No, this is not another recipe post - rest assured! I have not suddenly turned into the German baking version of Julia Childs.
Baking for me isn't so much about the final product, but about the emotional need that the act of baking fills for me. As a matter of fact, I don't even eat cakes or cookies.
I know, this is usually when I get some level of incredulous reaction (e.g. blank stares, bewildered frowning of facial structures). Who doesn't eat cakes? Well, I don't, but I love making them.
The plethora of baking shows and, yes, you've guessed it, baking blogs, is astounding. Actually, there are blogs about baking blogs, "11 Baking Bloggers Who Will Help You Improve Your Pastry Game" or "The 12 Best Baking Blogs You Should Be Reading," to just name a few.
Baking connects me with my childhood. I grew up in a small village close to a smallish town in the middle of what was then West Germany, My mother was a stay-at-home when I was little. She didn't return to full-time work until I was around 12 or 13 years old. Most of her female friends were also stay-at-home moms who had children similar in age to mine.
Home-made cakes were a staple at friends' birthday parties. The cakes ranged from all sorts of cheesecakes (different than the cheesecakes in the US) and ice-cream cakes to fruit tartes and square cakes (like banana breads) covered with chocolate frosting and decorated with colorful smarties (or chocolate M&M's as one would call them in the US).
Our mothers frequently swapped recipes. One year, my mother got a recipe for a double-layered round chocolate cake, with this amazing frosting made out of cream and chocolate (milk and dark) that was just to die for. It quickly became my mom's to-go-to cake for any occasion (birthdays, Easter, Christmas, etc.). My father loved it, and so did I.
There was a real sense of community around these women swapping cake recipes, either sharing a recipe that had been in their families for generation or one that they just discovered in a recent magazine or recipe book.
When my mother would have her girl-friends over for coffee and cake, either for her birthdays or because it was her turn to host her friends at home, I remember overhearing, as a little girl, the stories of failed baking experiments and the merriment that broke out among the women when one of them shared a particularly epic fail at mastering a complex concoction such as Schwarzwaelder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cake). The merriment was usually amplified by the liqueurs and schnapps that would invariably follow the cake and coffee course of the afternoon entertainment.
I wonder if today's baking shows are meant to recreate this camaraderie that I witnessed first-hand during my childhood. In today's world, where leisure time is such a rare commodity, it just seems to be easier to turn on the TV for some digital companionship than to seek out face-to-face connections with our neighbors and community members.
I am guilty of this myself. I turn to social media and email more than I turn to seeking out face-to-face communications with people living around me. Maybe my penchant for baking these days is some unconscious attempt that tries to fill the deep human need of real connections with other human beings, facilitated by various combinations of sugar, eggs, and flour.
Say what you want about social media and our digital lives - for me, they cannot replace the warm fuzzies that I feel when I sit down with people at a table, sharing my joys and woes, realizing the things we have in common, learning about the things we don't have in common. And, the icing on the cake (pun totally intended!), I revel in seeing them enjoy the concoction of various ingredients that I put together over an extended period of time, with the help of my oven.