The Alchemy of Baking…love

Last week I felt like having a decaf Cappuccino and I remembered that Cousin John’s creates a pretty good one. Located on Seventh Avenue near Berkeley, this bakery-coffee shop has existed in Park Slope near the 3 train for over twenty years. When I moved to the ‘nabe, this uncommon eatery greeted me, and I have many fine memories of brunch, lunch and quiet, intimate talks with my dearest friends.

John Barricelli, a native of Brooklyn, generously gave to our community (donations, school tours) which lovingly supported him. He moved on to cook with Martha Stewart, and now operates his own SoNo Bakery in Norwalk, Ct.

I am sitting in Cousin John’s at 12:59 p.m., sipping my delicious coffee, observing two artists — a man and woman in their early twenties – decorate a cake for a baby shower. It’s light pink with rigid candy ribbons set to stream from the top tier. Other candy trinkets – a safety pin, baby bottle, teething ring, duck, rattle – were pressed with sugar glue onto the cake. A baby shoe rests on top of a tread on the first tier. It’s a work of precision and awe. The female baker now decorates the platform (on which the two-tiered cake rests) with “Thank heaven for little girls.”

I am reminded of my father’s baking. He was in his early thirties when he put together what I now call ‘scratch cakes:’ made with flour, eggs, sugar, baking powder/soda, real cream for the frosting…and love…nothing more.

One particular cake stands out. My brother was two or three. For his birthday Dad’s production had a music box which produced the Happy Birthday melody. A rod was attached to the box. Magically (remember I was a child) my parents knew where to cut, making a circle which probably encircled the box and locating the rod…Voila!!! The birthday song played as slices were cut perpendicular to the circle.

My father will be 94 in October. There were other confections that he baked for our birthdays, but this one stands out – vividly in my mind. There was a beautiful, blue-green cowboy set atop. This memory…the creativity of my Dad; the love my parents shared…was palpable that day in March quite some time ago. CJ’s has a berry cake with real whipped cream which reminds me of Dad’s work: not too sweet, just plainly, deliciously reminiscent of simpler times.

Observing the bakers at CJ’s create their magic is a special treat for me. (One can observe them from early morning until two or so) I feel the love in the simplicity of the baking…so many simple acts to produce the alchemy…this demonstration of love.


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Linda Marsanico

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