Long-time readers know that I like to cook, but don't really bake. Cooking and baking require distinctly unique skills, and my mindset works better with cooking. Baking requires precision of ingredients and amounts; cooking involves on-the-fly experimentation.
For reasons that still aren't clear to me, I got the baking bug over the holidays. Well, let's be clear. This was not baking in the sense of baking powder, baking soda, and flour. This was a pumpkin pie, or at least in the beginning, pumpkin tarts.
My original plan was buying graham cracker tart shells, and taking a can of pumpkin puree and somehow adapting that to make a pseudo pumpkin pie filling. I had made a dessert of crustless pumpkin pie that involved a serving of pumpkin puree, as little as added sugar as possible to not make my face go sour, lots of cinnamon, all topped with whipped cream. My vision was to do that with a graham cracker crust.
When I realized that making a pumpkin pie made more sense, I had the tart crusts, but didn't have a 9-inch crust, like the directions called for having. So I made up the pumpkin pie filling, thinking I would fill the tarts up, and refrigerate the rest for when I bought the crust. I couldn't buy the crust since I had reached Christmas, and I wasn't going out to buy a crust.
I checked ingredients on the back of the pumpkin puree can, and figured out I had everything except sweetened condensed milk. I did have something to put the filling in, but without sweetened condensed milk, I had no pie filling.
Off to the Internet to find an alternative. While baking is precise, substitutes can be used. I figure out that I had milk and sugar, so I could make my own sweetened condensed milk. I found sites that said the method would take a couple of hours to get to the correct amount. They start with too much milk; I decided to start with close to the amount I needed and heat it for less time.
I only heated it for ½ hour to go from 16 oz. to 14 oz., and added slightly less than the required minimum of sugar. Since I was using skim milk instead of whole milk, I definitely remembered to add the 3 tablespoons of butter. My version of sweetened condensed milk needed some badly needed fat.
The version in the tarts worked out really well. Once I bought the shell, I put the refrigerated filling in the pie shell and baked it. Either I needed more time to bake it (seemed odd since I had less filling) or I messed up how long it was supposed to bake, or refrigerating the filling did something to its consistency. It was a bit runny, but not by too much.
The point of the story is that if you are a cooker, not a baker, you can sort of bake and have it turn out okay. My pumpkin pie wasn't obnoxiously sweet, like you find a lot of store-bought pies, and it was certainly edible, even if it didn't look pretty.
I won't imagine that I'll be buying multiple bags of flour anytime soon. I did buy another full graham cracker crust to try a key lime pie, so I will bake one more pie in my life.
Having an atypical sweet tooth and not being a baker: not a great combination. In 2012, I am trying to see if I can do it better myself. Getting a jump start in 2011 was helpful, but the pumpkin tarts and pie show I have a ways to go. The key is being better organized, something cookers don't have to factor in as much as bakers.