Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fall Inspires Baking

Every fall, I get crazed for baked goods. Like no other time of year, dishes like baked apples, bread pudding, homemade muffins, and pies – glorious pies – scream my name. To me, a warm scone or bar on a crisp fall morning with a steaming cup of coffee sounds like pure heaven.

Ironically though, I rarely bake. I love cooking and do it almost every day, but baking is another story. I like to improvise when I cook, tossing in a little of this and a little of that. And if something doesn’t turn out, I can usually guess why. Baking isn’t like that. It’s a science – a formula is required, and I always hated chemistry.

Luckily for me, there’s a truly amazing bakery a few blocks from my house in East Nashville. Sweet 16th, A Bakery, is quite a treat. On a recent morning I stopped by on my way to work and indulged in a super-moist, heavenly-scented Autumn Pumpkin Muffin and a cup of Drew’s Brews coffee. I also grabbed a square of Lemon Blueberry Coffee Cake for a mid-morning snack. Other items for sale that day were Coconut Macaroons, Pear Almond Coffee Cake, Cherry Cranraisin Walnut Coffee Cake, Sweet Irish Coconut Cakes, Blackberry Oat Squares, several kinds of scones including Toasted Coconut Lemon Scones, Classic Chocolate Chip Brownies, an assortment of cookies and more. And that was just one display case. On the other side they almost always have several kinds of cupcakes, a Yazoo Stout Bread Pudding (to die for), and savory items like quiche, lasagna and mac and cheese to go. They also serve soup, salads and the Dos Papas (two potatoes) Burrito – a must try. Everything they make is fresh, flavorful and vegetarian.

Dan and Ellen Einstein own the place, and are really lovely people. They baked cookies for my wedding and have helped me out on many occasions with special orders for events. As I got to thinking about baking, I decided to call up Dan and ask him for some tips, thinking this cook might just try her hand at baking sometime soon. Here’s what he offered:

  1. Good ingredients matter, especially with flour, butter and chocolate. If you skimp, you’ll taste it
  2. Practice makes perfect – learn from feel and those around you who have baking experience. [The holidays are coming – make a date with Grandma!]
  3. Don’t get frustrated if something doesn’t work. Not every recipe he and Ellen prepares makes it to the display cases. Even recipes seasoned bakers have made dozens of times can fail.

Keeping his advice in mind, I decided to bake up some oatmeal raisin cookies on a recent Sunday. They were delish! When they were finished, I enjoyed them with a tall glass of milk on my patio as I watched the leaves fall – craving satisfied. Granted they may not have baked out just right – they’re a little bit tall – but they tasted great. The addition of banana in the batter made them super moist and gave just a hint of banana flavor. Will I bake more this season? Probably. But it’s good to know I’ve got Sweet 16th right down the street as a backup, just in case.

This post also appeared in the Tennessean.


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