I am on a baking bender this month, which, as far as benders go, has to be the most enjoyable kind. There is something so soothing about baking, which means I’m drawn to it most when I’m busy, as I have been lately, as a sort of relaxation exercise. I love to cook but the strictness of baking makes it a much calmer process. And you end up not only more zen-like but with a delicious cake to hand. The very definition of a win-win situation.
Last weekend, I was using up mammoth zucchinis and turning out perfect zucchini loaves studded with walnuts and currants and delicious, chewy shreds of coconut. This weekend, I turned to my favourite baking fruit: the Italian prune plum. The local plums have just started appearing in stores and while some are still a bit too firm to be perfect for eating they are ideal right now for baking. Rather than turning to one of my tested plum recipes, I tried Dorie Greenspan’s Dimply Plum Cake (recipe via Luisa Weiss). It turned out perfectly. The smell of the cooked plums is almost better than the taste of the cake itself. Almost.
Since it is impractical to bake all the time (at least without having a team of hungry rugby players to hand to eat the results), I’ve also become a bit baking-mad in my reading and television watching. Last weekend, while baking the zucchini bread, I read Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan, a delightfully frothy little novel about a young woman who opens a small bakery. Issy Randall grew up in her grandfather’s chain of bakeries and has always been a favourite with friends, coworkers and even the people who stand in line for the morning bus with her for the wonderful cupcakes and treats she bakes and shares with them. When she loses her job and a small storefront in her neighbourhood becomes available, she takes the plunge and decides to open her own bakery. This is 100% wish-fulfillment fantasy, which made it perfect for a lazy early morning read. I particularly enjoyed how Issy’s story was complimented by those of the people around her, whose lives were also impacted by her decision to open the bakery.
To fill the great big Mary Berry-sized hole in my life as I wait for the new season of The Great British Bake Off to start (only a couple of days now!), I have been watching The Great Australian Bake Off. While the America riff on the GBBO was dire and best banished entirely from the memory of those unfortunate enough to witness it, this Aussie version has been wonderfully fun. It feels louder and younger than the British version and, in earlier episodes at least, we get to see more of the participants’ shenanigans but the set styling and format is very familiar. And it has the marvellous Dan Lepard, whose recipes have never failed me, as one of the judges. It is the semi-final this week and my two favourite bakers (Maria and Monique) are still the in the running. Has anyone else been watching?