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Why We Bake

The other night my son Charlie was hanging out with me in the kitchen while I baked. He had just come home from a ski race and was skiing around gates, if you can picture it, through the kitchen.

I asked him, what’s your favourite thing about ski racing? The SOUND, he said, eyes bright, as he motioned hitting gates out of the way with his forearms.

Thwak. Thwak. Thwak.

I get it. I love satisfying sounds too, especially the many sounds of snow. There’s the swish under skis. The crunch underfoot when the top layer is frozen. Or the or squeak when the snow is dense and dry. Then there’s the sound of silence when snow falls, muffling the ground with a layer of white. Quiet action.

Cutting into meringue sounds like a step into a frozen layer of snow. Smashing hard caramel with a mallet to sprinkle into brownies feels like a boot hitting the crunchy, frozen edge where ice hits the sidewalk. Spreading marshmallow icing sounds like a snow angel – swoosh and slather, with the splat of a snow ball. When it hardens, the surface cracks like the thinnest ice.

It’s so good to stop and notice.

Episode 24 of The Food Podcast stars Claire Ptak-  a Californian born chef, food writer, columnist, podcaster, collaborator and owner of Violet Bakery in London. My favourite part of the episode is when we dive into the question of why we bake. We do it for love, to release stress, to find order in the disorder… if you jump ahead to minute 20:44, you’ll hear from British psychotherapist Julia Samuel, a guest on Claire’s podcast, Violet Sessions, exploring the connection between baking and stress relief with Claire:

“So often if your internal world feels unknown, and messy, putting sugar and flour and butter and all those extra eggs together, it makes a beautiful cake, but you can find not perfection but beauty, which is not always what you feel about yourself.”

A fork positioned on top of a Violet Bakery chocolate cupcake slathered with marshmallow icing and a sprinkling of coconut slides through without a sound. As it travels down through the crunch of coconut and spring of marshmallow, olfactory bursts of chocolate are released. More quiet action.

There are so many layers to a cake, more than we know.

Beauty in the moment, beauty in the finished product, beauty in yourself, beauty in your children.


Charlie skiing

Marshmallow Icing from the Violet Bakery Cookbook
…as pictured below on chocolate cupcakes with a sprinkling of large flake coconut on top. 

Makes enough for 24 cupcakes

3 egg whites
450g caster (white) sugar
120ml water
1 1/2 tablespoons golden (corn) syrup
a pinch of salt
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out (optional)

Have your electric mixer with the whisk attachment at the ready.

Measure all the ingredients into the metal bowl of an electric mixer and place over a pan of boiling water (do not let the water touch the bottom of the bowl or it will cook the egg whites). Whisk continually until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is very warm to the touch. If using a sugar thermometer, whisk continuously for 2 minutes or until it reads 70°C -75°C, whichever comes first. Transfer the bowl to your electric mixer and whisk on high speed until nearly-stiff peaks form.

Put the icing into a piping bag with a large round nozzle and pipe large blobs on to your cooled cake or cupcakes (I just spooned it on). Add edible decorations of your choice.

The Violet Bakery Cookbook

PS – This icing is delicious slathered over Stout Ginger Bread.