As winter closes in, the warmth of our kitchens seems to beckon to us and urge us in this month of November to start our holiday baking.
And whether it is something as simple as shortbread cookies or a traditional fruit cake or Chelsea buns or a confection that is a little more complicated to put together, thank goodness there are still those cooks who choose to bake their own goodies.
"Baking is so self-evident and so visual and technique-oriented that it's a shame a new generation may not have seen their mothers doing it in their formative years," says Marcy Goldman, a professional pastry chef.
But someone out there is baking. As her BetterBaking.com website attests, the Montreal resident has thousands of regular subscribers.
"I think for those who want to bake, the first thing is to find recipes that they know and trust," says Goldman, who has two new books out. "A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking: 10th Anniversary New Edition" and "The New Best of BetterBaking.com" have both been published this fall by Whitecap.
"To a baker, holidays are as much about holiday foods as they are about family," she says.
Goldman says that she believes it is the simple things that can spoil baking for some people.
"It is that whole belief about baking being scientific that scares people off," she says. "Or it can be something like an unevenly heated oven. I respond to that by suggesting stacking two baking sheets together with your muffin tins or cookies and that gives an insulated approach."
And Goldman is strident when it comes to quality ingredients, which is essential to the outcome of any baking project.
"There are no shortcuts or compromises," she says. "We are talking unsalted butter, not margarine, we are talking sea salt or kosher salt which is iodine-free and better tasting, and unbleached all-purpose flour."
Goldman adds that the best outlets for fresh ingredients like dried fruits, nuts, spices, chocolate and just about anything required for baking are bulk food stores which have a high turnover.
"And my KitchenAid (stand mixer) is the best appliance as well as a french whisk," she recommends. "But I won't use silicone bakeware because I don't like the finished results ... things don't brown well."
The type of french whisk Goldman is referring to consists of a series of looped wires forming a three-dimensional tear-drop shape. The wires are joined and held together with along handle.
Instead of silicone bakeware, she uses aluminum pans with parchment paper.
Finally, Goldman tells those who are new to home baking: "A bad effort is better than what is out there commercially.
"New bakers should try something simple and just ploddingly go through the process," she adds. "It may not be perfection, but it will still be pretty good."
She adds: "A craft like baking is nurturing, it's rustic and it's not a bad skill to acquire and reinvest in.
"I think baking is so old it's kind of new. Every time I bake it gives me a sense of well-being and a sense of such energy in the house you can't even describe it to people."
To learn more about her website and cookbooks, visit BetterBaking.com.