As anyone who spends time around this blog knows, I’m not averse to baking for myself. I spend a lot of time with just the Little Furry Muse for company (this was even before the world as we knew it stumbled into uncharted territory. The last year and a bit really has been just me and her for the most part, which explains some things), and if I waited for company to bake … well, I’d spend a lot more on supermarket bakery cookies than I already do.
Of course, this can result in a baked goods excess. I have been known to parcel some up for neighbours on occasion, but as I never want them to feel awkward, or that they have to reciprocate, I try not to do it too often. The freezer is also a frequent friend when it comes to almond cake or brownies or bread (I bought a small chest freezer last year, ostensibly because I needed more room than the fridge/freezer had for frozen veggies and leftovers. Really it was because my sourdough habit was getting out of control), but quite often I will happily bake just for me. I see no reason not to. I like cake and cookies, and most recipes can be halved to be more manageable. If not, well, I just have to eat it a little more quickly, right?
But (as you also know if you’ve been hanging around the blog or on social media), I’ve been in New Zealand with my dad and his girlfriend for the last five weeks. It’s been a glorious trip, which has reminded me just how much I miss this country, as well as the people in it. The pandemic certainly made things feel a lot further away than they usually do. What was always at the back of my mind as nothing more than a couple of long flights to get home became a monumental trip. It changed the reality of living on the other side of the world entirely.
That, however, has nothing to do with baking.
What does, is … well, baking. Which I always do at least a little of when I’m back here. It tends to be a little entertaining, as we’re usually on the boat, with an oven that’s not exactly adjustable when it comes to temperature, and also usually up in Tonga, where, while you can (almost) always get flour, there’s no guarantee of what sort of flour it might be. I’m fairly certain it’s usually bread flour, as it’s sold in little plastic bags that it’s been decanted into at the shop, which is usually attached to a bakery. Quite often there are also inhabitants in said bags, but that’s just the reality of life in the tropics. They sift out. As for spices, or chocolate chips, or any other sort of addition? Well, it depends on the day. Maybe you’ll have it, maybe you won’t. It kind of suits my haphazard baking style.
This time, though, we’ve been ashore in New Zealand, in a little bach (holiday home) in the Bay of Islands. So there’s a rather more controllable oven, and shops where you can get anything you need, and while the weather has mostly been kind, there have been days where baking seems like an excellent option rather than venturing out into the wet. So I have baked. Cinnamon rolls, and scones, and porridge cakes, and chocolate cake, and Fat Rascals, and apple cake, and overnight bread, and an utterly glorious focaccia, which has been my favourite discovery down here.
Which has been lovely, because we’ve had plenty of good food to devour while the weather has been bad – and also while it’s been good. And I’ve still been working for a good portion of the day, and still running, and of course just having time with people I love. Which means I haven’t exactly had a lot of time to spend reading, or whatever it is people do on holiday. Stuff, I suppose. And I wondered the other day if I was using my time as wisely as I could. If perhaps so much time baking was not helpful, and could maybe be better spent.
But I don’t think so. Partly because I’ve always found baking to be therapeutic in a weird way – a form of creativity that gives instant gratification (as well as satisfying my sweet tooth). I get joy from baking. I find magic in seeing dough rise as the yeast does it work, all the little yeast beasts breathing life into flour and water. I love the alchemy of mixing ingredients, the delight when a new recipe works, even the consideration of possible alternatives when it doesn’t. I enjoy all this.
Over and above all that, though, is the pleasure of baking for others. Of taking bread still steaming from the oven and setting it in the centre of a table, just begging to be smothered in butter. Of slicing hefty wedges of cake to serve with cream, or watching sugar caramelise on top of fat coils of soft dough. Of doing all this, then turning around and saying, here. I made this for you.
It’s not about any expected appreciation for the act, or even about some sense of providing. It’s the simple fact that sharing food is a way of sharing life. This is true of meals eaten out as well as those made at home, but to cook for someone takes that sharing a step further. It’s an act of caring that doesn’t need to be spoken, love dressed up in rosemary and salt.
And in my mind baking is even more so, for the simple fact that it’s not necessary. It’s a treat, a decadence, an extra that we don’t need, but few of us would refuse. Here, we say. Let’s eat this together.
And nothing more needs to be said.
Other than, perhaps, please pass the butter.
Now over to you, lovely people – do you bake? Has anyone ever baked for you? What’s your favourite thing to prepare for others? Let me know below!
The favourite new recipes I tried are linked in the photos, but in case they’re not displaying properly:
- Easy Focaccia: Very quick and easy to make, with barely any kneading required. I made a full batch the first time, but as I only had a small tin it came out almost like a low loaf. Second time I halved it, which made it more focaccia-y and entirely delectable (also more manageable for three of us).
- One Hour Cinnamon Rolls: I’m weirdly intimidated by cinnamon rolls. I know I made a mincemeat version at Christmas for A Toot Hansell Christmas Cracker, and they came out amazing, but they still scare me. I tried this no-yeast version first off, which is a fun cheat’s one, but the one-hour version is easy, delectable, and so satisfying.
- Easy Crusty French Bread: I’m fairly sure my French friends would disown me for trying to pass this off as proper French bread, but it’s really good – no kneading, and no need to leave it overnight. Most yum!
bread, life, new zealand, recipes, travel, writer's life
I am definitely going to try the Easy Crusty French Bread! Always looking for another delicious and easy bread recipe, thanks! Been using Nadia Hussein’s no-knead soda bread recipe the last few times, but savoury not sweet as hers is, and its really good, but this one looks definitely worth the try.
The cinnamon-raisin no-knead bread I linked to earlier in the post is awesome too – it’s adapted from Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread, which is just foolproof. Or Kim-proof, which is even more impressive, really! But I did love that cheat’s French bread. So good!
I love fresh, homemade bread. My sister is the baker and cook in our family. However I plan to start baking once our honey do list becomes more manageable. I retired a few months ago and we’ve been tackling projects on and off our list, aside from an extended family visit in the spring. No knead will be my first project although I’d also like to try the foccacia bread. Thanks for the recipe links!
Ooh, having someone else do the baking for you is possibly even better… 😉 And be warned, no-knead is like a gateway bread. I was completely intimidated by anything yeast-based until I discovered that, and now I love bread-making. I even went as far as creating my own sourdough starter from scratch and going on to make sourdough baguettes!
But that focaccia recipe may be my favourite thing so far…
If I like you, I feed you. If I love you, I feed you constantly, all the yummies I can think of. Anybody else, hey, you know where the store is. Also, I was raised that it doesn’t matter how many people you expect for a meal; if the table doesn’t dip in the middle, you don’t have enough food. Cooking lets my mind wander a bit, I plan projects, plot out stories (no, I won’t ask you to read them), and work out the great moral quandaries of our time. Of course, reading is even better than cooking!
I love that one can gauge how fond you are of someone by how heaped their plate is 😉 That’s lovely, and I agree – cooking for someone can be such an act of love. I’m less invested in cooking – I’m happy making something quick and yum, but I don’t like to hang around with it. It’s just about getting food on the plate. Baking, however…
Those all look lovely! I’ll have to try them all. I LOVE baking and HATE cooking. I’d happily live on bread 😉 My mom taught me how to make her “Milk Bread” when I was a toddler and I never looked back. Bread is still my favorite item to bake, but I also love to bake all things sweet. It was wonderful when I worked because we could have a little and then share the rest. I’ve tried to back off some after retiring since the amount I like to bake isn’t really good for us or our waistlines 🙂 Our current fur child (it feels so strange to only have one cat, I’ve had as many as 6 before) also loves bread. Mostly the toasted crunchy crusts and we sit and munch them together happily. I must try that French Bread recipe…
I was so intimidated by bread for SO long, but I absolutely love making it now! Which is actually good, as otherwise I’d bake even more sweet stuff than I already do (which is a lot…). And I can thoroughly recommend the French bread – even if it’s not REALLY French bread, it’s very tasty and excellent with butter.
I love that your cat enjoys your bread too! Layla would if she could, but I think only for the butter. She’ll try and paw your plate off you to check for remnants…
Well after all bread is just a vehicle for butter 😉 Udi is the first cat I’ve ever known who doesn’t like butter. He only likes the crunchy corners 🙂 We try not to give him too much but he’s just so cute sitting by us waiting for a bite.
He’s obviously a cat of particular tastes! And I can’t imagine crunchy toast to be any worse than butter – better, probably!
Made the scones today and they are delicious! Though unsure if I messed up my measurements as the mixture was very wet and I had to add more flour? I was also trying to do the no-knead bread at the same time so that may explain it. Look forward to seeing how that turns out tomorrow…
Ooh, I hope the bread came out well! On the scones, different flours can result in a stiffer or looser mix, so it may just be down to your flour. I do find it’s usually fairly sticky, and I need quite a lot of flour on the board when I pat it out – I try and use as little as I can, but it just gets all out of control otherwise! As long as they were tasty, that’s the important bit 😁