After a good many years working in the food service industry, in the kitchen searing my eyelashes together opening the hot oven, making whipped cream from scratch 12 times a night, smelling like cheese, going home with french fries smashed inside the soles of my non-slip (why and I still slipping?) shoes… I’ve learned a few things. First, everything on your body will hurt and that’s how you know you’re using all of your body and heart to make food for people to love. Second, you know it’s going to be a good night when 4:30pm staff meal has steak in it. Third, the best meal, the very best meal you’ve ever eaten in your life is that grilled cheese that your roommate made you after you get home from a long shift. While it may be a little burnt on the one side, it’s melty just right, and you’re sitting down and YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO MAKE IT YOURSELF.
Food service people can be the harshest, most grippy critics, or they can be like… ‘please put mostly fine food on a plate because I don’t have the energy or equipment to sous-vide or saute, rest and rise, pipe, fry or bake… and don’t be too too rude to me but even if you are, I’ll still tip you well because I know that you too have non-slip shoes that still slip, and you’re tired, and you don’t know that I know’.
The food that I didn’t stand, stir, contemplate, and bake is the best food of all. Even if it’s just a turkey sandwich. Someone please make me a turkey sandwich. I’ll take it with as much mayo as you’re giving… but I also won’t be choosy.
Here are the five things I don’t bake at home because I think they’re best when someone else’s precise and loving hands, their hot hot ovens, and their tender loving care… all that, is there… man-alive it tastes better!
• Macarons are delicate almond and egg white sandwich cookies. They take some determination and patience and a bit of a perfectionist streak. I think it’s the perfectionism and focus that makes them extra special. I prefer to splurge by the boxful, very occasionally. Luxury, for sure. For the very good among us, a Step-by-step Guide To French Macarons.
• Here’s what I’ve found with baking: the fewer the ingredients, the less fat, the more likely I am to fudge up a recipe. Fat from eggs and butter add a generous amount of forgiveness to a recipe. Baguettes, beautifully crusty French bread, is made with four simple ingredients: flour, water, yeast, and salt. The way to a dreamy baguette is in yeast development, shaping, scoring, aaannndd and extremely hot, steam-capable oven, aka: often best from a bakery. For the eager and bread among us, Food52 has a 4-Hour Baguette recipe, or… if you’re in New Orleans: Bellegarde Bakery.
• In the same way that baguettes need time, love, and a really hot oven… good thin crust pizza is an elusive animal at home. I find that the best way to enjoy pizza is sitting on my butt, stating my pizza order to someone kind enough to make one for me, and promptly drinking two glasses of lambrusco. Or.. grilling a pizza is the at home move, if you have a grill and maybe someone to grill for you (ideal). (Am I lazy?) (Rhetorical.)
• Have you ever had a perfect canelé? They’re the ideal amalgamation of caramelization, crunch, chew, and soft custard. They’re perfect baking science and my eyes go wide at the thought of making them really well. I think they’re tough! A few years ago Chez Pim told us all about it here. The perfect canelé is nearly burnt… so very close to being burnt brown on the outside, while soft, custardy, but not too airy on the inside. I’ll take mine by the three-ful from a professional baking case, and eat them too fast with too much coffee and pretend I’m in a Maybelline commercial. (Born with it.)
• Layers of flakey, airy, buttery crust, filled with dark chocolate, and topped with just too much powdered sugar. This is the Chocolate Croissants. Homemade is possible, sure… but ordering a dry cappuccino and eating a chocolate croissant while reading a good book alone on a Saturday morning. In New Orleans: Gracious Bakery. In San Francisco: Tartine Bakery (Amen!)
What are your must-buy baked goods? Follow-up: Are you free this afternoon for a coffee and croissant date? After our turkey sandwich.