Okay, maybe this is a little harsh since a cookie isn't actually alive, but don't your creations seem so sometimes? Our hearts are poured into baking, working at a balance of technique and aesthetic. And this year, I suspect that Christmas baking was more highly esteemed all around the world, due to our continuing restrictions.
Here is an art form that is highly underrated: home baking. Just think about a childhood birthday cake. Describe that in your head and recognize that it has a special place in your heart: Baked by love and kept alive by feeling loved. Or when you helped grandma decorate a cookie. That little creation was building relationship. It was a wholesome and sensual event: Working with your hands, creating texture, appreciating the colour and pattern, the smell of the spice, the loud crunch or soft squish as you tasted the molasses, orange zest or...? The hugs that followed carried with them the memory of this creative experience too. Did you ever walk into a mall and there in the centre was a display of gingerbread houses? Perhaps you were as fascinated with these as you are at an art show? I can be. What does home baking say about our culture?
Let's explore beauty in baking through history. Some early "proof" of beautiful baking appears to be 3000-1800 BC when a Semite (Syrian) made this clay mold for his bread or cake. And although it might not be something sentimental, it was possibly hoping for luck or celebrating some: Two casual goats and a lion taking down prey.
Often too, baking has depicted religious iconography...This is close to core values: expressing our devotion in a beautiful way and then eating it alive. For example, the Croissant represents the Islamic crescent and the Christian cross is scored and piped on steamy Hot Cross Buns. There are communion wafers to sacramental breads.
There are intricate European Prosphora bread presses that hold some serious symbolism in Greek letters: here, celebrating the life and finished work of Jesus Christ. And there is also the simple delicious pretzel, possibly originally called “bracellae,” (meaning “little arms” in Latin) from which Germans morphed into “bretzel." In the Middle ages, these were distributed to the poor, providing them with "both spiritual and literal sustenance." (wiki). Pretzels have since come to mean undying love.
Then there is just the pure joy and celebration of decoration. There are the obvious highly decorated special-occasion cakes in today's society to celebrate people, milestones and events (such as 30 million dollar cakes studded with real jewels), but let's not forget the our more humble cultural heritage baking too...such as the Mennonite Zwieback or "double-bun" for Saturday afternoon's Faspa. This bun is actually a feat of architectural and pragmatic genius and a thing of magnificent beauty demanding respect: Two buns in one, the top slightly smaller than the bottom and baked without falling over. (This is more difficult to achieve than one might think.) What cultural gems do you have and will pass along to your family and friends? What is your next artistic baking plan? Perhaps I have inspired you to pull out your Dutch cookie press.
Featured below, alongside my Mom's Zweiback and my baking endeavours, are cookie cutters made by my Great Grandfather in the early 1900s! (The top shape is a tulip although it will always be the Batman beacon light to me.) I think I might have to pull them off the wall and make some heritage cookies now! I can't think of anything better to do on the dark days of January, can you? Feel free to comment and share this post to encourage others to bake creatively.
Thanks for joining me on my meanderings. Happy Baking!