I Bake Therefore I Am
An ode to my mother on Mother’s Day (although to her credit, my mother hates Mother’s Day)
It occurs to me that I’ve been baking for nearly as long as I’ve been designing…but without the same 10-hour-a-day fervor. And though I’d rather be recognized as a Cristina, The Really Good All-Round Cook, I think I’m more known amongst my friends as a dessert-maker.
It could be the lack of competition. No one tends to take a day to bake when they can run to the neighborhood bakery, and there are many in Los Angeles, and just pick something up. But honestly, and not to toot my own horn, those bakeries usually fall short in everything but presentation (unless it’s Susina; that’s of another class).
Back to my baking history: My mom, a really good all-around cook herself, always indulged my baking quests. As a kid, I think baking was my way of getting one past her. She’d never stock the pantry with chocolate chip cookies (which was cruel) but she would buy the raw ingredients and allow me to bake them myself (because it was creative).
Mom also had a set of New York Times cookbooks from the 60s that I browsed regularly. I have a very fond memory of her relenting to my pleadings to make some incredibly complicated lace cookies that involved candied oranges. I also recall the night I kept her up past 1AM (and she was certainly a working gal), to supervise a fairly time-consuming chocolate soufflé for my French class.
When I had a semester in college with a light course load, I decided I would master Intermediate Baking Without Mom’s Help, starting with several batches of cookies and culminating in a cake from scratch for my friend’s birthday, all of which came out curiously flat, as did my Baking Ego.
I called my mom to express my Baking Depression to which she quickly responded, “Did you check the expiration date on your baking powder?”
I’m probably drawn to baking for the same reasons I’m into design. It requires type-A precision coupled with a bit of artistry. But baking is also in some part alchemy; you can do everything just right and it still fails. On the other hand, when something comes out of the oven beautifully, you feel like a million bucks, as if the gods (or Mom) are on your side.
Here’s my top five baking all-stars that, plus or minus a little alchemy, never seem to fail me:
1. Mom’s Key Lime Pie
2. Mom’s Flan
3. Lemon rosemary shortbread cookies (Mom’s favorite)
4. Apple caramel tart (cos I still can’t make a pie top the way Mom can)
5. Plum galette (which Mom recently added to her repertoire)
If prodded, I might be willing to give up recipes and Mom Tips.
Mom’s Key Lime Pie is always in demand…