Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I owe it all to Pearl Bakery in downtown Portland, Oregon. As soon as I walked through the doors of this open, airy space, saw its brick ovens and its piles and piles of crusty loaves, I thought to myself, So THIS is the meaning of life.

I've been baking for as long as I've been allowed to use an oven. It started with brownies from a box and Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies, then I gradually progressed to cakes and muffins, then bread and pies. The methodical nature of it appeals to me; mix some of this with a bit of that, heat it up this much for that long, and suddenly your house smells mother-loving amazing.

The best amateur chefs I know are instinctive, quick on their feet, and resourceful. Unfortunately, I am none of these things, at least when if comes to food. I like to make lists, I like check off tasks. If it weren't for recipes, I'd eat cold cereal or takeout pad thai every night. Fortunately, baking rewards rigidity. If you add even a teaspoon too much water to your pie crust, your whole kitchen will explode. You'll just have to trust me on this one.

Anyway, being in Pearl Bakery reminded me of something I had forgotten during my years of outsource-everything New York City. Some people actually get PAID to bake. I know! They're these people called "bakers"! Forrealsies!

I was dying to try the walnut levain, but then my guy spied the gibassier, brioche dough flavored with orange peel, anise seeds, and orange blossom water and sprinkled with sugar. Now, I know some people claim to be anise-averse, but that's just because they've lived their lives under a cloak of ignorance. When used properly, anise can give otherwise plain cookies and breads a lightly spicy, festive taste. It also reminds me of sausage, which is always a plus.

Tragically, I don't have a photo of the gibassier we tried, but in the near future I think I'm going to challenge myself to recreate them using this recipe. Come along on this journey of obsessive adherence to instructions, won't you?