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Rustic Baking

September 24, 2010

I used to hate baking. I thought it was too scientific, too precise, too much emphasis on perfection. And many bakers ARE perfectionists these days. But then I think about historic cooks and bakers. The women who baked by touch and sight and smell, not by ounces and recipes. And that’s the kind of baking I emulate – the simple, down-home, rustic stuff.

I took a nap today – a rare luxury. And I half-dreamed of owning a bakery. But not the fancy kind, nor the grocery store kind. Something in between, where cake doesn’t necessarily need frosting, where there are only two kinds of coffee (regular and decaf) but they’re both really good, where fruit and spices are more common than chocolate, where milk is a condiment.

A place that revels in quality ingredients like an upscale pastry shop, but leaves the piping bags and royal icing and fondant at home. A place that revels in comfort food, but stays away from giant cupcakes with huge swirls of shortening frosting and cheap-tasting cookies. A place that isn’t afraid to serve rice krispie bars next to galettes. A place that just serves really effing good, unpretentious food.

I go on a lot about “unpretentious” food. What I mean by that is food that doesn’t try to put “twists” on anything or combine weird flavors or use fancy techniques (sous vide, anyone?) or molecular gastronomy or piles things into “pretty” little cylinders with all kinds of fancy garnishes that you have no idea how to even begin eating. I like simple food. Complex flavors? Sometimes. Gingerbread cake is pretty complex. And soups can be gloriously complex. But I’ll leave the maple-crusted salmon with basil foam to the “experts.”

But I digress. This imaginary bakery I was dreaming about is a place where I can make caramel cake, and moist classic yellow cake with creamy pecan filling and seven minute frosting, blue ribbon black chocolate cake and gingerbread cake (and bars) and lazy daisy cake and old-fashioned oatmeal cake and blueberry boy bait and creamy apple pie and pumpkin cake bars with cream cheese frosting and chocolate pecan oatmeal pie and homemade caramels and Vanessa’s dinner rolls and buttermilk sandwich bread and Boston brown bread and cream biscuits and lemon pound cake with lemon soaking glaze and Italian plum cake and sweet pear galettes and cranberry upside down cake and all kinds fruit clafoutis and rhubarb cake and seasonal fruit crisps and rice pudding and butterscotch pudding and seasonal fruit shortcakes and coconut macaroons and shortbreads and orange drop cookies and Russian filled crescents and coffee cake. You know, all the fantastic rustic desserts that no one makes from scratch anymore. Except old ladies. I want to be one of those old ladies one day.

I don’t necessarily want a bakery. But I do wish I had time to bake every day. When we retire, the boy and I are probably going to get very fat. We want to buy a farm, so he’ll tool around on his medium-sized vintage tractor and fix things and hay the fields and chop wood and I’ll tend to a big garden and maybe fruit trees and cook from scratch every day. So maybe we won’t get too fat. And we’ll have to have lots of visitors. Or “adopt” neighborhood kids. Or I might have to start volunteering at a soup kitchen, just to get out my need to be creative in the kitchen and feed large numbers of people.

I don’t know where the need to feed comes from. Probably from my great-grandmothers on my mom’s side. Great-grandma Nelson apparently would try and guilt-trip my dad (no small eater) into having thirds or even fourths when she cooked dinner. And boy could she cook! I only remember one spread at her place, since she died when I was 13, but I distinctly remember from-scratch baked beans which were amazingly delicious. I had never liked them before that. I remember exclaiming about how good they were and she just beamed and offered me seconds, which I took despite a warning look from my mother. She also baked bread and made things like homemade donuts, spiced with nutmeg.

That’s the kind of cooking I try to revive. From-scratch stuff that isn’t all that hard, but tastes amazing (and not just because it’s chock full of butter – I avoid those recipes). And oldschool baking often tastes better than oldschool cooking. Because let’s face it, oldschool cooking boiled vegetables to death. Ditto meat. So there is something to be said for modern sensibilities when it comes to cooking, but baking? They knew what they were about, I tell you what.

So, since thinking about all these fantastic desserts, I totally craved cake. But it’s late and I didn’t want to bake from scratch, so I cheated and used a box of Jiffy blueberry muffin mix. The sad part? It was pretty good. Not as good as blueberry boy bait, but relatively satisfying. And probably better for you in terms of fat and sugar content. Still… I think I am addicted to cake. I crave it more than I crave chocolate and even french fries (sometimes).

Does anyone else have this addiction? The boy just might. We should start a support group. Except then we’d all probably just exchange recipes and make things worse. Ah well. 🙂 There are worse things in life than being a little fat.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 25, 2010 4:42 PM

    Milk IS a condiment! I would love to visit your bakery….

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