Confession, I love baking. Growing up, we had a few apple trees in our backyard which meant we ate a lot of apple pie. My mom could peel an apple using nothing more than a knife and her thumb. She’d get the entire apple peel off in a single fluid motion, this seemed like magic to me. Twenty years later, baking has never lost its magical appeal. That’s why I was excited to hear about First Second’s “Maker Comics” line. It’s a series about getting messy and getting involved with do-it-yourself projects. I checked out the Bake Like A Pro! graphic novel and was surprised by how much I learned and how much fun I had while doing it.
The More You Know
Bake Like A Pro! is brought to life by Falynn Koch. Koch is an artist, illustrator, and storyteller whose work often centers on informative and fun comics for younger audiences. To help teach us about baking, we follow the story of a young apprentice baker learning how to make alchemy in the kitchen. Bake Like A Pro! strikes a balance in presenting us with enough of the science behind baking without having it feel overwhelming.
The novel begins as the young magician Sage awaits her magical-apprenticeship assignment. Other students fizzle with excitement as they are assigned to master wizards in the arts of pyromancy and transfiguration. Sage looks on, her eyes open and eager, and then she receives her apprenticeship: baking. Sage will work with the master baker and alchemist Korian. While this isn’t exactly what she had in mind, she’s not one for giving up. She leaves her friends behind and meets Korian in the kitchen. That’s where things get interesting.
Korian bakes in an enchanted kitchen. The ingredients come to life to help explain the magic behind baking. Don’t worry, these ingredients want to be eaten. Initially, Sage begins her apprenticeship by making a cake using an instant mix. The results are less than stellar. Korian explains why using an instant mix isn’t always the best idea and why baking from scratch is worth the wait. Not only are there a bunch of additives and preservatives in instant cake mixes (which can alter the flavor) but you miss out on the real magic of baking. Sage decides that maybe it is best to take your time when it comes to baking. Before she can use any tools in the kitchen though, Korian helps explain the differences between cooking and baking and some other kitchen fundamentals.
I grew up learning about baking through the osmosis of watching my mom and grandmother in the kitchen. Reading Bake Like A Pro! helped me reëxamine all the knowledge I’ve taken for granted. Implicitly knowing the difference between baking and cooking is one of those little bits of nuggets that I simply know. On the other hand, Koch doesn’t assume the reader knows anything about baking or the kitchen at all. There’s something wickedly refreshing about that. I was able to learn about baking from a clean slate. It made the process of reading recipes interesting and exciting again. That’s quite a testament to the narrative of this graphic novel because let’s face it, recipes aren’t exactly known for being riveting material.
Putting the FUN in Fundamentals
Sage and Korian explain the basics of baking thoroughly and thoughtfully. I know a clean kitchen and utensils are important to baking already, but seeing how a little leftover water in a mixing bowl inhibits an egg white’s protein structure helps drive these messages home. Excess water can prevent an egg white’s from stiffening up. This means you can’t achieve that perfect meringue necessary for many pies and some cakes. In Bake Like A Pro!, every action links with a detailed illustration and explanation. This is helpful for readers of all comprehension and ability levels.
There’s a great deal of science located in this book. I like to call it hidden chemistry because you don’t really realize you are learning about chemistry when you are reading this book, but you certainly are. Take the act of sifting flour. I know it’s important to do so, but I wasn’t entirely sure about why. I’ll admit to sometimes skipping the step of sifting all together. Doing that means, however, that my cookies and cakes will sometimes end up too dense. Now I know why: I was using too much flour. One cup of sifted flour is not the same as one cup of compacted flour. Lesson learned.
Bake Like A Pro! gets into detailed explanations of what flour is, what eggs are, and how each element of these ingredients are used in different baking applications. I honestly did not think I could be entertained by a grain of flour explaining what an endotherm is, but here we are! The message of this graphic novel is that baking is a science, but that doesn’t mean it is scary or difficult. It just requires time, patience, and a little understanding.
To put this book to the test, I decided to try a recipe I’ve done countless times before, chocolate chip cookies. I’ve been chasing the dragon of my mom’s spectacular chocolate chip cookies since I was nine, so this was finally my chance to see if I could get any closer to her mastery.
Sage, Me and Some Chocolate Chip Cookies
Step 1: Getting Set-Up
I began my baking odyssey by cleaning the kitchen. I always clean the kitchen before I cook. Otherwise, I become overwhelmed by the previous mess I made in the kitchen. I threw the recipe up on my laptop and assembled my utensils and ingredients. It was helpful to see all the tools I might need before getting started. Being organized is half the battle towards success in baking– at least in my experience! The butter was at room temperature and I finally had baking my baking soda, so I was ready to go.
Step 2: Measure
Did I mention how important it is to be organized? Yeah, it’s really good to know what you are doing and what’s coming up next. Read the entire recipe before you start baking so you won’t be surprised by any of the steps. It’s like a math problem from school with compound instructions, except, you know…fun.
Getting the dry ingredients together
Step 3: Cream the Butter & Sugar
The instructions provide you with a clear understanding of why each step is performed when it is. I really enjoyed the science behind what was happening during the baking process as well. It helped me see how my actions during the preparation process impacted baking. I wish all recipes did this! I’m not being hyperbolic. I really do want this as a function of recipes. Thank you.
Step 4: Combine the Eggs and Sugar
We are nearly at my favorite part, which is where everything combines into a beautiful melange of dough that I have to force myself not to eat by chewing gum. That is a free personal fact for you all.
Below, you can see I’ve got a real close-up of this egg situation. You can still see some granules of sugar because I opted for a less refined white sugar. That’s just my personal preference!
Step 5: Add the Dry Ingredients
Listen. Don’t hate me, but it was really hard to get an image of me adding the dry ingredients. The dry ingredients should be added little by little, but not too slowly. It’s important to not overmix the flour. You’ll activate the proteins in the flour and your cookies will end up tough. You don’t want that. I have always been a visual learner, but I like having both the text explanations and images in Bake Like a Pro! to fall back on. The two work together to create a pretty foolproof guide for baking. The recipe also includes different ways in which you can alter the taste and texture of your cookies.
Here’s a look at my dough. Look at it. It’s beautiful. I want to eat it.
Step 6: Measure & Bake
I am nothing, NOTHING, without my ice-cream scooper. I like smaller cookies, so I use a smaller scooper. Again, that’s just me. It’s important to remember that how large your cookies are will impact baking time. In fact, a lot of things can impact your baking time like the kind of oven you’re using, your altitude, and so on. This book goes into all of it. As you can see from the image above, we’ve got a great explanation of the chemical process a cookie goes through while in the oven.
Look at all those little dough babies cooking up and becoming yummy cookie children. I guess that’s a little creepy considering we’re going to be eating these cookies…
I like using parchment paper on my baking trays because I’m lazy and because this makes it easier to remove the cookies from the tray!
I used to have a gas stove, but now I have an electric one. I’m still getting used to baking with it. Baking is always a learning process; you are never done with adjusting and fine-tuning. It’s fun to see how different methods, mixes, and ingredients can impact the flavor, taste, and texture of a baked item.
Step 7: Cool Em’ Down
Don’t you dare skip this step. You will burn the roof of your mouth if you put a cookie directly from the oven to your mouth. Trust me, I have done this. I have heard the sizzle of the cookie on my tongue. It is not a pleasant time.
You want to remove the cookie from the baking tray so the residual heat does not continue the baking process. Sometimes that heat transfer can take your cookie from just right to a little over.
Something to remember is how different heating applications will affect your baked items. Thankfully, I caught these cookies before they became too done! I honestly had a blast making these cookies. More importantly, I learned a lot while doing it. Bake Like A Pro! is enjoyable reading for anyone who wants to know more about baking. The book includes eight recipes, some savory, some sweet. Each recipe comes with detailed explanations for what is happening during every step of the process.
Here are the recipes included:
- Chocolate chip cookies
- Banana bread
- Pizza dough
- Cheesy biscuits
- Apple pies
- Sponge cake with Swiss buttercream frosting
- Lemon meringue pie
Overall, I enjoyed myself as I enjoy any excuse to bake. But even if baking has always scared you a little bit, this book is for you just as much. Next up, I may try my hand at an apple pie. I’ve long feared the dreaded soggy bottom, now? Not so much.
Maker Comics: Bake Like A Pro!
128 Pages, Ages 9-13
Maker Comics is the ultimate DIY guide. Inside this graphic novel, you will find illustrated instructions for eight tasty treats!
In Bake Like a Pro!, you’ll learn how different combination of proteins, fats, and liquids will result in textures that lend themselves to perfect pies, breads, cookies, and more! Follow these simple recipes, and you’ll be able to bake a pizza and frost a cake—no magic necessary!
*All images are courtesy of First Second.
Andrea Ayres writes about comics and representation in pop-culture.