Don’t you love the cloud of steam that rises when you first break through the crust on a hot chicken pot pie? There is that soft hiss as the puff pastry resting lightly on the pie pan falls apart, or when the fragile buttery sheet of top crust is shattered. It is a warm and reassuring. Baking nurtures. Baking satisfies. We developed some survivalist baking skills during COVID, remember all that sour dough bread? This is the good creative stuff, that we can enjoy and share.
We are enjoying a respite between holidays and birthdays at the moment. Sometimes holiday baking feels like factory work, rolling out dozens of sheets of uniform, decorated cookies for Christmas. Now, in mid-April, when there isn’t any pressure, it is a pleasure to bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies on a Sunday afternoon. No one expects fresh, homemade baked cookies when kitchen gets too hot. This is shoulder season, between the cold of winter and the heat of summer. It is the time to pounce, and enjoy baking. Summer is lurking just around the corner.
The weather has been peculiar, as we all have noticed. I felt like the daffodils were up awfully early this year, because we had such a mild winter. But I went through photographs for the past few years, and saw that the daffodils have been keeping to a strict schedule. I was all ready for summer to descend on us last week, and then chilly winter rains roared back. Now is the time to enjoy some low pressure, recreational baking, before I start whining about how hot it is, and how I can’t bear to be in the kitchen.
Shoulder season is the perfect time to bake: low stakes, low pressure. Easter is behind us. Thanksgiving is months away. Let’s start with some chicken pot pie. Something warm and cosy for dinner.
There is no better time to practice working out pie crusts – when the weather is still cool, and there is no holiday meal panic. You don’t need to strive for perfection when you are baking in April, learning how to mix flour and butter with your fingers. You are building muscle memory. But if the siren song of the garden is too strong, some Pepperidge Farm puff pastry is a mighty fine cook’s tool, too. You will still get the gentle whoosh of steam in your face when cutting open a pie topped with store-bought crust. We embrace time-saving technology and innovations here in the Spy Test Kitchens.
Dorie Greenspan has lots of practical hints for pie crusts for fruit pies. Aren’t you longing for something sweet? Strawberries are coming into season, and they are always better with rhubarb. And we won’t be waiting too much longer for blueberries. You can extend shoulder season by baking fruit pies at night, when the kitchen will cool off while you catch up on Ted Lasso. https://doriegreenspan.com/recipe/blueberry-pie-a-lesson-in-piemaking/
Focaccia is simple and forgiving. There are no techniques you need to master, no fancy equipment. You just need flour, yeast , olive oil, salt and a little time. (This is a “gifted” recipe from the New York Times that everyone can read here.
You have to remember that it takes two days. You cannot read this piece and expect to turn around and bake a pan of it for tonight’s dinner. It takes two days of resting time, and two days of space in the fridge. I baked a pan last week, and we still have three more servings of focaccia in the freezer. We tore through the first quarter with sausage and peppers. Tonight we will have the second quarter when we have Martha’s famous One Pan Pasta, because the container garden has started to yield lots of fragrant basil and it is definitely feeling like spring outside. https://food52.com/recipes/30147-martha-stewart-s-one-pan-pasta
This is our favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. It is practically health food because it also has oatmeal as one of the main ingredients. It takes longer to assemble all of the ingredients from the pantry and the cabinets than it does to mix the cookie dough, so be sure to line them all up on the kitchen counter. It is another handy dandy recipe to mix up, and then only bake about a dozen cookies. I shape the rest of the dough into little balls, then periodically break out frozen balls of cookie dough to bake (at 375°F for 10 minutes) when we need a little treat. (And I hate to disappoint Dorie, but I use chocolate chips, I do not chop chocolate. Mr. Sanders has certain chocolate expectations and I don’t like to disappoint.) https://food52.com/recipes/78188-chewy-chocolate-chip-cookies
Slow down. Enjoy the spring sunshine, and relish wearing a light sweater at night. Start looking for fireflies, and listen for the peepers. A little baking is good for your creative soul if you can take your time.
“The place I like best in this world is the kitchen. No matter where it is, no matter what kind, if it’s a kitchen, if it’s a place where they make food, it’s fine with me. Ideally it should be well broken in. Lots of tea towels, dry and immaculate.”
― Banana Yoshimoto