INTRODUCTIONS ARE AWKWARD
That’s why I find it best to just cannonball straight in with a Hey, hi, how’s it going? What are you all about?
Me? I am a pastry chef. I am also a relentless optimist.
This is not a coincidence.
I grew up watching my grandmothers and mom bake almost daily. The first professional pastry chef I saw up close, though, was at Aquagrill in New York City in 2003, where I worked as the hostess by night while going to culinary school during the day. Janet was a tiny British woman with a soft, round face, brown hair pulled back under a small white cotton hat, and black work shoes caked with layers of flour. She’d worked in the industry a long time, so she was far from a wide-eyed newbie like I was. The tiny kitchen was cramped and hot, but Janet didn’t seem to notice. Watching her face as her insanely strong forearms folded layers of butter into dough, I could tell that she still thought that making puff pastry was one of the most magnificent things imaginable. And watching her work from afar, so did I.
Pastry chefs, on average, are overworked, underpaid, and exhausted (which is secretly part of why we love it). Sunrise is already the middle of the day for most, and weekends, if you’re lucky enough to get one of those, fall on Tuesdays. We land toward the bottom of the pecking order in professional kitchen life, so for the most part there’s not a whole lot of respect from colleagues and very few moments of glory. Yet I’ve never met a pastry chef who wasn’t obsessed with what they did. I suspect that most, like me, love baking with their whole hearts because they know what dessert does for people. The feeling that first heavenly bite awakens is very real—both for the person indulging in the creation and for us as pastry chefs, even if we’re stuck back in the kitchen and don’t get to witness it firsthand.
That feeling is straight-up joy.
This book is for everyone who is crazy in love with dessert (which, based on my highly analytical calculations, is pretty much everyone) and for anyone who just plain wants more joy in their life (again, pretty much everyone). Think of this book as a big ol’ party to which I’ve invited a bunch of stories, a few unorthodox recipes, and all the secrets I’ve discovered thus far that transform our outlooks, our relationships, our work, and our entire collective existence into something boldly optimistic and stubbornly joyful.
You can’t be in the business of baking without knowing what makes people crazy about dessert or becoming intimately familiar with its superpowers. Dessert marks big milestones and reminds us to celebrate the small wins (I mean, some days, just getting out of PJs is a victory, amiright?). It’s a lightning rod of unadulterated good vibes and the light at the end of the tunnel, whether that means finishing your homework so you can go out for ice cream or running five miles so you can then crush a sleeve of Double Stuf Oreos while plopped blissfully on the couch. Hope, wonder, indulgence, escape, frosting . . . dessert has it all.
Baked goods and treats connect us heart-to-heart like almost nothing else. Gestures of friendship and support have a habit of showing up as lemon bars or tins of fudgy brownies. Food, no matter how delicious, is still fuel, but dessert is pure soul balm. Meatloaf and mashed potatoes can comfort our souls, but cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting mainline healing and love straight into our hearts. We say with platters of baked goods the comforting words that fail us in hard times, and we send treats to let people know, “I see you . . . I’m here . . . I got you.”
The joy trails we can trace throughout our lifetimes are very often paved by dessert memories. French fries dipped in a chocolate milkshake, apple cider doughnuts from the pumpkin patch, cookie dough licked from the spatula when no one’s looking, strawberry shortcake (the real kind or the Good Humor bars bought from the ice cream truck you chased down the street, take your pick), homemade peppermint bark stored in an old Ball jar, local pastries devoured on an epic road trip . . . I could go on and on about the dessert memories people have shared with me featuring these and hundreds more superstars. I love these stories, but I love even more the spark in people’s eyes when they share them. These tastes forever light up the parts of our brains that make us feel safe and special, and then we grow up imprinted with the knowledge of how to give those feelings to someone else.
That is the power of dessert. It’s shaped my life in countless ways, and I’m betting it’s shaped yours, too. You probably just never thought about how it’s taught you to live a more joyful life and to spread that posi-vibe spirit to others. The familiar taste of a longtime favorite reminds us of who we are and what makes us whole, and then we, in turn, remind others who they are and what makes them whole. Dessert inspires us to celebrate at least one thing every single day and reminds us to be who we are and do what we do without apologies. Sometimes dessert allows us to privately love what we love without the fear of judgment; other times it coaxes us to take a leap and be vulnerable and connect around our most preciously weird, hilarious creations and obsessions. As the ultimate reward, dessert is joyful motivation inspired by what genuinely fuels us. Relatively low stakes in effort and expense, it allows us to show up for one another with small gestures of kindness and generosity that have maximum impact. Dessert brings us together in good times and bad, celebration and solace. But most of all, dessert can bring us on home to love.
This, my friends, is why I know that dessert can save the world. Do I think the combination of sugar, flour, and butter has some magical ability to fix all the craziness of our modern existence? Of course not. Even I am not that enchanted by baked goods. Eating cookies can’t heal a broken heart or fix global disarray any more than wishing can make taxes or family drama vanish. But I do believe that the spirit of dessert—the relentless, unflinching commitment to finding or creating joy even when joy feels hard to come by—can save us, and then we, in turn, can save the world.
Let’s dig in.
Copyright © 2022 by Christina Tosi. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.