The delicious, cinnamon-sugar smell of the coffee cake batter wafted up to me as I gently poured it into a pre-buttered dish. It smoothed out beautifully as I prepared to sprinkle streusel topping all over the creamy cake batter. Reaching to the right to grab the bowl of delicious cinnamon and brown sugar streusel, my hand encountered another bowl. A small bowl…filled with baking powder.
Ugh. I’ve done it again.
Making a face of disgust at my own stupidity, I dumped the cake batter unceremoniously back into the mixing bowl, added the baking powder, and stirred with all the violence of self-loathing. Why do I always do that?
Raising agent added, I plopped the batter back into the baking dish, sprinkled the topping on top with more vehemence than was necessary, walked over to the oven, and…
Seriously? Could this baking experience get any worse?
I had forgotten to turn the oven on.
Growing up, baking and cooking were a bit of an institution in my family. I grew up around food. My nanna is famous for her prowess in the kitchen, and I can affirm from personal experience that her daughter, my mom, definitely followed in her footsteps in that department. Nanna always says that Mom is a better cook than she is—a comment that my mother instantly denies. I think they have kind of agreed to disagree on that point. All arguments aside, there is no argument that I grew up in a family with two of the greatest cooks and bakers in the world. Seriously. They could open a restaurant.
So I suppose it’s not a surprise that I also love to bake and cook. Some of my favorite childhood memories are in the kitchen. I loved going over to Nanna’s kitchen and baking gingerbread men, cookies or cupcakes, and I loved “helping” my mom in the kitchen—and tasting whatever she was making. Licking the beaters was a pleasant side job that I wasn’t going to turn down.
Baking with Nanna is an experience. It’s almost like being on a cooking show, except you (usually) won’t find a perfectly cooked rendition of whatever you are going to make already in the oven like the chefs on cooking shows always do. Every ingredient is taken out of the cupboard and placed on a tray with a variety of bowls of different shapes and sizes. Then, each ingredient is precisely measured into one of the bowls and placed back on the tray. Once everything is measured out, then you can start baking. Mom did things in pretty much the same way; although we didn’t always measure out everything first, we did always get out all the ingredients to make sure we had everything necessary.
I have to admit, as a little girl, this whole process seemed a little futile to me. Why waste so much time? But whenever I tried to bake by myself, I realized the wisdom of Mom and Nanna’s pre-measuring and meticulous recipe-reading. They were trying to build the habit of following instructions in me. Later, when I had the years of experience that they had, perhaps I could get a bit more creative—but as a fledgling baker, I needed to follow the recipe. I didn’t always do that, however. I had a bad habit of not reading the recipe all the way through or only reading the “important parts”—and then I’d usually end up in a bit of a sticky situation. I can’t count the amount of times I have started to bake something and then discovered that I didn’t have enough of or the right ingredients. Or the amount of times that I have forgotten to put in an essential ingredient, like in the episode with the coffee cake.
I usually discovered that I had left out the baking powder or the baking soda. It was almost always one of those two things—the really important ingredients that make the difference between a hard, cake-batter brick and a light and fluffy streusel coffee cake. And I inevitably discovered my mistake right as I was about to place whatever I was baking into the oven—right when I was rather pleased with myself because of my baking prowess. Pride goes before a fall, I suppose.
And how did I always miss that instruction—the one cleverly placed at the beginning of every recipe, where only someone who didn’t follow instructions could miss it—that helpful phrase that any baker is so familiar with: “Preheat oven to 350 degrees.” The amount of times that I forgot an ingredient pales in comparison with how often I simply forgot to turn the oven on.
On all the previous occasions when I had missed a step while baking, I generally laughed it off, fixed the issue, and baked a tolerable product. But with this coffee cake, I was finally so frustrated with myself that I realized I needed to diagnose the problem. Why did it seem like I always missed a step when I was baking? Cooking is an art; baking is a science. You can’t leave out the baking powder and hope it will still work out. I had to figure out what I was doing wrong.
A few minutes of washing dishes in the warm water of the sink produced the answer. My problem was that I just didn’t follow the directions in the recipes that I used. Sure, I read them, but I inevitably skipped over something important. I would see the first line—“Preheat oven to 350 degrees”—and ignore it, thinking, Oh, I know that already. And then I would forget to do it—because I thought I already had it down. I ignored clear instructions because I assumed I already knew what they were going to say. I took the instructions for granted.
I realized that this lesson about following instructions applied to more than just baking. God gave us the greatest Instruction Book in the world. He gives us 10 clear commandments—10 simple steps that have a world of meaning behind them. 10 simple steps that we can sometimes read over because of their simplicity. 10 simple steps that we can easily take for granted because we memorized them as children. Oh, I know that already. It may not be a conscious thought—but it’s an easy thought to have even without realizing it.
God gave us 10 commandments. That is fewer steps than many recipes have. If you forget a step when you’re baking—a step like adding the baking powder or creaming the butter and sugar until light and fluffy—the product that you end up with will be unsatisfactory. You can’t just follow some of the steps and hope that it will still work out. It’s the same with God’s law. We can’t just follow some of the commandments and hope that everything will be fine. We have to follow every commandment, and especially the spirit behind them all. Breaking one commandment is like breaking them all (James 2:10).
The more I thought about it, the more parallels I realized. If I wasn’t following the directions in a simple recipe, how was I doing at following instructions in life? Did I do everything my parents told me to do exactly as they told me to do it, or did I forget a step or skip over it because I thought it wasn’t important? Did I keep every part of the law, or just the “important parts”? Every part is important. Every step is essential. Every instruction is necessary. And when we don’t follow those instructions, there are very real consequences—just like there are very real and more serious consequences when we don’t follow God’s instructions.
In the end, my coffee cake turned out all right. But it took a lot longer and was a lot more hassle than it needed to be. After this experience, I always tried to be careful to read and follow all of the instructions in a recipe. I didn’t always do it perfectly—I still forgot to turn the oven on occasionally—but I found that the product of my baking was a lot more delicious and reliable. Baking was much more stress-free when I followed the instructions.
It’s a simple lesson, but it holds true for more than just creating delicious treats. Not following the instructions is a recipe for disaster, but following instructions will always bring you success.