What’s that old adage? Something about eating with your eyes? Well BAEK, a zine which takes a new approach to baking and recipe-making, is nothing short of a visual feast.
Founded by Cape Town-based baker (and painter) Alice Toich, BAEK moves away from the traditional format of recipe books and magazines by taking a fashion-style slant to its products; photographing and presenting baked goods as adornments of sorts.
After her run on The Great South African Bake Off, Alice found herself with a host of original recipes she had come up with, but never had the chance to put into production. Still riding the creative momentum she garnered through the show, Alice started to post her recipes and pictures of her baked goods on Instagram and ended up receiving countless requests for fail-proof recipes, tips and tricks.
“So then I thought that I should make little zines to send to everyone who wants these kinds of recipes…and they can get them in the post!” explains Alice. “I love getting real post and I also love a good recipe swap so the idea excited me. Also it would be like having baking pen pals and we could all get excited about crispy golden edges and puffed mac shells together.”
Having just launched BAEK VOL.2 – The Cookie Issue this past weekend at the Cape Town Street Food Festival, Alice took some time out to speak to us about her craft.
What’s your favourite part of the baking process?
Definitely the end bit where you get to play around with presentation! Add sprinkles, swirls of cream, drips of chocolate, you know, build it up a bit. Act like a miniature cakey architect! Second to that would be the mixing. Anytime I am mixing dry into wet ingredients or dyes into batter I find the process of mixing by hand very therapeutic, watching luscious marbling turn into an even tone or consistency by the work of your hands. It calms the mind.
Following a recipe is simple if its written well enough. What’s the trick to writing clear and translatable recipes?
I agree! I believe I can accomplish almost anything in the kitchen if the right person’s mind (recipe) is guiding me. There are two ways to go. I have a Bouchon Bakery Recipe book by Sebstien Rouxel and each little detail is outlined, how the dough should feel in your hands, how long anything should be done timed by the minute, and water is weighed in grams not ml’s. And then I have the delicious Mast Brothers Chocolate “Family Cookbook” my cousin brought me from a visit to Brooklyn, in which each recipe is exceedingly simple. Like “Add cream, then milk. Stir. Add flour, then cocoa” and I find before you are confident in baking, the simpler the explanation the better! I like to alter between the two but an unfussy recipe requires unfussy words. Choux pastry, puff pastry, macarons… they can get fancy explanations because they require a bit more love and care.
How often do you follow the recipe yourself and how often do you just wing it?
If I am making a recipe for the first time I always follow it like an ant in a lineup. Then I will do that a couple more times. Only when I feel I really have a grasp on what the dough or batter should be like do I veer off track and go wild. (Please note: “go wild” as it is used here refers to something really wild like changing a single ingredient fractionally at a time). I have also learnt what I can sub from the get-go if I am missing an ingredient say, like buttermilk.
What’s your favourite recipe and where can we find it?
That’s a really really tough one. I have recipes for moods, so answering that would be like picking my favourite emotion. Every baked good is my favourite, at the right time. For melancholic Sundays I like to make trays of cookies, ginger snaps particularly and they are in the new issue of BAEK. For chilled Friday evenings in I make my family’s banana bread recipe so I can have the best Saturday breakfast toast and when I feel like being extra fancy I make cake. Particularly tall, small airy ones.
Tell me about the art of baking. How important is it to ensure that your final product is also artfully constructed and visually appealing?
For me this is everything. I think baking is an extremely good practice for the process of making, loving and letting go. Which is often the same as art-making. Unless you had a really tough time with a piece and are actually happy to see it go. But visuals to me are everything. So the final baked good doesn’t have to be very complicated but it should be visually presented, even if that means having it served on a contrasting coloured plate or in an interesting fluted glass jar or sprinkled with something unexpected. I truly believe we eat with our eyes first and I just love putting energy and time into making the final cake top or tart edge have something special about it.
Both on a personal level and from a business perspective, what does baking mean to you?
On a personal level I find baking a comforting and calming but also an energising practice. Kind of like how yoga tires you out but also gives you energy, you know? But a calmer more focussed kind. Business-wise, well I haven’t delved into the business of baking very much. I take orders on the weekends because I enjoy baking but I still by no means consider myself in the business of baking right now.
What’s your earliest memory of baking and what’s your fondest memory of baking to date?
I grew up in a big family. My parents are both identical twins and married each other’s twin. That sounds very complex but it makes sense, I promise. I grew up in a big house with my cousins and siblings and aunt and uncle and so we had a lot of celebrations! Which meant a lot of teatime treats and cooking, desserts, drinks where always on the go. I have 54 first cousins too – so Sundays were a time for all the 21st parties, christenings, birthdays etc. My earliest memories in the kitchen involve me begging my aunt (mom #2) to let me separate the eggs for her famous chiffon cake! Or picking mulberries from our big tree for her equally well known and loved mulberry tart!
My fondest memory so far would be baking with my grandmother. My grandmother was the first woman to teach me to bake. I would be dropped off at her house and we would spend the afternoon making cupcakes, she even had a mini cupcake pan and mini tea set just for me and I remember being very proud of this!
I think of her every time I see 100&1000’s sprinkled atop white butter icing. She had such patience and I am so grateful to her for those afternoons.
A special memory that comes to mind is when my Aunt Ranka taught the women in my family to make apple strudel pastry. All the women where huddled around two big tables, stretching floury thin sheets of soft pastry across big table tops in opposite directions with the afternoon light streaming in. The strudel pastry is very fragile and you need to pull it gently and at the same time as the person opposite you so it requires you to communicate and be patient. It was such a beautiful moment and one of warmth and love.
If you could clear up one misconception about baking, what would it be?
THAT ONLY WOMEN CAN ENJOY IT. Ugh. Or that only “girly girls” do it. Or that it means you are very “feminine”. Sorry that’s three, but they are all linked in a way.
Lastly, where can we get hold of a BAEK zine?
Anyone in South Africa can order a zine to be posted to them or a friend at baek.co.za
This link is the easiest.
Unfortunately you do need to set up a Payfast account. Alternatively follow @baek_zine on Instagram for updates on bookshops who stock and any local zine markets I will be selling at. But I would totally recommend sending yourself one in the post!
Zine images in collaboration with Anke Loots.