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Laurie Stevens on Holiday Baking

Laurie Stevens is the author of the Gabrial McRay series of thrillers. You can find out more about her on her website, www.lauriestevensbooks.com, or by clicking here, read her last post here, and buy her books here.

“There are only four great arts: music, painting, sculpture, and ornamental pastry- architecture being perhaps the least banal derivative of the latter.” — Julia Child

Photo of the sherry bundt cakefeatured in the post
Sherry Cake (recipe below)

While the inimitable Ms. Child doesn’t mention the art of literature, I’ll mention it, (because we all know it should be included, right?). This being the holiday season, I decided to post something about the parallels between baking and writing. You wouldn’t think someone who writes dark psychological thrillers would go cozy and make gingerbread, but I do. My favorite days are when I can write and bake. Alas, I don’t often have a reason to bring out the flour and powdered sugar. My kids are grown (I’m waiting for grandkids) and my husband eats Paleo (no grains, dairy, or sugar). Okay, we cheat a lot, but I still can’t eat a cake for no good reason. This is why I bake up a storm this time of year. You know, all those holiday cookie baskets I have to give to the neighbors… Sure.

First off, kneading dough or cookie cutting lets you escape into your imagination. Your hands are busy, but your mind can “zone out.” How many times have you taken the car for a drive after hitting a wall in the plotting process? I’ll bet you’ve come up with the perfect idea after spending a little time on the road. It’s the same thing with baking. It helps my muse speak. I’m curious if my fellow authors feel the same way? Do you enjoy or despise cooking?

Searching out a recipe is like research. I heartily enjoy the research part of writing. I feel the same sort of satisfaction scrolling through various recipes on the Internet or perusing dessert ideas in my grandmother’s old cookbooks. Cookbooks from another era fascinate me. I have one someone gave me that strums a chord in my heart. Here’s the back cover: The sheets of paper are as brittle as fallen leaves; the faltering handwriting changes from page to page; the words, a faded brown, are almost indecipherable. The pages are filled with recipes. Each is a memory, a fantasy, a hope for the future. Written by undernourished and starving women in the Czechoslovakian ghetto/concentration camp of Terezín (also known as Theresienstadt), the recipes give instructions for making beloved dishes in the rich, robust Czech tradition. In Memory’s Kitchen: A Legacy from the Women of Terezín is a beautiful memorial to the brave women who defied Hitler by preserving a part of their heritage and a part of themselves.

Here is the link to the book on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/inmemoryskitchen

Finally, as with writing, you put in a lot of work, some cleanup, and then behold a work of art that people can enjoy.

Happy Holidays, and in the spirit of giving, here’s my mother’s sherry cake recipe. I keep the ingredients handy all year long because the dessert is that good and makes an elegant presentation. I wish writing was this easy.

Joyce’s Sherry Cake

1 package yellow cake mix

1 small package vanilla instant pudding

4 eggs

¾ cup cream sherry

¾ cup oil

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Mix all ingredients, pour the batter in a greased and floured cake/bundt pan, bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Top with a sprinkle of powdered sugar. During the holidays, I also sprinkle the cake (or mini cakes) with edible glitter for a festive appearance.

Please feel free to share a holiday recipe in the comment section.

Life is what you bake of it.

Laurie Stevens

Laurie Stevens is the author of the Gabriel McRay thriller series. Laurie lives in the setting of her books, the hills outside of Los Angeles with her husband, two snakes, and a cat. You can find out more about her on her website, lauriestevensbooks.com, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram

This Post Has 21 Comments

  1. Anne Louise Bannon
    Anne Louise Bannon

    Okay. I’m hungry. While I don’t mind baking, I can’t say it does much for my muse. And I am not a fan of cooking, although I am a good cook (more because I want to eat well rather actual enjoyment of the process). But food and cooking do play a part in my Operation Quickline series, especially as it goes on.

  2. Avatar
    saralynrichard

    Yum! I am also a writer who retreats to the kitchen for inspiration at times. I also like to cook or bake when I’m anxious or worried about a loved one. Practicing culinary arts is one way to do something positive and productive when my mind is troubled.

  3. Galit
    Galit

    The recipes of Terezin are sooo moving – but repeating a recipe by heart is like repeating a page of your own dialogue by heart. Difficult to get right. There certainly is a connection between baking and writing!

  4. Sheila Lowe
    Sheila Lowe

    Having raised 3 kids and done my baking in those years, the only thing I bake these days is a package of Oddams Scones, where you just add water. But yes, putting your brain into automatic while kneading is a perfect way to ‘noodle’ writing ideas. Maybe I’ll make a fruitcake (yes, I am the only person in the US who likes them) and work out my memoir.

    1. Avatar
      Laurie Story

      I tossed around the idea for a fruitcake cookie- please share if you’ve got a good recipe!

  5. Sherrill Joseph
    Sherrill Joseph

    I can smell the heavenly aromas, Laurie S. I’ve often thought of the parallels between writing and baking/cooking and often wander out to the kitchen to find my writing muse, especially this time of year. Thanks for the fun post and the sherry cake recipe. An excuse to keep sherry on hand!

    1. Avatar
      Laurie Story

      No excuse needed! This is a go-to anytime of the year

  6. Margaret Mizushima
    Margaret Mizushima

    Love this post and the photos, Laurie. Unfortunately I don’t like cooking or baking, so neither does anything to help my writing. I do, however, get lost in the car or in the shower at times when plotting takes over my brain. Happy Holidays to you and yours and enjoy those lovely cookies!

    1. Avatar
      Laurie Story

      Thanks,Margaret! And back to u!

  7. Avatar
    Avanti Centrae

    My waist line is growing!

    1. Avatar
      Laurie Story

      Mine has grown. Hazard of baking -you have to taste test first, right??

  8. Avatar
    Laurie Buchanan

    Laurie — This post and your recipe have me drooling. And while I’m a good cook/baker, I do NOT enjoy it. However, my husband’s a fantastic cook/baker, and he loves it. So we divide and conquer—he makes the food; I clean up the mess. It’s a win/win deal.

    1. Avatar
      Laurie Story

      I find that hard to believe when your descriptions of tasty dishes in your books are so spot on!

  9. Christine DeSmet
    Christine DeSmet

    Love your post, Laurie. I bake and cook rarely, however I have many historical or old cookbooks because they give me story ideas! As you pointed out in your post, those old cookbooks often have interesting narrative included. This week I’m making my fruitcake loaves out of love for fruitcake at Christmas. I also just tested a recipe for Key Lime Fudge that another mystery writer sent to me for possible inclusion in the Fudge Shop Mystery Series. It’s tasty and the green zest is Christmasy.

    1. Avatar
      Laurie Story

      Again, if you have a delish fruitcake recipe please send it my way. I think the cookie version would add a lot to a holiday spread. And key lime fudge? Whoa, I need to see a pic of that.

  10. Tracey Phillips
    Tracey Phillips

    Your post hit my weak spot! This week I’m baking 6 or more varieties of cookies (for my students and to give away to neighbors and friends…she says with her fingers crossed) Yes, we eat them for breakfast too. I host a holiday cookie exchange where my piano students play their holiday pieces and drink spiced cider. This year I’m making : Devil’s delight chocolate cookies, Apricot jam thumbprints (recipe in this month’s newsletter) Iced sugar cookie stars, sour lemon cranberry cookies, Nutella sandwiches, Bourbon pecan balls and the old standby, oatmeal and pecan chocolate chip. I hope there’s some left over to stick in the freezer. Maybe they’ll last through January!

    1. Sharon Lynn
      Sharon Lynn

      Tracey – I want the recipe for Devil’s delight and sour lemon cranberry cookies!

  11. Sharon Lynn
    Sharon Lynn

    I love to bake! All the time, but especially at Christmas. Cookies, cinnamon rolls, pumpkin bread, cranberry coffee cake – such fun! I used to bake for my students during finals week, but I teach remotely now so I want to be in the kitchen but don’t know who to take the cookies to.

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