Introduction

Introduction

By
Hayley McKee
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781743793466
Photographer
Tara Pearce, Tim Hillier

I love digging my hands into butter and sugar just as much as groping around in the earth. For me, baking and gardening are inseparable; but I took the long way home to make this connection.

I started Sticky Fingers Bakery when the cupcake craze hit the world. A self-taught baker, I threw myself in the deep end, baking tiny cakes full of punchy attitude and big flavours. Blending traditional baked goods with offbeat ingredients made my menus a bit of a hit around town and as my client list grew so did the scale and scope of my cakes.

Even though there was magic to these decorated cakes – piled high with fluorescent, store-bought ingredients – this style of baking never really satisfied me. I wanted to hunt down wholesome, unconventional flavours far away from the supermarket shelves.

A breakthrough came when I realised that everything else I ate, and everything I believed in about good food, was based around real ingredients. I cared about where I shopped, the produce I bought and who I bought it from, but my cakes lacked this connection to local suppliers and natural ingredients. My baking shifted when I switched on to local growers’ and farmers’ markets and, most importantly, to edible gardens.

By tuning into the plant world I eventually arrived where I belonged: baking sweets that tasted of nature. Where the ingredients were familiar, the colourings genuine and the flavours unmasked. Vegetables, herbs and edible flowers gave me vivid flavours to explore and offered a savoury–sweet balance that satisfied without overwhelming. Soulful, earthy and seasonal baking became my true direction and, ultimately, my signature style.

A baker's garden

I’m a more skilful baker than I am a gardener, but you’ll always find edibles sprouting around my home and in my community garden plot.

Rosemary, basil, thyme, calendula, nasturtium, tomato, rocket and scented geraniums are my trusted staples and are always within arms’ reach of my kitchen. These are the green ones I fold into my baking time and again. I enjoy watching for plants to sprout and be ripe for the picking, and I like that my recipes lie ready for the right season to come – waiting for my garden produce to be at its peak before it’s combined with the creamiest of butters, free-range eggs and a little something sweet.

Growing your own food isn’t a new concept, obviously. But in recent years it’s re-emerged as an important feature of cooking with a conscience. More and more of us are sensitive to the origins of our food. We’re savvier to the mysteries of massprocessed foods and supermarket monopolies, and this has led to an openhearted attempt to grow our own produce again, however humble our space. We’re relearning something that has always been intuitive to us.

For me, baking is a beautiful solo experience, while gardening is a more collective activity, and I’ve learned a lot about the produce I bake with thanks largely to my talented friends, family and neighbours who expertly maintain their kitchen gardens with skill and devotion. They are my horticultural hotlines. The same goes for my community garden – their workshops and events nurture sustainability and a sense of place, and volunteering there gives me a beautiful slice of back-to-basics living that I’m able to feed right back into the spirit of my recipes.

It’s these links to the environment and the earth that are so important to both my baking and my overall wellbeing. The sensory experiences of being in the kitchen and the garden have become my creative outlet and my escape into the slow lane.

Outdoors indoors: this book's job

These recipes make you think about being outside. As you prepare each garden ingredient, let it pull your imagination out of the kitchen window and into the bigger picture, of seasons and locality.

Count on these recipes for desserts and snacks with a neighbourhood-bake feel that celebrates real garden produce.

These grown ingredients haven’t been included just to be quirky – this book isn’t about shock value. It’s about turning a spotlight on underestimated and underused produce and cherishing what unique flavours can be brought to the dessert table. I don’t want to mask the organic beauty of the outdoors. I want to incorporate it into really good baked desserts that acknowledge their taste and where they come from (hopefully, your backyard).

Alongside most recipes – whether for cakes, tarts, cookies, brownies or muffins – you’ll find gardening tips on how to grow the key ingredients in your own baker’s garden. It doesn’t matter if that garden is a little windowsill of herbs or one big unruly planter of vegetables; if every time you pluck your homegrown produce you think about a sweet use for it, then this book has done its job.

For me, cakes and sweets shouldn’t be ‘skinnyfied’, so this isn’t about using garden greenery for healthy baking. Although most of my recipes happen to be lean on sugar, that’s only because I prefer the hero ingredients to shine. Other than that, I use good butter, full-fat milk and nearly always add a dollop of cream on the side. Baked desserts are treats, not staples. Eat everything in moderation, but celebrate the good times with something gooey and mouth-watering from your oven. You deserve it.

Be free

BE IMAGINATIVE AND EXPERIMENT. Don’t be afraid to substitute ingredients to make these creations your own. Play around with quantities to dial up or down the flavours you prefer. Trust yourself, and your tastebuds.

BAKE WITH A SENSE OF HUMOUR. Things can go wrong in the world of baking. Embrace and own these happy accidents and approach these recipes with a sense of adventure and a relaxed attitude.

GROWING YOUR OWN PRODUCE WILL MAKE YOU CHERISH EACH MOUTHFUL EVEN MORE. But if it can’t be garden-fresh, don’t beat yourself up. You can still add meaning to your desserts by picking the best produce you can afford and trying to connect with your local suppliers.

REMEMBER THAT PLANTS GROW ON THEIR OWN CYCLE. This book’s garden tidbits will help them along, but you shouldn’t give up if there are plantings that fail. Just keep nurturing them, and your green thumb, as best you can.

BE GENEROUS. Don’t count calories or think about using skim milk instead of full-cream milk. Make these baked goods your ultimate treat. Make them to impress.

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