Back in my Chicago-area baking days I used to like to go to trade shows, specifically the wedding shows where bakers would show up to debut new designs and test-market new products. Of course every bakery used the opportunity to shop the competition. The mostly-male proprietors of the family-owned shops would stroll around shaking hands and cracking jokes. The 1-woman-shop wedding cake bakers would scurry hither and yon, sneaking peeks. And then there were the pastry shop owners, usually women, with their culinary school minions in tow: also usually female, dressed matching toques, hair pulled back in neat little buns. They’d stop in front of each display where they’d press their index fingers to their lips and deconstruct each cake, every petit four.
I’d furrow my brow and think: that’s no way to live. You’re bakers! Have a little fun why don’t you?
I flashed back to those days while reading Hedy Goldsmith’s new book, Baking Out Loud. Now here’s a woman with real baking and pastry chops who can also laugh — at both herself and the self-serious world of fine pastry. Case-in-point the first fifty pages of the book, which are entirely devoted to childish pleasures. In them you can find recipes for only-slightly-adultified versions of Twinkies, Fig Newtons, Nutter Butters and other sweet lovelies that moms guiltlessly stuffed into Scooby-Doo lunch boxes in the 70’s (only the names have been changed to protect the trademark rights).
More kid stuff follows in the form of s’more brownies and peanut brittle, graham crackers, fortune cookies, lemon ice, and many, many kinds of bread pudding, the cinnamon bun version of which I can’t wait to try. Yes, there are grown up moments (after all, Goldsmith has a reputation as serious baker to protect): peach and blueberry crostata, panforte, coffee & toffee ice cream, olive oil gelato. She even lays it on a bit thick from time to time with out-there flavor combos (chocolate cake with coconut, cardamom & curry) and bows to the über trends (salted caramel ice cream, candied bacon). But those are a small price to pay for the romp through Baking Out Loud‘s marshmallow and fruit jelly fields.
No question, a lot of high-end cooks and bakers have been trying their hands at low-brow snacks the last several years, from Thomas Keller’s French Laundry coffee and doughnuts dessert on forward. What’s different here is that there are no insider tee-hee moments. Goldsmith’s delight is honest, her glee is real and her delivery is so…SO refreshingly un-ironic. For that alone she deserves a salute. For if you can’t revel in uninhibited, kid-like joy when you’re baking, when can you? Talk about a book that shows you how to bake! Get a copy.