Dear Friends and Fellow Bakers,
Happy February 2023 everyone and welcome to the newest issue of Betterbaking.com!
In this edition of BB, you’ll find some recipes of the moment, i.e. things I’ve been working on that suit this time of year that I thought you'd like as much as I do. In the BB Archives, there are also so many chocolate recipes in the that it’s hard to pick out a few but two of my favs are Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip Biscotti and Red Velvet Cupcakes.There’s also my Classic Vanilla Cupcakes. Of course there's cookies galore, squares, cakes and pastries so browse and find your own favorites. Also hopefully you can access this (you might need a NYT subscription) but it's a great feature in the New York Times about the come-back of bread machines. Read about it here.
I’ve also been working with L’Occitane on my beauty products journey. I thought I'd sleuth out more beauty products that are a bit more earth friendly and healthier for my skin. This is my first installment of that journey.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you’re aware that Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. I love baking for Vee-Day because my habitual and too-enthusiastic generosity gets camouflaged by everyone else’s who are also bestowing sweets.
I have many Valentine’s Day thoughts but this memory stands out.
Years ago I gave a talk on romance at a charming Montreal indie bookstore on occasion of Valentine’s Day. I’m not sure why I volunteered nor what my credentials were but it was supposed to be an encouraging presentation for thirty-something single women looking for their soulmates. Yes, whatever could go wrong with that sort of speech?
The focus was broad, aka: vague and mostly about keeping your own pathway and sense of self while searching or waiting for love. The main goal of the event was to help the bookstore push sales on the pretty journals and vision board books as well as soaps, lavender sachets, chocolate truffles, rom-com reads and poetry titles. Everything was set up on a little table with a pot of tea and lovely China cups.
Newly single myself at that time, I was thriving (although how single can you be with three young sons alongside you?) and madly in love with tango and my new life of possibilities. As the snowflakes fell softly outside the quaint windows, I must have babbled about utter nonsense but my heart and intentions were in the right place. It was a Jane Austen meets Nora Ephron with a dash of Wayne Dyer. It was meant to be a tonic against the ‘he’s not into you’ culture that was trending which was all about how to be lovable and appealing (by someone else’s playbook) in order to ‘find and keep’ love. In other words, if you found a way to walk on egg shells, you might snag someone else’s interest and devotion which of course, is a poor woman’s deal but one I’ve participated more than once until of course I didn’t.
About ten minutes in, one woman, about fifty or so, a travel journalist, who’d never married or nor had children but was in love with a divorced man with two teenage sons that wouldn’t commit to her abruptly interrupted me, saying: Excuse me but have you ever even been in a relationship? It sounds like you’re playing at romance!
I felt like she had struck me! I was totally ambushed especially with about ten single women pointedly waiting for my response. Rather than realize the woman was simply not nice (and why had she showed up anyway?) I felt like a counterfeit. Maybe she’s right – I am a sham, certainly anachronistic. It’s only when I got out of the bookstore and into the bracing February air, made my way to my car that I was able to regroup (not before calling my best friend and crying on the phone as the windows fogged up).
Of course I had been in a relationship! For goodness sakes, I had been married for over twenty years, argued about which dishwasher to buy more than once and produced three sons. It’s not like I hadn’t experienced any life at all. Since then, much time has passed and I’ve reclaimed something about that evening.
What I meant to talk about that night was about the dynamics of romantic energy (one step forward, one step back) and the meant-to-be-ness of what’s meant to be. If it’s ordained, everything in life, romance et al shouldn’t be a travail and things flow organically.
In those days, self-help gurus chatted a lot about doing this or that to make a man, or woman, your off-spring, a friend fall in love with you as if you could be something else of play people. Moreover, if you just envisioned hard enough, did enough affirmations and launched enough vision boards, you could manifest anything! This was offered with the ever-popular philosophy of ‘healing’ yourself so you’d be ‘ready’ for love to find you. That also begs the question: what are we all healing from? Life will have its way all of us and I’m not keen on the view of we’re all innately wounded or broken. There’s ups and downs and growth in-between. I suppose you can call the rest-up places after something our ‘healing’ times.
I do believe that love, like charity, does begin at home and from that center, amazing things can happen. Love is a magnet far greater than a Magic 8 Ball or a manifestation deck or all the rainbows we take as signs. The best thing about this journey to our various destinations is that the love already there inside you offers the joy as well as patience during the wait time. You just have to tap into it. The ‘little’ stuff before the big arrivals insures that none of it is ‘down time’. As for packaging yourself into something loveable, forget it. Like the song Hold the Line says, love isn’t always on time but neither does it drive a hard bargain when it’s the real thing. It’s kinder than you think.
Happy Valentine's Day, Happy Super Bowl, Happy healthy Heart Mont and happy moments between the big moments that you really need to be awake for and celebrate. Keep warm, bake often.
Warm wishes from my cocoa-dusted, crunchy-floored, sticky-countered, vanilla-scented kitchen to yours,
Master Baker, Author,Publisher
Free!!! Black Bottom Cheesecake Muffins
These are a collision of chocolate cake and cheesecake - all neat and tidy in a little four-to-six bite muffin. They can be made in minutes, last for days, and freeze well. Their marbleized appearance makes a great visual statement. This was one of my best-selling original muffins (or cupcake) that I made and sold on the Cuisine d'Or banner when I began as a cake entrepreneur in Montreal.
Costco-ish Orange Cranberry Muffins
I read about Costco Orange Muffins somewhere, maybe Bake from Scratch Magazine and had to create something! My Costco never had these luscious orange muffins but now you can make a batch of this citrusy, sweet treat to chase February away.
What amazes me about quiche is a lot. First of all it’s so easy but results in something beautifully elegant and flexible to serve (hot, warm or cold), as well as easy to make. The conundrum for me is for something so classic as a quiche, the recipes that exist are so varied insofar as the proportions of cheese to milk or cream are called for. This is my own definitive version and it’s very accommodating as far as variations go. You can add spinach or asparagus, ham or leave out any meat and fresh herbs. Quiche is a classic in France or bistros in my own city (Montreal) and trended in the 70’s in North American and I think it’s having a moment once again. Well deserved.
Angelic brownies that are devilishly rich! How can you miss. A perfect gift or treat to yourself because there are few things chocolate doesn't solve, if just temporarily.