There are nights when Charlotte Ree’s passion for baking means she gets only a few hours’ sleep – but clearly the pun-loving baker thinks it’s worth it.
“I believe one of the main reasons I enjoy baking so much is because it enables me to show love to others in the way that Nanny showed me – love through food!” says Ree, when we chat to her to ask why she loves baking – and puns – so much.
Part of her passion for sifting and stirring and whisking and whipping comes from the connection it gives her to her grandmother; some of it because her nights of “concerto and cake” (she loves cooking to classical music) help her balance the stress of busy work days. “I love that baking forced me to put my phone away and get swept up in a recipe,” she explains.
Sydney-based Ree – who has gained a dedicated following on Instagram for her creations and the endearingly corny puns with which she introduces them – has just released her first cookbook, Just Desserts. It’s bright, pretty and packed with approachable recipes and, yep, puns: ‘Lost without chew’ (Nutella thumbprint cookies); ‘A batch made in heaven’ (her version of Kingston biscuits); ‘I love you dough much’ (Brown butter & salted caramel cookies’); ‘Appley ever after’ (Apple hand pies); ‘You are the chosen bun’ (Chocolate-chip hot cross buns); ‘It doesn’t get butter than this’ (Chocolate buttermilk cake).
We grabbed the busy baker to talk cakes, pies, puns and 3am baking.
Is it true you bake late into the night and very early in the morning?
I actually began to bake as a way to unwind after a busy working day… It made me be present and ignore all distractions to spend an hour or so creating something simple and delicious. The brilliant part wasn't just that it got me away from a screen, made me calmer and sleep better, but that it also enabled me to have instant gratification. In my job, books can be years in the making and PR and marketing projects can take months to come to fruition. With baking I had a result within an hour, which I find incredibly satisfying. The joy doesn't stop there though; truth be told I hardly ever eat what I bake. Instead I get such a huge amount of joy from the process of gifting.
I also bake whilst listening to the same classical music playlist on iTunes. I know that makes me sound like a total knob but there is something so soothing about the entire process. I cannot recommend it highly enough!
And how early is early? 4am?
The perks of having a rental with a cheap (but somehow incredibly reliable) oven is that you can only bake one cake at a time. This makes the process ridiculously time consuming and there have been nights, too many nights, where I have had no more than three hours of sleep. I love it, though. I thrive when under the pump or challenged, and I live for those all-nighters. Sometimes (and I can't believe I am admitting this) I will leave the baking to the last minute just to have a night of concertos and cake.
We hear you learned to bake with your Nan. How much do those memories contribute to the joy you find in baking?
Some of my earliest memories are spent sitting on my nan's kitchen counter, licking batter from a spatula as we made jam drops together. She has deteriorated lately and is no longer able to bake for me, but it makes me so happy to bake for her. She lives on the Mid-North Coast and so I am not able to see her as much as I would like. When I bake, it makes me feel as though I am closer to her and I believe one of the main reasons I enjoy baking so much is because it enables me to show love to others in the way that Nanny showed me - love through food!
You describe the apple hand pies in your book as sweet and comforting. Are there other bakes in the book that were invented in a wee-hours-unwind baking session?
Oh, I adore those apple hand pies. They are so simple and easy to make, which is really the purpose of all my recipes. I want to show people just how uncomplicated baking can be.
My recipes are classic easy bakes. Think back to your childhood and the recipes that our grandparents used to make... a simple tea cake! Nanny used to be able to whip one up and have it fresh on the table within 40 minutes. That's what I want to see people do more of lately, get back to basics. Comfort food!!!
I suppose when it comes to my recipes, that's really what I am thinking of and looking for. How can I make the easiest, most delicious thing, fast!
The brown butter bundt was a 3 am creation. I had put butter on the stove to melt and completely forgot about it, by the time I came back it was brown with the most delicious rich, nutty flavour. A happy accident, and the brown butter bundt was born!
Don't worry though, there have been plenty of unhappy accidents, like the time I was so tired I forgot to even put sugar in the cake I was baking. Inedible!
Is there ever a week that you don't bake?
Most definitely! I work full time as a communications manager for a book publisher. This means I travel interstate frequently with authors on tour, often leaving me without a kitchen and without a chance to bake.
I tend to have huge baking days where I bake and create content for 8-10 recipes in one day every six weeks, leaving me with a wide selection of photographs that I can use to post on my Instagram. Sharing the photographs, and creating the puns, brings me just as much joy as baking and so long as I have my ducks in a row it makes the wait in between oven dates seem shorter.
Where did this passion for puns come from?
Reading! I am a massive book worm, even before I discovered the world of publishing, I was book and word obsessed. Over time, puns became a ‘flantastic’ way to be creative and in some ways competitive with my husband, Diego, who is far better at baking puns than I!
Does 'I love you dough much' pretty much sum up your life? Or is there a 'batter' way to put it?
Oh, you are on fire! I suppose it was the yeast you could do!!!
I think my motto at the moment is 'BAKE IT HAPPEN'. I will sacrifice sleep to get my bake on and will do pretty much anything to spread the baking love and show people just how simple baking can be!
Just Desserts by Charlotte Ree (Plum, $29.99) is on sale now.