I’m a trained pastry chef, which sounds weird (to me), especially since I don’t do a lot of baking anymore. True, time is a factor…my efforts in the kitchen are much better allocated to creating healthy meals. But the cold hard reality is this: When you live in a two-person household, producing desserts that serve 6, 8, 10, 12 or more is likely to lead directly to a shopping trip to buy bigger pants.
Enter the holidays. I think I often baked desserts for family holiday gatherings even before I went to pastry school, but I’m definitely the designated baker now. That’s fine, because I enjoy doing it, and since I’ve chosen to stick with smaller pants, I don’t get to do it often.
Part of the joy…along with a dose of angst…comes from choosing the designated recipes. Yes, that’s recipes, because I am apparently programmed in such a way that I cannot just settle on one. That’s particularly true for the fall/winter holidays. There are just so many great flavors! Cranberry, apple, pumpkin, pear, walnut, pecan, caramel, ginger. That’s not even touching the good-any-time-of-the-year flavors like chocolate, almond and vanilla.
Making a decision is further complicated by the fact that I own so many luscious baking books. Truly. I went a teensy bit hog wild back when I was learning the art and science of chocolate, artisan breads and cakes. Naturally, I can’t give these books up, even though I seldom bake now, because many of them are barely touched, and all are so full of future possibility!
Unfortunately, so are my stacks and stacks of back issues of “Gourmet,” “Bon Appetit,” “Food & Wine,” “Saveur,” “Cooks Illustrated,” “Cooking Light” and “Eating Well” (separated by month so I can easily find the holiday-themed issues). Oh, and don’t forget the big, fat binders full of recipes I’ve been clipping from magazines and and copying from library books for years. (Jeff, you do NOT get to comment on this!)
It’s enough to make my head spin until I fall face-first into the bowl of my red KitchenAid mixer.
I decided this year that I will NOT be experimental in the least. I made a pumpkin bread pudding a few years ago that was really better on paper. A bit bland, in 3-D. So I chose a pumpkin-cheesecake pie (one layer of cheesecake, then a layer of pumpkin pie) out of my most trusty “The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion”and a delicious-looking apple cake (using four kinds of apples for a variety of flavors and textures) from my new (from the library) cookbook love, Dorie Greenspan’s “Around My French Table.” You have no idea how many cranberry recipes I had to let go to finally decide on these two! So unfair!