Think of it as a momentary lapse, artistic appreciation run amok—but just for a few seconds.
During the weeks I've been dipping into fellow Knoxvillian Heather Baird's SprinkleBakes cookbook, released earlier this year, I've felt such a strong connection that I must admit, more than once, I've wished I was the one who created it.
Because it's awesome. Based on her blog of the same name, it's aptly subtitled "Dessert Recipes to Inspire Your Inner Artist." One masterpiece follows another, all photographed vividly by Baird: meringue cups, Vanilla Bean Baby Doughnuts marching across the pages in lockstep with Neapolitan cake, Mad Hatter marshmallow pops, a white chocolate cheesecake made into art with matcha green-tea powder. I ogle them, I admire them, I feel a connection to this artist, this Heather Baird with her cupcake tins and cremé candy dough and fine-tipped artist brushes loaded with gel food coloring, much as I do with Van Gogh—or Maurice Sendak.
This, I say to myself, turning a page, is how desserts ought to look. For a few minutes, I contemplate how stunning the Banana Pudding Cake (three layers—and a neatly contained, just-so browned meringue top hat on its shoulders) would look on a pedestal on my dining room cafe table, my tilt-edged square glass dessert plates at the ready to receive delicate slices.
But alas, that's what it would be, stunning—as in, people I customarily "entertain" would be stunned. Because despite my deep appreciation for the art form, I am not myself a cake artist, and could never pull off what Baird does—I won't say "effortlessly," because these creations are many steps of effort each—but happily, readily, willingly.
Me, I've always been content to sprinkle a couple violets on top of buttercream frosting when they're in season, or maybe drizzle thin stripes of homemade free-trade cocoa chocolate sauce over Cruze Farm salted caramel ice cream if we didn't just dig into a pint with a couple of spoons. Beyond that, meh.
To suddenly demand that I become a SprinkleBaker would make me like the man of my acquaintance who wasn't around much for his kids, but insists on command performances at traditional holidays now that everyone is an adult. To whit: I would be guided by a nostalgia for what never was and the results would just be wrong.
It is too late to turn back time for me (who knew Cher was so wise?), but this is the other way Baird is such a genius with SprinkleBakes. Were you inclined to want sweets cloaked in artistry, like Marimekko cookies that look just like that Swedish artist's flowers, or Dale Chihuly-Inspired candy nesting bowls, Baird will tell—and show—you how. She's decisive, clear, and even a little bossy in the instructions, whether she's reminding you when to keep the oven door shut, or describing the difference between stiff-peak, soft-peak, or flood varieties of royal icing. Each step of each recipe is reduced to simple terms, and her food photos show you what to do when words fail.
Heather also has a wonderful blog, with entries so complete they are like mini chapters of her book. It is here I learned there are positive aspects of our differing attitudes towards confections, in the form of Peanut Buttercup Brownie Cake, August 10. It involves, and I quote, 1 and a half cups of butter and five large eggs. For the brownie layer alone. Two cups of peanut butter and a bunch more creamy stuff comes later in the recipe. Usually I would never succumb to such luxury—I can't even put the whole cup of Velveeta into Rotel dip, never could.
But if I can't ever do a book like SprinkleBakes, I can at least make a cake like this one, which is mostly stirring and chopping; the plan is to do it at the Christmas holidays. And that day, I'll be just like Heather Baird—for a little while.