The Gift of Baking
December 17, 2007
I never tire of baking. When I used to have spare time (which would include time for Holidailies) in my twenties, I’d bake up tins of holiday cookies for special people in my life and give these as Christmas gifts. Every recipe was lovingly chosen, delicately placed on frilly doilies in the tin, and sealed with a decorative ribbon. One year, I even drew, by hand, a legend with descriptions of each cookie, like you’d get in a box of chocolates.
It made me happy to carefully set out my ingredients, plan the recipes, measure and stir and scoop and time and bake and inhale the aromas as they escaped in little bursts from the oven: cinnamon, and chocolate, melting; coconut, fresh ginger, overripe bananas; peanut butter, and other nuts–walnuts, hazelnuts, or cashews, toasting slowly and evenly, before being chopped and added to a variety of doughs.
When I was done, I’d have dozens of rounds, bars, brownies, balls, squares and cutouts to share with friends and family. These days, I’m lucky if I can whip together a coffee cake or batch of brownies for our own consumption. Mostly, these days, I bake for other people, or I experiment with recipes that will ultimately also be offered to others.
In many ways, this is a good thing. Knowing that the baked goods are going to someone else, someone who wouldn’t otherwise be able to enjoy a sweet treat, always makes me feel good. And when, in particular, I’m able to bake up a birthday cake for a child with food intolerances and hear that this is the first birthday cake s/he has been able to eat with friends since birth, well, it’s sometimes enough to bring me to tears. (True, long distance telephone commercials also bring me to tears, but still.)
So yesterday’s agenda included several baked goods, none of which we would ultimately eat. I did have fun decorating the birthday cake, though, and was able to complete two Berry Crumble Cakes (coffee cake dotted with mixed berries throughout and topped with a crumble topping), one for a customer and one for our house, so that my HH could at least enjoy a slice with his morning coffee.
Wish I had a decent camera (or would that be “decent photography skills”?) so that I could show these desserts properly. The berry cake is moist, dense, and really yummy, sweetened with agave and made with whole spelt.
But the chocolate layer cake is my favorite, not merely because it’s chocolate and tasted delicious. After tinkering with varied and sundry permutations of an agave-based frosting, I finally came up with this one, pictured below on the chocolate cake. Its consistency is thick and rich, and–what’s best–it can be stirred, refrigerated and brought back to room temperature repeatedly, piped, swirled, or whatever else you wish, and still retain its soft, smooth, creamy texture. I think of it as my gift to all those kids on their birthdays.