At this time of year, when much of the world is muted, hushed, and hibernating, bakers everywhere are in overdrive. The rich scents of chocolate, cinnamon, and toasted nuts pour out of our home kitchens on the regular, and bakeries decorate more cakes and box more cookies than in any other season. Even if you don’t consider yourself a baker (though I know for a fact there is one dormant in each of us—we just need the right teacher to bring it out), the magic of sharing, eating, and gathering around cakes, cookies, and breads is universal.
In this issue, we used a baker’s perspective to transport you to kitchens and shops around the world where sweet and savory baked goods are prized and their traditions are maintained. We go to the fields where beloved baking ingredients are grown with painstaking care. In “The Village Baker and His Pretzels”, writer Ben Crair observes the critical minutiae of making Bavarian soft pretzels, which one master baker in Germany is determined to keep pure by way of a wild sourdough and 12 generations of family knowledge. In another corner of the world, writer Stefanie Ellis explores the strikingly beautiful craft of wagashi, a type of tiny Japanese confection with stunning names and intricate constructions. And in “The Brittle Invasion”—a kitchen tutorial about a treat that spans food cultures, from China to Mexico to Australia—Genevieve Ko reminds us that a simple candy can be a canvas for creativity around the world.
If savory baking is more your game, Jeff Koehler’s ode to Spain’s salt-baked seafood or our own to the massive French-Canadian meat pie called the cipaille will give you plenty of projects to tackle this winter.
Of course, we’ve only skimmed the surface of sampling the world’s best baked goods and meeting its diverse range of bakers. And yet, as it turns out, from India to Russia to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the kitchens we visited, the foods we tasted, and the rituals we witnessed have more in common than not. No matter where you are, rolling pins pounding out dough and sugar mixing into butter sound remarkably familiar. Flour sticks to an apron and vanilla exudes the same intoxicating fragrance whether you’re in Argentina, England, or Italy. No matter where we go, baking is a means of expressing love and care. And by taking part, we’re far more alike than we are different.