Baking and its sweet rewards have a way of easing life’s pressures. The sensory pleasures of measuring, mixing, folding, and kneading can be a comfort and a reminder of all that’s right in the world. In her touching, open-hearted new book, The Joys of Baking, author Samantha Seneviratne muses upon loss and love, and tells the story of how she baked her way out of heartbreak after her marriage broke up. In essays sprinkled throughout the book, she conveys the deep happiness she feels when sharing delicious things with loved ones. And, of course, she provides the recipes for those delicious things. Here are four highlights excerpted from the book’s beautiful pages.
My dad drinks instant coffee that he first “brews” in the microwave and then dilutes with overflowing spoonfuls of condensed milk. As a youthful coffee snob, I turned up my nose and insisted that what he drank wasn’t real coffee. But as I’ve gotten older and become less of a jerk, I’ve realized that what’s cool doesn’t matter one bit when it’s delicious. My dad’s morning cup, supersweet and creamy with just a hint of coffee, is damn good. And now whenever I go home to visit my parents, I always ask my dad to make me one, too. It’s become our family’s version of a cozy mug of hot cocoa. This glorious coffee-flavored Bundt is more sweet than coffee and has a gooey, condensed milk glaze that you may have to resist eating with a spoon.
We couldn’t have been more than five or six years old. My friend and I were playing with her dolls in the living room of her house. Apropos of nothing, she stopped playing and looked at me. “My mom said that I shouldn’t marry someone that looks like you because if I do, our kids will look like you, too.” She had long, pretty blond hair and fair skin. My black hair, cut into a tidy bowl, framed my cocoa-colored face. I wasn’t quite sure what she meant, but I knew that her comment didn’t make me feel good. I didn’t have a response. I nodded in agreement and carried on with the dolls. I wanted the moment to pass, but I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want the playing to end. I let her hateful words recede into the darkness of her big house because I didn’t understand the larger picture. Neither did she, I assume. I didn’t know what to say then. But I know what to say now. I’ve made you these superdecadent, bittersweet Double Chocolate Rye Blackout Cookies, adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s aptly named World Peace Cookies, because sweetness beats hate. It turns out that brown is beautiful, and delicious too.
I was on my own in Paris, and I had spent the afternoon walking in Montmartre, dodging selfie sticks, looking for a bakery called Les Petits Mitrons. When I got there, I had every good intention of buying just one reasonable slice of its immaculate fruit tarts. But then I noticed the other customers. They all looked so content. I imagined that they had parties to get to, families at home waiting for treats, lovers to bestow gifts upon. Each one mirrored my loneliness back at me. I assumed I was the only person eating tarts alone, and I couldn’t bear the humiliation. “Je voudrais toute une tarte, s’il vous plait,” I stammered in choppy French. A 10-inch sugar-glazed shield against sadness. When I got home, I lay my tart on a cutting board and brought it out to the little balcony off the second-floor apartment I was renting. No party. No friends. Just me and my tart. For a minute, I let the self-pity wash over me. I hadno one to share it with. Then, I realized: I have no one to share this with! I sliced haphazardly at the edge and carved off a sloppy trapezoid, which I ate with my hands. I cut another piece from the other side and gobbled it down. The edges were crisp and chewy. The fruit dissolved in my mouth and slid down my throat. I left the tart. I came back to it. I ate tart for dinner. The next day, I wore my new Parisian bathrobe until two p.m. and sliced off pieces of tart whenever I walked by. Sometimes lonely is lucky.
Next time I notice the laugh lines that bracket my smile, I’m going to think of maple syrup. The American treasure should be rebranded a cheery symbol for aging. Maple syrup starts as sap from a sugar maple tree. It’s clear and thin. Fresh faced and fast moving. But youth is not the prime of its life. When it’s new and light, the sap has little complexity. Maple syrup only becomes sweet and luscious, bold and wise, once it has spent time boiling. It has to brown, thicken, and slow to become truly wonderful. Keep a close eye on the crust during the blind bake. The walnuts can push the crust from perfectly golden to unpleasantly dark in the blink of an eye. The cloud of whipped cream should not be sweetened. Not only does whipped cream have an excellent natural dairy flavor that can be muted by too much sugar, the pie itself is sweet enough.