You may have noticed that people are baking a lot lately. During the stay-at-home order, it seemed almost mandatory. Maybe you’ve even done some yourself. A thousand photos of banana bread on Facebook can’t be wrong.
Quarantine baking is a thing and, according to Gulfport baker Brittney Sherley, it’s a good thing.
“I think it’s fantastic that people [are] trying these new things, whether it’s baking, sewing, puzzling, or whatever,” says Sherley. “That’s kind of the silver lining to the pandemic – that it’s given people time to try out these things.”
Sherley’s watched with curiosity as home bakers took on the formidable challenge of making sourdough bread.
“I guess I am a little bit surprised that sourdough bread was the go-to,” she says, “because it does take so long and your starter has to be perfect. You have to raise your starter and feed it, and it has to be just right. If I were not a baker, and I was home for a long time, sourdough would not be the first thing I’d try – that’s way too much work. But for some reason, people really got into that and I think that’s kind of cool.”
The pandemic hasn’t gifted Sherley with the extra time at home that others have enjoyed. Her shop, A Friend Who Bakes in Gulfport, was always based on a take-out model, so when indoor dining spaces temporarily closed, it wasn’t a huge change for Sherley.
Pandemic or no pandemic, she still wakes up between 3 and 4 a.m. each morning and starts baking. So for the time being, Sherley’s sticking to her multigrain breads, white bread and baguettes.
“That’s typically all I make bread-wise because that’s all I really have time for,” she says. “Since it’s just me in the bakery, everything I do has to be very efficient. I have to schedule out my time. Bread is something that takes a lot of time. It’s a labor of love.”
If bread were all Sherley baked, time might not be such an issue. But she also makes cinnamon buns, scones, muffins, donuts, cookies, cakes and pies.
“I make a lot of things,” she says.
The week of July 20, Sherley made eight different kinds of cookies or bars, ten different kinds of scones, seven different muffins, pop tarts, bread, cinnamon rolls, donuts, a couple of cakes and a broccoli cheddar quiche. A full list sounds like Bubba talking about shrimp in “Forrest Gump.”
There’s cranberry-pecan scones, raspberry white chocolate chip scones, Key lime blackberry scones, cheddar chive scones, blueberry scones, banana blueberry scones, very berry scones, lemon strawberry scones, carrot cake scones…
“I change the menu every day. It’s never cookie-cutter – pun not intended,” says Sherley. “I don’t want people to get bored with me, and I don’t want to get bored with what I’m making. So I’m always trying different things, different flavors, and mixing it up.”
Baking is not a forgiving art form. “Trying different things” and “mixing it up” are sometimes better left to professionals.
“There’s a chemical reaction between everything,” Sherley explains, “so you do have to find the right balance between the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients. It’s good to know certain things, like the way baking soda reacts with milk/water compared to lemon juice. It’s a completely different chemical reaction, so the texture of your baked goods will turn out differently depending on which one you use.”
When Sherley develops new recipes, she always has a base recipe in her head.
“Because I’ve been baking for so long, I kind of know if I want to add this type of juice or this type of fruit, I need to subtract some of the milk or some of the other wet ingredients so it equals out and the end result turns out as I expect it to be.”
Even a professional can make a mistake from time to time.
“Sometimes I try a new recipe and think, ‘That didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to,’ and then I’ll tweak it a little bit. After a couple of tries, it turns out the way I wanted.”
In baking, the key to innovation lies in embracing the experimental, even if it means a failed batch or two.
Sherley’s biggest piece of advice for home bakers, however, isn’t about the technical.
“When you’re baking, bring good energy to whatever you’re making,” she says, “because that will come out in what you produce.”