Greetings from F52 HQ

Comfort Baking: Why It's Important & How We're Practicing It

Inside the ovens of Food52 staffers.

by:
October 22, 2018
Photo by Rocky Luten

Food52 is not your typical office anytime of year (unless you consider perfectly art-directed bookshelves and show-stopping layer cakes coming out of the test kitchen typical), and that goes double for the holidays. We’ve got trees a twinkling and carols on repeat as early as October. Here’s what we’re up to right now.


Before I ever started cooking, I was baking. I remember that first attempt vividly: third grade, after school, a box of Duncan Hines yellow cake mix. I probably baked this while watching Sweet Dreams on Food Network, a 4 p.m. cooking show dedicated to desserts (Jacques Torres was on right after). Gale Gand's tagline at the end of each episode was, "And remember, there's always room for dessert."

I suppose it's why so many of us are attracted to baking: There's always room for it. Whether you're busy with work and life's pressures, or easing into the weekend with an indoor project—when the oven's on, all is good in the world. There are familiar pantry ingredients (flour, butter, sugar), specific measurements from which we're taught not to stray, and a promise of something sweet (or savory) to eat at the end. They say that unlike cooking dinner, baking a cake is an exact science. I find that there's an immeasurable amount of comfort in this. As Nigella Lawson writes in Nigella Kitchen:

I still feel that it is in some way the transformational element of baking that speaks so directly to us; it is, after all, a belief in the possibility of transformation, of perfectibility, that both Eastern and Western cultures share. It may sound absurd to link our basic, hopeful sense of human purpose to the "menial" act of whipping up a cake, but I know, I feel, that the link is there. Moreover, why disparage the menial in the first place?

This "menial" act, we here at Food52 like to call comfort baking. We may be hard at work getting ready for the holidays, but we also make sure to set aside time for baking because it relaxes us, reassures us that there are certain things in the world that just make sense. And it's not just in the baking that we find comfort, obviously. Is there anything more welcoming than knowing that there's a cake waiting for you on the counter, ready to be eaten with a cup of hot coffee or tea?


Here's What We're Comfort Baking These Days

Photo by Suzanne D'Amato

Suzanne D'Amato, VP of Content: I just made Tamar Adler's rosemary shortbread last weekend. So easy, yet the savory-sweet results are impressive. Also, the rosemary makes your house smell amazing.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I also can not wait for clementines, in order to make the Clementine cake from "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (pretty sure it the same recipe). Also forthcoming for holiday baking: marzipan (for stollen), stollen (for my office), pfeffernuße (for my grandfather), and sourcing Buddha's hand for homemade fruitcake. There's a sulfite allergy in my family, so we candy our own fruit; it really is easy, and the resulting fruitcakes taste radically, ridiculously better than using the red and green dyed commercial candied fruit. Since moving to "cranberry country" 15 (or 16?) years ago and receiving one from...someone (the real estate agent's wife? Mom's principal?), cranberry walnut pie has been a holiday attendee ever since. You know, I had been sad about the loss of summer in the upper Midwest. This article and little exercise in planning upcoming weekend baking sessions has me downright excited for cooler weather and seasonal ingredients: apples, pumpkins, cranberries, nuts-in-the-shell, Clementines, and Buddha's hand. Thank you, sir, for brightening an otherwise overcast morning!”
— liz
Comment

Ella Quittner: Food Writer & Recipe Developer: I've been baking with ALL OF THE APPLES. I know it's a cliche this time of year, but it's a cliche for good reason. I made a riff on a tarte tatin last weekend that I can't—won't—stop thinking about. I've already re-upped my apple stock for this coming week.

Emma Laperruque, Food Writer & Recipe Developer: I’m working on a pumpkin cream pie recipe this weekend.

Erin Alexander, Assistant Editor of Partner Content: Does mug cake count? I was desperately craving cake the other night and needed something. This white chocolate mug cake was both terrible and amazing. Amazing because it's so good and easy, terrible because I made it three nights in a row... And yes, that's a teaspoon of ice cream. I'm not an animal.

Dave Katz, Video Editor: Just fed my sourdough starter this morning for my first boule in a few months! (This summer was too hot to turn the oven on for that long.)

Jeremy Beker, Senior Software Engineer: We love making Alton Brown’s homemade pretzels. Easy and so good. They've turned me into a soft pretzel snob...

Hana Asbrink, Senior Lifestyle Editor: Weekends are for leisure baking, and focaccia-making is one of the most relaxing ways to pass the time. Dimple like you mean it.

Joanna Sciarrino, Managing Editor: Making another batch of Saltie's Focaccia this weekend!

Sean Lee, VP of People & Culture: My wife took my son apple picking a few weeks ago, and they baked an apple pie together with all the apples he picked.

Me: It's almost clementine season; growing up we always had a huge box of them sitting on the kitchen counter. Of course, I'll be making Nigella Lawson's easy/lazy/totally gluten-free Clementine Cake from her first book How to Eat. It's taught me that if I bake something sweet for myself on Monday, I can have it for dessert throughout the week. As well, there’s something oddly satisfying about boiling clementines whole and blitzing them—skin, pith, all—into a batter that bakes up gorgeously every time.

What are you baking this holiday season?

6 Comments

Sherry E. October 28, 2018
is something new? I am trying to read an article on the weekly email about a applesauce cake and the top forth of page taken over by an ad or some banner describing other articles, feed back from this reader is that it is terribly distracting and overwhelming and I do not wish to continue article or pursue the others-
 
Brenda M. October 28, 2018
I made Dorie Greenspan’s Lemon variation of her cheesecake this week for a coworkers birthday. It takes hours to finish but was fabulous. I can’t wait to make it again. Maybe one of her other variations. Last weekend it was zucchini bread, pumpkin bread and banana bread. Looking forward to making soft gingerbread cookies, apple spice cake and cranberry walnut tart.
 
liz October 24, 2018
I also can not wait for clementines, in order to make the Clementine cake from "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (pretty sure it the same recipe).<br /><br />Also forthcoming for holiday baking: marzipan (for stollen), stollen (for my office), pfeffernuße (for my grandfather), and sourcing Buddha's hand for homemade fruitcake. There's a sulfite allergy in my family, so we candy our own fruit; it really is easy, and the resulting fruitcakes taste radically, ridiculously better than using the red and green dyed commercial candied fruit.<br /><br />Since moving to "cranberry country" 15 (or 16?) years ago and receiving one from...someone (the real estate agent's wife? Mom's principal?), cranberry walnut pie has been a holiday attendee ever since.<br /><br />You know, I had been sad about the loss of summer in the upper Midwest. This article and little exercise in planning upcoming weekend baking sessions has me downright excited for cooler weather and seasonal ingredients: apples, pumpkins, cranberries, nuts-in-the-shell, Clementines, and Buddha's hand. Thank you, sir, for brightening an otherwise overcast morning!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 25, 2018
Wow, I love your holiday baking prowess! All things I love reading about (I read Christmas cookbooks for fun) but have never attempted. I love so much, for instance, that you candy your own fruit for fruitcake. Would be interested in the recipe for that cranberry-walnut pie if you have it.<br /><br />Thank you so much for reading, Liz. Great to hear from you.
 
Lori October 25, 2018
I would be interested in the cranberry-walnut pie recipe too! I also like making my own marzipan for Mandelhornchen (chocolate-dipped marzipan almond horns). I'm intrigued by the Clementine Cake recipe :)
 
Shayna October 28, 2018
If love to hear more about the pumpkin cream pie recipe! All your cream pie combos seem perfect but I think I’ll try something different to up the ante on the traditional pumpkin pie for thanksgiving... this gave me an inspired moment!