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.
OMG yes. I worked in the food industry for about 5 years up until just recently and this rings 100% true. ANYTHING anybody makes for me that I don’t have to make myself is the most delicious, satisfying, appreciated food in the history of ever. The irony is that people are always afraid to make you food or don’t think to make you food because they 1) assume that you have exquisite tastes and will judge them or 2) think that it’s your job to make the food because, well, that’s your thing!
You are my favorite and your blog makes my heart happy! Merry christmas!
Malinda Frances Knowles
those macaroons look ridiculously good
I agree with thin crust pizza, but lambrusco? Really, now, you can do better.
Clearly you’ve never had good lambrusco.
I’m with you on most things here, especially the baguettes and macarons. But the code for homemade thin crust pizza can be cracked if you invest in a baking steel. It’s a 15lb slab of steel that goes into your oven and gets hot as hell and then the pizza is baked directly on top of it. Total game changer!
Good to know!
Macarons, although I am an about to be college graduate (2 online classes and done in December!), so I get the cheapo $5 for a dozen ones at Trader Joe’s- Still totally delicious. Although I am about to start my first “big girl job” (!!) so perhaps I will also very (very, very- college loans are expensive things) occasionally splurge on the real deal.
Croissants… and I would have thought chocolate babka, but I just made it and it is magically easy at home (thank the lord for Smitten Kitchen!).
I have yet to try a canelé, but I desperately want to.
For what it’s worth I make my own pizza dough all the time and I much prefer it. It’s true that you cannot get enough heat in a domestic oven for that wonderful wood-fired feel, but here’s the secret: you can cook the base on the griddle or frying pan, which gets much much hotter than your oven, then add your sauce and toppings and finish it off under the grill to melt the cheese. And you just need an hour for the first prove. You can use the dough hook attachment on your mixer if you have one and you prefer not to hand-knead. Super easy and amazing. Then again I have made my own macarons, baguettes and croissants before too. Normally I would buy them, though. You need TIME for those things which is a luxury I rarely have!