Sunday, May 18, 2008

It's not hard. Really!

Along with all the analyzing of business I do, I also bake. Get a room with more than five people in it, and I'll get the itch to put something together. It feels very odd for me to come to a shindig without a covered dish of some kind.

People don't bake as much as they once did. This leads to some surprising statements when I bring something in, like my cinnabons.

"Wow, that must be really hard."
"Actually, no, it's pretty easy. I can give you the recipe if you--"
"Oh, no. I could never do anything like that."

You know where else I hear this?

When I tell people that I can read code.

A surprising number of PMs/Designers/BAs all proclaim they could never learn to read code. I say they weren't in my CompSci classes eight years ago.

True, back then, I wouldn't have been asking that more people learn to code. I tutored a guy that had me tearing out my hair. Still, he got basic concepts. Sure, his code threatened to crash our iron clad unix server, but he could tell a for loop from a declarations statement.

It doesn't take much to learn. A community school level 101 class would bring most people up to speed on basic structures, good practices, data types, and common syntax. Even someone with enough chutzpah and a good Dummies guide could get brave enough to look at some code in the wild.

I think the fear of looking at code comes from the same place as the fear of baking. No one expects that your first cake is going to look like something from Ace of Cakes. I don't even really expect it to come out of the pan properly. First cakes are meant to be iced and eaten straight out of the pan, leaving you, the kitchen, and your sense of what a cake is in total disarray.

The first time you read code makes you feel a bit odd. It's the dissonance between knowing that you're looking at gibberish, and yet it's doing something. Something strange and mysterious and not meant for those who see daylight, and yet it's starting to make sense.

No one really expects you to start slinging your own code at this point. No one wants you to be Gates or Jobs or whatever guru people are wanting DNA samples of these days. Just some basic comprehension.

I promise you two things:

1. The sudden desire to make a proper cake will not turn you into Martha, demanding a clutch so that you can raise your own chickens and therefore have fresh eggs for your cakes. Because what the hell.

2. The sudden insight into the craft of the coder will not give you a stronger affinity for Cheetos. Because some of them really prefer beef jerky instead.

While we're at it, let me put up my recipe for cinnabons. Take some time, but most of that is sitting on your rear, reading blogs and drinking coffee.

EAC's cinnabons

  • 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast (seriously, those little packs you can buy at the store. People use those!)
  • 3/4 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C) (Tap water that's almost too hot to hold your fingers under it should do.)
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, room temperature (Seriously. Take the freaking egg out when you start)
  • 2 1/2 cups bread flour (Not white. Bread. King Arthur is best, but good ol' Pillsbury will do).
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened (if you forget to take it out, put it in the microwave for a minute on 30% power)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (I use dark, because it stores better.)

  1. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Take out your egg and let it get to room temperature. Seriously. Then let the yeast mixture stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the yeast mixture with the sugar, salt, egg and 1 cup flour (that's right. Not all the flour); stir well to combine. It shouldn't look horribly lumpy.
  3. At this point, if you're using a stand mixer, and you have a hook attachment, switch to that. No foul if you don't have one, but they're easier to clean.
  4. Stir in the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well with each addition. When the dough has pulled together (looks like a lump), turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. Truthfully, I don't usually knead it that long. But it's good exercise, so what the hey. Don't be shy about adding more flour, if the dough feels sticky and is being fussy. Dough can be like that.
  5. Cover with a damp cloth and let rest for 10 minutes.
  6. Lightly grease an 8x8 inch square baking pan. Roll dough out on a lightly floured surface to 1/4 inch thick rectanglish shape. Smear the dough with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon and brown sugar. Roll up the dough along the long edge until it forms a roll. Slice the roll into 16 equal size pieces and place them in the pan with the cut side up.
    1. Easiest way to get 16 pieces? Cut the log in half. Then the half in half. The one of the quarters in half. Then one of the eighths in half. Recurse your way up. Don't try to cut sixteen starting at one end and going to the other end. Not even cyborgs do it that way.
  7. Cover pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or cover and let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 30-45 minutes. I am impatient. I do it at room temp for 30 and then cook it.
  8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F . Bake rolls until golden brown, about 17-20 minutes. Watch them! We're going for golden brown, not unfortunate mass of bubbly blackness.
  9. Take them out and icing them. You can use canned icing, nuked for 30 seconds. I never have that on hand, so I used 1/2 c powdered sugar, 1 T vanilla extract (or vanilla rum/vodka), and 2 T milk. It's not an exact science.
If you can make those, I swear, you can grok python.

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