First you had gobs from Gobba Gobba Hey. And then you bought the book. And now you’re ready to bake. So. What happens next? I wondered the same thing myself over two years ago after my parents gave me a recipe for gobs. It wasn’t that there was anything especially complicated about the ingredients or the steps. But some of the measurements threw me off a bit.
“Why do the steps say ‘2 to 4’ tablespoons of milk? And what’s up with this: ‘1 cup of water, use sparingly?” I asked my Mom.
“Keep an eye on your batter,” was her reply.
Keep an eye on your batter? It reminded me of when I’d asked for recipes in the past, and a step would simply read “Add paprika. Saute til brown.” When I’d call them for clarification, either my Mom or Dad would say “Oh, just eye ball it.”
I thought about Catherine Beecher, Sarah Josepha Hale, Fannie Farmer and everyone who worked to standardize the kitchen’s techniques, recipes and measurements. And as I reworked my parents’ gob recipe, I thought about other instructions I’d been given over the years for dishes of theirs. One of my favorites was a tip my Dad had once given me about making an Italian Pot Roast: “Cover it with water… How much? Wha’dya mean how much? Enough to cover it! Just make sure that damn piece of meat isn’t swimming in there!”
My parents’ recipes, and their instructions, reminded me that you can put a tablespoon in a drawer, but you can’t make a cook use it.
But if there was one thing I learned from watching my family cook, they didn’t always need institutionalized measurements yet their meals were perfect almost every time. My grandmother and both of my parents cooked in a very instinctual way. You listened. You sniffed. You watched. You tasted. If you were stove-side with them, you received an incredible education. But if you were on the other side of the country, on the other end of the phone line, things could get complicated.
So when I began writing down my own gob recipes, I kept this in mind. In the past I’d often jotted things down on scraps of paper with notes that made perfect sense to me – just like my parents’ recipes did to them – but could I really ask people to “Mix until you hear a thwopping noise” when instructing them to make frosting? In a book, probably not. But in a blog post? Yes!
In that spirit, here are my Top Five Tips for making perfect gobs every time!
1. Listen. Food is very noisy. And I don’t mean the sounds made by the equipment and utensils we use to make it. I mean ingredients, when mixed together, can be almost musical. When you’re making your frosting, listen for a soft “thwopping” sound as the confectioner’s sugar thickens the dairy. It will leave peaks. It will be thick enough to hold onto an inverted spoon. But for me, that sound is what I always listen for. If you need to add an additional tablespoon of sour cream or one of the flavoring syrups, go right ahead. If it appears too loose you can always firm it up by adding another tablespoon or two of confectioner’s sugar and sticking the mixing bowl in your fridge for twenty minutes. Just be careful not to over mix it. Cream cheese can separate and then all bets are off.
2. Sniff. A lot of the recipes call for cinnamon or ground ginger or ancho chile powder or other ground aromatic spices. I sift mine together with the flour into the bowl, but the way I can tell if everything has been properly integrated is that the light powdery smell of flour is no longer present when I’m whisking.
3. Watch. This is where my parents would say “Eyeball the batter.” I’ve replaced the “1 cup of water, use sparingly” in my batter recipes with two tablespoons of sour cream (in recipes that needed it.) If you’ve added it and your batter still seems too thick, don’t even hesitate to plop in another tablespoon of the cream or buttermilk. You want to be able to dig out a thick scoop of batter, but you don’t want it too dense. Likewise you don’t want it too runny. Here’s what to look for: After you’ve added all of your ingredients, turn your mixer back on, let the paddle or beaters whir around a few times, then turn it off. The batter should very, very slowly start to drift from the sides of the bowl back to the center. SLOWLY! If it’s stationary, add the above mentioned additional tablespoon of sour cream or buttermilk. If it’s moving like a mudslide, add another tablespoon of flour.
4. Touch. When you’re scooping your batter out onto your baking sheet, it should easily come out of the spoon. If you find that you have to dig it out, your gobs will be dry little domes, almost like cookies. This is where “watching” is a time-saver. If you see your batter is too thick, especially with the chocolate gobs, then add some additional sour cream or buttermilk, by the teaspoon at first, then up to two tablespoons if necessary.)
5. Taste. Your gobs will be delicious! I know it! Follow the recipes, but don’t be afraid to ad lib a little! If you want to dial back one of the spices, and pump up another, go ahead. Baking might be an exact science, but gobbing isn’t! Enjoy!