsalted butter.
Mix in 130g rolled oats and 90g dessicated coconut. Reserve a cupful of dough and press the remainder evenly into a lightly greased and lined 20x30cm baking tin. Bake for 15 minutes until golden.
Put 450g chopped dried apricots and 125mL of water in a small pan over low heat and cook, stirring occasionally until the liquid has been absorbed. Cool slightly, then spoon over the baked dough base. Dot 100g apricot jam over the apricots and crumble the reserved dough over the top. Spoon on 40g melted unsalted butter and bake for 30-35 minutes until lightly golden.
Do what I didn't do - Leave to cool completely in the tray (otherwise what happens is that you'll crack and crumble the base if you try to lift it out of the tray whilst it's still hot).
Slice into squares, eat away and store the rest in an airtight container. Makes 24.
Probably the other daunting thing about baking is that you can never be too sure how your baked goods are going to be received by those that eat it. When these apricot bars first out of the oven, my brother had a nibble (argh, he eats like a rat - there's been times when I've freaked out thinking a rat has got to whatever I've baked because my brother always takes off a corner where you least suspect it) and his comment was that it was 'too crumbly' (which is the case as it needs to cool down before it becomes more solid). I thought these bars tasted quite healthy and this was echoed by my mum and aunt who both prefer a slightly less sweet baked treat. My cousins seemed to prefer the chocolate cookies I made and it was quite consistent that the boys seemed to show an aversion to this apricot bar - probably because it looked to healthy.
Baking really is an art and well, you can never be too sure how it's going to turn out but it's it a bit of fun and I actually find it really interesting what you learn about people's tastes and what they prefer and yes, my brother eats my baked goodies like a rat!