I couldn’t help myself. There it was, staring at me from the Chatelaine.com homepage — 57 cookies! I’d gaze at that gallery almost daily, planning, plotting, assessing what was in my baking pantry and what was missing. Pucker up squares! Pecan icebox cookies with cherries! And I fished out my old 1996 Chatelaine chocolate cherry fruitcake recipe, an annual classic at my house around the holidays. Before I knew it, I was playing Tetris in my freezer, negotiating corners and spaces to squeeze in batches of cookies, bars, and fruitcakes.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m a baker by preference — while I can put together a good homemade tomato sauce, for me there’s little joy in chopping onions, ripping basil leaves, and stirring a sauce while I’m bracing for injury via an angry red splatter.
No, instead, the ritual of baking is where my heart is. It’s in my kitchen where I flip on my radio — I can’t bake without music or chatter on in the background — and start creaming batches of butter and sugar, stirring teaspoonfuls of baking soda into flour, marinating unnaturally green glace cherries in a rum bath. My pantry runneth over with 11 lb. sacks of flour and elastic-wrapped bags of nuts and chocolate chips. On my counter stray bricks of butter soften, waiting to get dumped into a bowl of sugar. At this time of year, my dishwasher is constantly full and my Tupperware drawer is always empty.
What is it about baking that I — and many of you — love so much? I didn’t grow up in a baking household. My mom isn’t a baker, so instead I call on the baking lessons I learned from my grade seven home economics teacher Miss Hart. (Did you know that two knives can stand in for a missing pastry blender?) I’m not a cookie-eater either so much—it’s rare that I actually sample what I bake, and instead I hand out warm cookies and bars to my family for their approval.
So for some further insight on why baking makes us happy, I asked a friend, Shannon Carroll-Wiedener , an avid baker who also runs the Burlington, Ont.-based cake decorating business Carpe Cakem! (Seize the Cake!). For Carroll- Wiedener, baking reminds her of growing up and is a source of comfort. “Baking smells like home,” she says. “My mother was a fabulous baker, and many of my happiest memories of her and I are connected to working together in the kitchen, making bread, rolling dough, icing cakes. Baking has a scent that is warm, so I think that people associate it with feeling cozy and content. I tell people that I never bake for myself, but that’s sort of untrue. I bake for seeing the pleasure it brings to others. I like seeing eyes light up when people walk into a room that smells like cinnamon, vanilla, or chocolate. It’s like seeing joy, hope, and excitement all at once.”
Maybe that’s it. Maybe I do it to tap into that cozy, homemade feeling that comes with baked goods, either presenting them or eating them. Either way, I’m not over thinking it. Instead, I’m planning out my next batch of Nanaimo bars.
What about you? What is it you love about baking?
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