My sister keeps a cupboard full of baking ingredients. One of her young daughters finds baking very therapeutic, so in moments of stress, out come the baking pans and the mixing bowls.
I am inclined to agree that baking is one of the ultimate comfort activities. Baking is not like preparing a meal. We all need to eat from time to time, so meal preparation is a necessity, though of course it can also be pleasurable. But baking is not essential – not when you can go and buy good bread so easily. I don’t think I would ever bake a cake just for myself, though I would cook myself a meal. Baking is a bonus, done for pleasure, comfort and that peculiar form of nourishment – not necessary but so sustaining – that comes from sinking your teeth into good bread or cake: maybe a bit stodgy, maybe a bit sweet, maybe chewy, crumbly, fruity, spicy.
Baking is also for sharing, and I reckon it also nurtures relationships. It’s an easy way of making people happy, and of getting a fix of appreciation and even admiration if you feel you’re running a bit low on either. And then there’s the generosity it encourages (or at the very least, the selfishness it challenges!): learning not to fuss if she’s got a bit more than me; letting someone else have the very last piece; letting someone else lick the bowl.
I’ve never been very successful with pastry, but I’ve had some hits with bread and cakes. One of my best ever is rhubarb and custard cake, inspired by the rhubarb crop in the garden in early summer. I only make it at that time of year. It is gorgeous – but, as well as healthy rhubarb, it is unfortunately also full of butter and milk. In my new slightly careful world, I may not be making it in the same form again.
However, the age of indulgence is not dead. Last weekend, it was soda bread – slightly suspect, as I was using up old sour yogurt (so not dairy-free) – but quick, easy, and requiring only ingredients that we almost always have in. Another recent innovation here has been apple cake, made with our windfalls as it’s a good way to use up the grotty ones. The liquid in the cake mix is apple puree, and you don’t need to bother to get the apple puree too smooth – it’s great with the odd lump of apple. This one is vegan – could be useful in our new co-housing life where vegans need to be catered for.
But the ultimate is the recipe I have provided a link to: chocolate and beetroot cake. Again, it came about because we had some beetroot in the garden to use up. You have to grate the raw beetroot, and on my first attempt, the final product had discernible lumps of beetroot in. It was still fabulous, though. Second time around, I hit on the idea of whizzing the grated beetroot up with the liquids, thus eliminating the lumps. Even though this time the cake sank a bit, it was, I have to say, fantastic.
It must be good for you, mustn’t it? All that vegetable content; ground almonds (good for calcium); no nasty fats, no dairy (I don’t use sour cream for the icing, just chocolate, icing sugar and hot water), the best kind of chocolate. Let’s just not worry about the sugar.
I can’t tag this post with any of my usual tags. I did wonder if baking is a “worthy” topic to blog about (since when did blogging have be “worthy”, I wonder!!) But as I said, there’s something here about comfort and nourishment and pleasure, and about my ability and willingness to do it for myself. I think we all need a bit of this as winter comes in. And maybe this year I need it a bit more than usual.