I have always been an extremely enthusiastic cook; after all, I make my living as a food writer. But when it comes to baking? Not so much. I love that with more general cooking, there are no rules, really. I’ll start with a rough idea of what I want to prepare, then make U-turns and swerves along the way. While cooking is more of an art, baking is a science. Baking means precision and measurements and patience. I have no patience. I don’t consider devoting an entire day to making a layer cake a relaxing activity.
But that was before a pandemic hit the United States, my life was put on hold, and I moved from New York City back to my parents’ home in Dallas, where I am now living indefinitely. Now, my weekends are startlingly open. In need of activities to pass the hours, and with a kitchen several times the size of my one in Brooklyn, I decided to give baking another try.
First, I made the salted caramel apple pie from Four & Twenty Blackbirds, one of my favorite Brooklyn bakeries, using a leftover pie crust I found in my parents’ freezer from Thanksgiving. It took the better part of a Saturday. Slicing the apples really thin was a huge pain. But the pie rocked, and my parents each had three slices for dessert that night. Next, I tackled my boyfriend’s recipe (he’s currently at his parents’ home back in New York) for brown butter oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. I browned butter for the very first time (actually very easy, and not far off from making ghee). I took the time to shape the cookies into perfect circles and to sprinkle the tops with extra salt. Another win. The weekend before last, I decided to try a dessert that’s not technically baking but still requires precision and technique: chocolate mousse. Chocolate mousse looks easy, but there are all sorts of potential pitfalls—you could overwhip the cream or accidentally scramble the eggs. My friend Tejal had just written up a recipe in the New York Times for pastry chef Natasha Pickowicz’s chocolate mousse made in a blender, and she assured me that it was very hard to mess up. So last Sunday, I chopped up my chocolate, boiled sugar and water into simple syrup, whipped cream, and made a pretty excellent chocolate mousse. It was airy, light, a little bitter. Just perfect.
Then I realized two things: (1) There was no way my parents (despite their quick work on my pie) and I could finish this giant vat of chocolate mousse by ourselves, and (2) I had not left the confines of my neighborhood in a month. I am thankful to have a lot of relatives who live a short drive away, but I hadn’t been able to see them with the stay-at-home order. So my mom, dad, and I packaged up the chocolate mousse into separate containers and dropped them off at everyone’s doorsteps. We caught up briefly at a ten-foot distance. Seeing them made me feel hopeful in a way I hadn’t over the last few weeks—like there would one day be a time when we could actually go into each other’s houses. Until then, at least we could connect over a plastic tub of chocolate mousse.
On the ride home, my mom reminded us that it was bluebonnet season, and she had seen some on the way back from the grocery store a few days before. Being stuck in the house, I had completely forgotten. When I lived in Texas, every April, we, like almost everyone else, would drive along the highway until we found a particularly promising patch of bluebonnets, and then we’d take family photos.
So instead of going straight home, we passed the exit for our house and drove farther down Highway 183, admiring the bluebonnets and the Indian paintbrushes. For old time’s sake, we stopped and took a few photos. I had forgotten—both from quarantining as well as just living in New York—how amazing it felt to drive, and the beauty that is Texas bluebonnet season.
Before all this, I was constantly telling myself I needed to slow down without actually doing it. That weekend, I could finally appreciate why people derive relaxation out of taking the time to make dessert and share it with others. When I wasn’t pressuring myself to stick to any schedule, making a chocolate mousse felt meditative. It helped me understand that having time right now is a privilege. There’s no need to rush.
I don’t know when life will slow down like this again. But while I’m at my parents’ house, you’ll likely find me baking every weekend—something I never thought I would say. I really do think baking is kind of like bluebonnet season. You patiently wait for this fleeting pleasure, and when it comes, you realize that the waiting was well worth it.