The Simple Pleasures of Baking

The practice can be a salve for anxiety—or just a cozy way to spend a fall day: Your weekly guide to the best in books

An illustration of a cake made up of two books
Katie Martin / The Atlantic

To me, the true sign of fall isn’t apple picking, fuzzy sweaters, or leaves turning new colors. It’s the sudden urge—which typically emerges on sleepy weekend afternoons—to dig up a cookbook and start measuring and mixing ingredients for sweet treats. The practice can be a salve for anxiety and provides comfort in stressful moments. It’s also just really cozy. Plus, you end up with something delicious at the end—such as Alison Roman’s salted chocolate-chunk shortbread cookies from Dining In.

In addition to offering recipes, cookbooks can also be literary feats. The best ones offer context about what you’re preparing by delving into a dessert’s history or a region’s food culture. For example, Rudy Lombard and Nathaniel Burton’s Creole Feast outlines the pivotal role Black chefs played in shaping Creole cuisine; it’s the perfect reading companion for your next evening spent making pralines. Carol Field’s The Italian Baker contains not only the secrets to making breads such as ciabatta, but also references to religion and mythology that give readers a peek into Italian society. And Aleksandra Crapanzano’s Gâteau goes beyond recipes to make a bigger argument about how ease and simplicity define French baking culture. This type of learning both enriches the process of making meals, and turns you into a better and more knowledgeable cook.

If you want a soothing baking experience but don’t have time for cleanup, consider The Great British Baking Show: Contestants roll out dough, pipe cream into pastries, and are generally really nice to each other. Of course, you can’t actually eat their creations, so just make sure you have some store-bought treats on hand to beat the hunger.

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What We’re Reading

three nonpareils with faces on them

Jennifer A Smith / Getty

The rise of anxiety baking

“Young Americans’ long work hours might mean they’re less likely to come home every night in time to roast a chicken instead of ordering takeout, but many of them seem to have turned to weekend baking as a salve for the ambient anxiety of being alive.”

image of pralines cooling

Gerald Herbert / AP

The history behind one of America’s most beloved desserts

“Creations like the praline fossilize a history of black pioneering in this country.”

Carol Fields

Ten Speed Press

Remembering the Italian baking expert Carol Field

“Field brought a new rigor to historical background in a cookbook.”

illustration of three cakes on a red background

Getty; The Atlantic

The simple secret of French baking

“Having lived in Paris for many years as a child, I knew that the French bake at home far more than we imagine. But perhaps more important, they bake far more simply than we imagine, and mostly from a range of classics that lend themselves to seasonal riffing and improvisation.”

still from "The Great British Baking Show" depicting four people standing around a cake


The Great British Baking Show and the meaning of life

“To watch The Great British Baking Show is to believe that the average guy and gal can do remarkable things, that good nature is compatible with excellence, that high achievement will be recognized, that honest feedback can lead to improvement, that there are things to life beyond work.”

🎥 The Great British Baking Show, on Netflix

About us: This week’s newsletter is written by Kate Cray. The book she’s reading next is Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin.

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