Hello Bakers and Friends,
Welcome to the farm stand fresh issue of Betterrbaking.com, circa August 2020!
Although I’m not a summer person, August is one of my favorite months because as warm as it is, there’s an infinitesimal change in the air. Early into Leo’s domain, you notice that the sun falls into your windows in a subtle new way. Those bright yellow-white July rays have morphed into a gentle amber with hints of fall lurking behind its warm smile. The days may be hot but the dawns and sunsets are decidedly crisp. The echoes of soccer and baseball playoffs have a more ghostly sound as the parks darken sooner and the last hurrahs of the (socially distant) games are punctuated with van doors slamming shut as coaches, players and parents head back to their sheltering place. Once gone, the park lights turn off abruptly and what was people-filled is now a night scene from Field of Dreams.
August comes in like a lion
For me, August has always had a bit of relief in it. The balmy eighth month of the year is a hop, skip and a jump away from apples and cinnamon, cooler kitchens and the promise of banana bread and honey cake cooling on the counter. Besides which, I look better in cozy sweaters than tank tops and it’s a chance to break out my vanilla-kissed gourmand perfumes, carefully stowing away scents that are etched in florals and cool water. Ordinarily, I would be heading to a Bath and Body Shop to start my autumn candle collection and checking out hipster cafes with a good book to snatch up the last of the warm weather. Montreal’s Jean Talon or Italian outdoor market would be hosting me at least two mornings a week as I decided which corn stand I prefer, or which honey would end up in my Rosh Hashanah baking. But these days of course, things are different.
This summer and last summer, a tale of two Augusts
Around this time last year I went to a wonderful gym that had unlimited $7 yoga classes. I loved the daily habit which structured my writer’s days. After yoga class, I did errands in the area such as picking up country corn or refilling my spices at a bulk food stores. I had lunch on some patch of grass and then went onto Chapters (our Barnes and Noble) to work in their café, browse books and sometimes meet up with a fellow writer. At night, there was tango in the park. Via the yoga studio, I made some new friends for whom I hosted a Hanukkah tea as the months went by. Yet others from that same circle later joined my new book club at the local library.
Last summer I was in Niagara Falls, standing not just close to the foaming waters but alongside hordes of strangers, unconsciously bumping people here and there and not even thinking twice.
I would remind myself at the time: these times are so good, so special! Where else do you get a yoga center that is open 24/7, new friends, and a whole bookstore, rife with literature and the scent of brewing coffee which was my work-from-home respite? I knew then to treasure all of it because even I knew in my hands I was holding pearls. I’ve never been one to have to lose something to value it. That’s why I know that one day I will look to this August 2020 with its strewn surgical masks in the local park, the scent of hand sanitizer in my car, and the various Zoom Eventbrite coffee times, family BBQ’s (all of us spread out on the deck), and know I will feel appreciative down the road. Time, as it goes on, is like ripening plums, lacing memories with added sweetness, because over time, quantity becomes a quality of its own.
Did someone say cheesecake?
As I write this, I am doing an about face recipe-wise. I Googled the baking trends which is all about comfort baking. Pandemic baking has ignited collective adventures in sourdough, bagels, pita, banana bread. Even the recently heralded release of the Double Tree Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe has done its work in getting non-bakers baking. So I am fully aware it makes sense to continue in this vein, focussing on tried and true comfort baking along with seasonal things like preserves and fruit cobblers. But at the last minute in the BB test kitchen I went rogue. Instead, I’ve created some recipes that are comforting but also a little different and meant to engage your palate and lift your mood. These are unique recipes but made with pantry at-hand ingredients and all of them are easy, even the glamour-puss cheesecake.
Speaking of cheesecake, I ordered a bunch of $4 cheesecake pans on Ebay. I bought little sizes (6 and 7 inch) and I’m in heaven because I am making one-pound cheesecakes that don’t break the bank and aren’t meant to feed 24 people. I also use these pans for small sweet yeast things or mini babkas. I highly recommend you check out EBay’s bakeware offerings. Very often shipping is free (albeit it might come by a 3 month boat trip). Being at home so much these past months also made me look at all my other bake and cookware and reconsider. Little additions, little changes, sometimes it's good to mix things up. I hope to regale you soon with some new additions and/or changes I’ve made to my batterie de cuisine.
Baking 'before' and baking....'after'....
Like everything in 2020, August feels nostalgic, more precious and unique. The ‘me’ before the lock-down and the me (all of us!) of lock-down is almost a different person, certainly a different version. I’ll always remember the summer of 2020 even as I’m still living it; I’m mindful of memories being made in the most mundane moments. Those moments are at once strikingly real and present yet seemingly crystalizing into something else, like a bookmark in a book I’ll want to re-read at a later date.
So put on a mask and an apron my friends and come bake with me. I’ve knocked myself out with this baker’s stash because this issue, as all of my newsletters are, is for you. Wherever you are, however you are, whoever you are, we are indeed all in this kitchen together.
Warm wishes from my hearth to yours,
Author, Master Baker
Recipes for August 2020
Starbucks Raspberry Crumble Bars
Back in the day my local Starbucks served the most amazing oatmeal crumble fruit bars, usually made with blueberries. I replicated the recipe and now make it with peaches and nectarines but most often with summery blueberries.
Japanese Milk and Sugar Mini Buns
Tender little feather buns with a crunchy sugar topping – simply, outrageously good.
Burnt Orange Cheesecake
Luxury made easy and modest. This baby cheesecake is a stunner. No crust, just a pound of cream cheese and you have a sublime dessert that is a collision of decadence and elegance.
Big, bold, zesty scones that really are a meal. Pack them in a brown bag or picnic lunch!