Lately, I’m going through a baking phase. I grew up baking, but I gave it up in my mid-20′s, citing it as frivolous and not good for you besides. I gave up caffeine around the same time. Basically, if something was fun, I gave it up in my mid-20′s. It was the result of stress, but what poor, stressed-out mid-20′s me really needed was a cup of coffee, a brownie, and a regular exercise routine. I have all those things in my mid-30′s, and most of the time, I feel better than I did back then.
It was Lucas and Max who inspired me to start baking in earnest again. I don’t want to be giving the kids a ton of sugar, but at the same time, I feel like what sugar they eat should be of the highest quality. Frankly, I also like it when the children start attempting to hoard whatever I’ve brought to picnics and potlucks. I know I’ve done something good in the world when a fight breaks out over the cookies or someone starts crying because their mother won’t let them eat a fourth cupcake.
I’m kidding. Kind of.
Cakes are what I’m primarily obsessed with lately. It’s not because I want to eat the cakes, particularly: I just want to see how they’ll turn out. It’s a combination of wondering if the recipe is as good as it sounds and also if I can pull it off. Lately, I’ve been mostly baking cakes out of a cookbook I got for Christmas, One Big Table by Molly O’Neill. If you don’t own this book, you should run out and get it right away. What O’Neill has done is traveled the country and collected recipes, most of them from amateur cooks. Each recipe includes a little tidbit about where the recipe came from, maybe a photo of the person who created it, and then the recipe itself. And so you have delightful passages like this, a quote from Tayari Jones, contributor of a red velvet cake recipe: “One of my friends complained about the amount [of red food coloring] in my mama’s recipe–it calls for one and a half ounces…. To make the cake taste right (let alone look right), you’re going to have to use the coloring. If you remove that much liquid from your cake, it’s going to be dry. And it’s going to look stupid.”
Yes, folks, a recipe that uses the word “stupid.” That’s what we’re talking about here. And let me tell you what, that red velvet cake will change your life. I am just waiting for an excuse to make another one.
I’ve also made Carsie Lodtner’s Chocolate Pound Cake out of this book, which was not red velvet good, but still very good (especially with my friend’s homemade vanilla ice cream–mmmmm). My next cake out of this book is going to be Mary Jennifer Russell’s Extraordinary Southern Caramel Cake, which I must make because I am currently reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett and have never had a caramel cake. (If you, like me, are one of the five people in the country who hasn’t already read this book, there is a character who makes a caramel cake every third page or so. It’s a good thing I’m listening to it in my kitchen, because all this book does is make me want to cook.)
Last night, I decided to try a different book, and so I made the cheesecake recipe out of Baked by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. This is a book I don’t own but am clearly going to have to buy because a.) this is about the third time I’ve checked it out of the library because that’s how much I enjoy reading the recipes, and b.) a crumb “fell off” the cheesecake and that crumb tasted amazing. I can’t actually eat a slice of the cheesecake yet, because it is destined for the dinner table tonight, as we are gathering to celebrate Tammy’s birthday. I believe Tammy is turning 33 again, but perhaps she’ll stop in and clarify. It’s hard to keep track. Anyway, the cheesecake smelled so good while it was baking that I spent some time trying to think of how I might be able to get a slice out of it and then reconstruct it in a way that no one would notice.
I should have studied harder when I took geometry.