The Joy of Baking

Sharing baked goods with your friends and neighbors is a great way to feel connected or make new connections.

(Pamela Honsberger, a family doctor and director of physician engagement and leadership development at Kaiser Permanente in Orange County, California)

Thankfully, Thanksgiving is past. Don’t get me wrong. Dinner was awesome. Turkey. Gravy. Buttered Green Beans. Creamed Spinach. Candied Sweet Potatoes. Jellied Cranberry Sauce. Cranberry Sauce in Grand Marnier with Ground Ginger and Candied Ginger. Homemade Dinner Rolls. Pecan Pie. Pumpkin Pie. Cherry Pie.

Far more important than the dinner, though, were my guests. Friends chose to give up Thanksgiving in their own home to spend the day with me in my mountain home. And they brought a new friend who also chose to spend the day with us rather than in his own home. I was truly honored by their company. (Thank you, Frank, Barb, and James!) And isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about? Being with friends and loved ones in a communal celebration not only of good food but also of life’s beyond-measure blessings. How incredibly important it is to slow down on at least one day of the year to give heartfelt thanks.

But now that it’s past, I’ll return to my regular baking once again. The Jamaican Black Cake that I’ve been working on for weeks will take center-stage. The dried fruits–prunes, dark raisins, golden raisins and cherries–have been soaking in 140 proof rum and port (equal amounts of each) for several weeks now. I may very well undertake the bake this weekend. I have never baked a Jamaican Black Cake before, but last year my Strasburg (Virginia, not Austria) correspondent shared a New York Times article with me about Jamaican Black Cakes. This year, I am filled with joyful anticipation of the soon-to-happen bake.

I have been an incredibly busy baker this entire year. Muffins. Scones. Bread. Fruitcakes.

What prompted my baking frenzy was simple. I resurrected my love of sourdough, and I created a culture of my own using nothing more than flour, well water, mountain spores, time, and patience. No doubt you remember my “Oh, No! Sourdough!” (If not, this would be the perfect time to read it, right after you finish reading this post.)

I’ve had lots of fun with the sourdough muffins. I like big ones, and mine are bakery-style jumbo muffins. The Morning Glory Muffins proved, perhaps, the most popular, followed by the Triple Chocolate Muffins. But the White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Muffins were favored by many people. So were the Lemon Blueberry Muffins and the Banana Blueberry Muffins. Several muffin aficionados even claimed that my Banana Blueberry Muffins were the best they had ever had during their extensive world travels. (Being a suck-up will get you more muffins every time!) Most recently the Pumpkin Muffins have been winners, only to be outdistanced by the Triple Ginger Gingerbread Muffins.

I’ve baked about 43 dozen or so of those jumbo jewels, and I’ve shared them with students, colleagues, and neighbors.

The Sourdough Scones were a huge success, too: Banana. Banana Blueberry. Apple.

I baked about 7 dozen or so in small batches, shared exclusively with friends and neighbors.

Sourdough Bread is up next! You just can’t go wrong with regular Sourdough Bread, that is until you try Multi-Grain Sourdough. But, then, Parmesan Black Pepper Sourdough is a fierce flavor contender.

I baked about 34 loaves of Sourdough Bread, and I shared them with colleagues, friends, neighbors, and even strangers who became fast friends.

As for sourdough cakes, I baked one: a Chocolate Orange Bundt Cake.

It was so delicious that I ate the whole cake all by myself without sharing. I suppose, however, that I am sharing simply by mentioning it here and by declaring its deliciousness.

But I baked lots and lots of fruitcakes. No, not Sourdough Fruitcakes. I’ll be foolin’ around with those next year. I’ve found a few recipes.

This year I stuck with my mom’s fruitcake recipe that she perfected during 70 years or so of baking. Her fruitcakes were legendary and the best, ever. You may remember my “In Praise of Fruitcake.” (If not, this might be the perfect time to read it, but not until you finish reading this post.)

One year my mother baked 34 fruitcakes and shipped them to her friends all across America.

I didn’t bake that many, but I am super proud of the 16 fruitcakes that I baked this year.

Let me tell you a little bit about them. I know–and you do, too–that I teach English. But when it comes to math, I know all the numbers (plus the secret ingredient) for the 16 fruitcakes that I baked this year.

This is when I need a drum roll. (Great! Someone heard my plea and reached out. That might very well have been the most melodious drum roll that I have never heard. Thank you!)

So, with no further ado, here’s the moment you’ve been salivating for. Here’s what went into those 16 fruitcakes: 24 pounds of candied cherries; 16 pounds of candied pineapple; 16 pounds of golden raisins; 16 pounds of pecans; 16 pounds of butter; 16 pounds of flour; 9 pounds of sugar; 98 eggs; and 1 gallon of peach brandy.

All right. That’s as much as I am willing to divulge. The special proprietary blend of spices is staying right here with me in my kitchen.

I will tell you, though, that most of the 16 cakes are bespoke. Most of them are gifts. However, I have set aside a few to share with people who don’t even know they need a fruitcake yet. Won’t they be surprised!

I imagine that you’re thinking that I must be exhausted from all this baking. I’m not. The various joys of my bakes far outweigh the weight of their ingredients.

Here’s why. So many other things go into baking. Planning. (I sometimes plan my bakes weeks and months in advance.) Research. (I love the research angle and find myself running culinary reference just as my mother ran Biblical reference. Right now, I am researching Sourdough Stollen and running reference on all the various recipes.) Anticipation. (As I pitted cherries last week for a pie that one of my Thanksgiving guests requested–halfing one half of the cherries; quartering the other half; that was not his request; that was simply part of my perfect-cherry-pie recipe–I stood at the kitchen counter joyed beyond the tedium, simply anticipating Frank’s first-sight and first-bite reactions.) Performance against Plan. (Do the bakes measure up? Most times, thumbs up. Sometimes, thumbs down. Sometimes, a trash can is a baker’s best friend: it accepts and never tells. Trust me. I know.)

But at the end of the day and at the end of the bake, the greatest joy of all the many joys of baking–the joy that always rises to the top, for me–is simple. I can share it with you in four words:

The joy of sharing.

Actually, I can share it with you in one word:

Sharing.

6 thoughts on “The Joy of Baking

  1. Such a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing! I am so glad you had a wonderful Thanksgiving with great food and great company. Other than the safe space to share and the gentle feedback, I will admit that it was the baking I looked so forward to each class. The anticipation of what you would bring, getting to have that first bite – such joy and always a thumbs-up from me! I don’t know about fruit cake as I’ve never really been a fan (I know, I’m sorry), but I do know that someone is getting ready to celebrate at the end of December – finally receiving a degree. Wink, wink! :D I kid, especially since that is also near a time that you are not allowed to bake because you can’t bake for your own party. ;) I do look forward to reading about your sourdough journey!

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    • Thanks so much for your kind comments, especially for remembering the “safe zone” that I always guarantee in class!

      Heartiest congrats on earning your Master’s Degree! I rememeber your FAV cake, and, indeed, I will bake one for you when the 2023 semester begins!

      I am so happy for you! 🎆

      Like

  2. I am still at the top of the post and haven’t read beyond that, but I have to leave a comment here, LOL! I laughed so hard when I read “Jellied Cranberry Sauce. Cranberry Sauce in Grand Marnier with Ground Ginger and Candied Ginger.” Um, are you still psychologically scarred from the “cranberry sauce” you had to buy? :-P

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    • Dear Wired,

      You have taken me to new heights! I have never had a reader–wired or otherwise–pause at the beginning of a post to make a comment! I love laughter, and I am glad to know that my Southwestern Frontier Humor based on exaggeration works! Thank you?

      Scarred? Never. He may never say so, but I believe that Fr–k liked my boozed up sauce better than the jellied! 👍

      Like

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