Lola Els is a master baker, one of those from the old school who uses tried and tested recipes that are a century old. Even at her advanced age, she is still a consultant and baking teacher for bakers of Red Ribbon, Goldilocks, and other smaller bakeshops like Petit Fours. Her own house is a testament to her supreme love for baking, evidenced by the mountains of baking pans and equipment that are practically seeping out of their storage areas in her house. She even has pans that they don’t make anymore like shaped llanera pans used in making leche flan and the 10-cup capacity Bundt pan. I told her that if she ever decides to hold a garage sale, I’d save her the trouble and buy all the stuff she has.
When I was in high school, Lola Els used to come over to the house once a week and bake with my mom, who is also one mean baker. (See, it runs in the genes). Anyway, it was lola who introduced me to yema balls, banana crunch cake, and caramel tarts that are unequaled to anything else I have eaten. There’s really something to be said about recipes that have been handed down.
Anyway, I lost track of Lola Els after some years because I went to college and moved out of the house. So it was some surprise that she called me last week, and we got around to talking about baking. I professed my love for the craft and we arranged a spontaneous baking session that morning.
At the end of my tether
For a good part of the day, Lola Els and I puttered around my little kitchen making cream puffs, pan de sal, and leche flan. We used her recipes, and she would call out what she needed, after which I measured out the ingredients for her, and prepared the necessary equipment. At some point, I got a bit frazzled because she needed five different ingredients at the same time and I discovered that I just didn’t have enough pairs of hands to catch up. Despite her age and the fact that she moves around with a walker, she worked very quickly, due to her familiarity with the recipes.
I now know it’s true that the young and the old have generation gaps sometimes, because it certainly reared its ugly head between me and Lola Els. For one, since she’s been baking for almost forever, I saw that she had very set ways of doing things: she’d ask why all my pans were Teflon, when an aluminum pan was easier to see when the sugar turned amber (for the leche flan). Then she asked why my oven was so small (with only one rack), and why in heaven’s name was it gas and not electric? Didn’t I know, she asked, that heat is more evenly regulated in an electric oven? Next she wondered why my steamer had only one level, and could only fit one llanera to steam the leche flan? She followed that up with why didn’t I have the 5-quart KitchenAid mixer instead of the “old style” model I had? Between gritted teeth, I told Lola Els that my mom had passed on that mixer to me when she decided to buy a newer one, so I had no say in the matter.
Sweetness despite “adversity”
And on and on it went. Seriously, in as much as I have great respect for the elderly, I was at the end of my rope when it came to answering Lola Els’s needling questions; so much so that I seriously contemplated hurling the rolling pin at her the next time she asked for it. I began to feel like I was so small and my equipment so incapable. I had baked the best cheesecakes and the silkiest crÃ¨me brulees in my kitchen, so I knew that what I had wasn’t so bad. With gritted teeth, I told her, “Lola, I’m no professional baker. Please, let’s just make do with what I have.” I think I was almost begging.
Anyway, in spite of our disagreements, we ended up with some delicious pan de sals, a light but creamy leche flan, and some scrumptious cream puffs. Honestly though, I was so exhausted from defending my kitchen equipment against Lola Els as well as arguing with her, that I fell asleep at 8:30 that evening. Zzzzzz.