The onset of cold weather can only mean one thing: It’s time to head to the kitchen and cook, bake and sauté up a variety of delicious, warming meals and treats to be eaten as the early dark creeps in.
Bliss on Toast
It is a truth universally acknowledged that if a person wishes to enter into the cozy state of mind, an episode or two of “The Great British Baking Show” will get you there. In Bliss on Toast, Prue Leith, a beloved judge on the show, tackles variations on that masterpiece of culinary perfection: toast. Inspired by the desire to fix something simple but elevated for a Sunday evening curled up by the television, Leith delivers on the promise of toast as an art form. If you’re looking for something creamy and warm, you might decide on a duck egg, rainbow chard and Dijon butter on multigrain toast. Vegetarians and vegans will delight in roasted red pepper hummus, avocado and zhoug (a simple-to-make Yemeni sauce) on rye. Apricots, almonds and Devonshire clotted cream on an English muffin will take you through dessert. With each recipe, there is just enough cooking to make you feel you are making something special, but never enough to complicate the simplicity of warm, crusty toast, eaten with one hand over a salad plate as you sink into a corner of the couch. What could be more comforting than that?
Modern Jewish Comfort Food
Soup, schnitzel, latkes and shakshuka: No matter your heritage, Jewish fare is always warming, filling and as nourishing to the heart as to the body. This is, after all, the culture that considers chicken soup to be one of its most revered dishes. In Shannon Sarna’s Modern Jewish Comfort Food, she breaks down the notion of Jewish cuisine as a monolith, noting that aspects of traditional dishes vary from region to region, and even from family to family. Sarna’s updates to well-known and well-loved dishes are deeply rooted in history and fully embody the wide variety of cultural influences on Jewish cuisine. As with her previous offering, Modern Jewish Baker, Sarna’s clear instructions and helpful tips for each recipe give you the ability to whip up previously intimidating but oh, so mouthwatering dishes such as sweet potato and sage butter knishes or lamb meatballs. The historical and cultural information she provides along with each recipe gives the food its soul. These dishes satisfy on their own, but the fact that you’re eating something enjoyed all across the world, across time even, lends them an extra-comforting quality.
Baking by Feel
How many times have we been guilty of eating our feelings? Becca Rea-Tucker (better known on social media as The Sweet Feminist for her social justice-themed cakes) would shrug and say, “So?” Feelings, as Rea-Tucker would like you to know, are not bad. And neither is food. A therapy session masquerading as a cookbook, Baking by Feel includes sections of serious mental health advice alongside conversion charts and lists of helpful baking tools to have on hand. Inspired by the now-infamous way the COVID-19 pandemic drove us all to our kitchens, Rea-Tucker has written an “emotionally agnostic” (read: no judgment) cookbook that acknowledges the comfort we get from creating something delicious. The recipes themselves are organized by which feeling might be driving you to bake or eat: A sunny lemon cake with poppyseed cream cheese frosting suggests itself to the cheerful; peach bourbon cake supports the heartbroken; black pepper snowballs conspire with the vengeful. Next to each recipe is a paragraph or two about the specific emotion associated with that food, and Rea-Tucker encourages her bakers to name and sit with their feelings. I have tried the buttermilk pie for stress and can confirm that the sugar and cream comfort and the advice helps parse out what exactly is going on with you.
But sometimes, nothing is going on except that the familiar urge has hit: It’s 3:00 in the afternoon, you need something chocolatey, gooey and sweet, and you need it right now. Sure, you could pop down to the corner store and grab a Snickers, but that just doesn’t comfort you the way something home-baked would. Enter Jessie Sheehan’s Snackable Bakes. Short on time or needing that snack with some urgency? No problem: Sheehan promises that none of the 100 recipes in the book takes more than 20 minutes to assemble. Moreover, there is no creaming of butter or cream cheese and minimal need of tools (oven included), and use of the microwave is absolutely allowed. The baking might be effortless, but the end result is anything but halfhearted. Goodies such as blackberry lemon yogurt loaf cake and strawberry basil crumb bars taste like they were made during a lackadaisical Sunday afternoon, not whipped up in a spare 15 minutes. We all need to take a little time for ourselves, after all.