Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Baker's Birthday

I spent the better half of my birthday, and the day before it, in the kitchen. That may sound kind of sad, depending on your own relationship with kitchens. But it just couldn't be avoided. When you're a baker, you make your own birthday cake. 

Okay, I can't speak for all the bakers. If I did this day in and day out, maybe I'd let someone else make it for me. Likewise, if I weren't quite so controlling, I could maybe let someone help. But it's more than that, I think. Baking a classic two-layer cake from start to finish was like my birthday gift to myself. I wanted to take my time. I wanted to get to know this cake. I wanted to own it. And I'm a little bit controlling.

This is a chocolate sour cream frosting. No butter, and the only sugar comes in the form of a bit of corn syrup. The frosting is sour, but it turned out to be pleasant in concert with the yellow cake. If I make it again, I'll replace some of the sour cream with more chocolate.

By 4 in the afternoon, we were properly acquainted. Then I made pizza.

In the past year I've gotten into homemade pizza. I had this one go-to recipe, not because I had any particular allegiance to it, but because I'd never bothered to search for others. Then I came across an article on the secrets to incredible homemade pizza in Bon Appetite. It starts with a no-knead dough of flour, yeast, salt, and water that rises for 18 hours. Yes! Eighteen! And that's pretty much the extent of it. The rest is the little things, like heating your olive oil with garlic cloves; turning your oven to its highest temperature and letting it heat for an hour before baking, then turning it to broil before the pizza goes in; using two types of cheese and crushed canned tomatoes; and finishing each out-of-the-oven pie with black pepper, sea salt, and red pepper flakes. It's intensified the way I feel about pizza, and it's quieted my affections for my favorite Minneapolis joints. Why go to Lola, Black Sheep, or Pizza Nea when I have in my possession the secrets to the smashingest pizza yet? It's a powerful feeling.

The food was incredible. And while the process was long, the final result was so simple: a few people around a table, eating blistered, misshapen pizza and drinking champagne. By cake time we were warm and rosy-cheeked from the food and the heat emanating from the kitchen. But as it goes with birthdays, the cake is cut and a slice is had by all, room or no room.

Okay, that may not be how it goes for all birthdays. But for a baker's birthday, surely.

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