28 Feb 2020 | Natalie Paull
Beatrix Bakes by Natalie Paull is a book born out of the pure love for dessert, to Natalie, baking is a gift. She created this book is for the bakers out there, the ones who revel in the suspense, joy and potential devastation of it all; the bakers who love an adventure. Natalie shares her thoughts on baking in the extract below.
"We bake sweet to celebrate birth, birthdays and unions, and to mark life passing. We don’t bake sweet to survive or to simply sustain. It is a gift, a powerful elixir of pleasure, connection, generosity and joy."
It’s all about the moment. Some call it the sweet spot. It usually happens before the finishing touches are applied. You know it’s the moment because the hot cake layer faultlessly falls from the tin onto the cooling rack. It’s when the crimson-red rhubarb, concealed under buttery crumble, starts to bubble up. It is yeasted doughnuts nurtured to perfect proof and bobbing away in hot oil, and the telltale trembling of a cheesecake you are bringing out of the oven. The assurances are there, in that moment, that the bake is beautiful.
My kind of baking is about nurturing and building, about preparing and following procedures, and not jumping too far ahead. It asks you to check and then check again. It asks you to bake a pastry to the right shade of deep golden brown and not the pale softness found fifteen minutes prior. It asks you to whip the cream into billowy peaks and then stop. The moment. My kind of baking also wants you to feel supported, with a back-up plan in case anything should go wrong.
We bake sweet to celebrate birth, birthdays and unions, and to mark life passing. We don’t bake sweet to survive or to simply sustain. It is a gift, a powerful elixir of pleasure, connection, generosity and joy. Be present: life in the kitchen is made up of small moments. Deciphering the crumbs on a skewer, examining the hold on the foam of just-whisked egg, cradling the base of a mixer bowl with your hands to check the temperature of what it holds. These small moments make up something greater, and by being present for that small stuff, we can all make larger, more extraordinary moments of deliciousness.
I was born to bake. My first solo cooking adventure was a butter cake, which I made when I was seven. The recipe was from a pictorial step-by-step and the butter and sugar were creamed by hand with a wooden spoon. My young muscles couldn’t get any air into it so the finished cake was horrid and flat and tough, and iced with a bright blue icing with lolly bananas on top. My mum and her friends were very kind and encouraging ‘customers’.
In my teens, I bought Vogue Entertaining instead of Smash Hits magazine, besotted as I was
with chocolate roulades with mascarpone and balsamic-tossed strawberries more so than Duran Duran and Bananarama. By eighteen I was an apprentice cook, a babe in the (commercial kitchen) woods, absorbing all I could like a tres leches sponge absorbs the milk. I cooked savoury and pastry sections but just couldn’t deny the fact that I loved all things sweet.
Visiting country bakeries as a kid, I was bug-eyed with excitement at vanilla slices, apple turnovers, lamingtons, Swiss-roll sponge cakes and towers of coloured meringues. In my baking, the revisiting of these memories is emulsified with my ethos of seasonal fruit, fresh cream, real unsalted butter and free-range eggs. Speckled throughout my repertoire are homages to classic European cakes and bakes: black forest cake, mascarpone layer cakes and bienenstich. If it’s sweet, I am into it!
I baked and cooked in restaurants, as a dessert cook, for a long time before I started Little Bertha with Cassandra (engineer turned baking business partner and the smartest person in the room) in 2005, and we baked all things sweet for cafes for three years before selling the business. I felt like overproved dough at that point – deflated and lacking yeasty bounce. I couldn’t see my dreams any longer and couldn’t find that place in the industry that just felt like me. I rested in the arms of a sweet ergonomic chair–based administration role for two years, honing my spreadsheet skills. I wrestled with life and realised I missed the kitchen terribly. And then the plan slowly started to form.
In 2011 I found a very small shop on a sunny corner of the suburb that I lived in. I felt it was the last chance for me to bring my cake shop dreams to life. I signed the lease and named it Beatrix Bakes. The logo is two upright old-fashioned rotary beaters, which represent the call to arms baking has been for me all my life, and the homely bliss of small-batch baking. The name is a play on the suffix -trix, which was once used to form words like aviatrix (female aviator). I was a female beater and thus beat(e)rix. Beatrix, in Latin, means bringer of joy. And that is, simply, what cake should be.
Beatrix Bakes has only a handful of seats. So, everyone who moves about the shop – staff and customers – plays a graceful game of human Tetris or retail ballet.
I love watching a couple sitting outside in the rain who take turns holding an umbrella for each other while they eat cake. I love the kerbside picnics and tailgate tables people create for themselves. I love the customers who return to Melbourne from far-away places, ours being the first stop from the airport. And I love the regulars, the quiet everyday faces, who enjoy what we bake. One busy Saturday, a customer stopped me and said, ‘We make sense of our lives through the connections that we make and Beatrix is the elixir of connection’. I have always loved that – building something that has a purpose and community greater than being a business. This shop has provided ovenfuls of joy, work, tears, growth, passion and wisdom. I am so very glad I get to do this job.
Time passes in the Beatrix cake community. Children grow from bump to birthdays. A nervous couple shares a slice of cake on their first date, then return to us for their wedding baking. I remember, too, all the times we have baked for those who have had heartbreaks and tough life moments. That we have been of some minuscule comfort to them is bittersweet. Baking is as much a part of celebration as it is sadness.
Back when I was thinking about opening my own business, all I wanted was a little cake shop in the suburb where I lived. I have, at this point, a professional life and purpose greater and more beautiful than what I ever imagined for myself. And I get to eat cake every goddamn day – sometimes for breakfast!
Baking, like a house, needs a structure. There are rules and ratios that mean your cake will rise, your crust will be flaky and your custards will be thick and silky. But once you understand how to build your ‘cake house’ with a foundation, walls and roof, feel free to get creative within those rooms.
Bring a little ‘bake your own adventure’ to your kitchen. Maybe you want to make the Baked chocolate mousse tart but you don’t like date caramel. That’s okay … just leave the caramel out and top the tart with Toffeed figs instead. Custard crumble pies don’t have to be baked with rhubarb – make them with the gorgeous blood plums you found at the market or with an Apple compote. Slather the Whipped ricotta cream into an Almond dacquoise or into Polenta pastry tartlet shells. Chiffon cakes can be passionfruit or citrus; The cheesecake can be classic crumb crust or sandwiched between Carrot cakes. Spread your baking wings!
In a world of ‘fast’ and oversimplification, where we seem to be losing the art of making nice things, I hope I can inspire you to fall in love with baking from scratch. Like making your own pasta, relish the ritual of making and rolling pastry from its basic ingredients. A well-crafted, baked-from-scratch cake made from good things (cultured butter, free-range eggs and seasonal produce) is a perfect sometimes treat, far better than mass-produced, over-processed products every time. The happiness I see on our customers’ faces when they eat our cakes proves to me that it’s good for the soul, too.
A final crucial note of advice before you start on your baking adventure. Always read a baking recipe thoroughly before you start, as it will give you more understanding and confidence in the method, especially if it’s your first time.
All text extracted from Beatrix Bakes by Natalie Paull
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