Is it Good, or is it merely homemade?

Last night, an interesting thing happened.

I baked gingerbread and because the recipe was for a pan that was 9″x2″ (round), a shape I do not have, I wound up baking two cakes, just to use up all of the batter without overfilling one pan. The cakes came out just fine, and we cut into one of them for dessert. My husband and child tucked into it happily, and I ate a slice myself, thinking, “Well, this is fine, but, who cares.” I’m just not a gingerbread person. I love the way it makes the house smells while it’s baking, but then I have no interest in eating it.

So I went onto Facebook last night and posted, “Who lives nearby who likes gingerbread?” My thinking was that I would deliver the “spare” cake to whoever dibsed it first. Within ten minutes, there was a long thread, and within a couple of hours there were about ten people who made it clear that they’d be more than happy to take any superfluous gingerbreads off my hands.

Today, thinking this over, I have formulated a question, a pondering, really, about my baking. Because — if you want the truth — I don’t think I’m a particularly good baker or cook. I don’t think my results are reliably stunning; I know for a fact that they are seldom handsome. (My family knows that my cakes always taste better than they look.) So why do all these people I know clamor for my spare cake?

I think I know the answer. I think we’ve reached a state where, as a culture, anything that is homemade is perceived as being better than the same thing, storebought. Or bakery-bought. Or made from a mix. And that’s just not fair: many excellent bakeries out there, folks, and they could probably turn out gingerbreads about a thousand times better than the ones I made yesterday. But most of us don’t want to find the great bakeries; we don’t want to pay for the great bakeries, even if we find them; and we really, really don’t want to spend the twenty minutes it would take to assemble a gingerbread and then the hour it would take to bake the cakes. And: we’ve been trained to believe that Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines are ok in a pinch, but they can never be truly great. (Which may be true, but even so — isn’t a Betty Crocker birthday cake as loved as a homemade from scratch cake? Sure it is.)
So my cakes don’t have to be Platonically wonderful. They simply come off as better than Betty Crocker because they are not Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines, out of some kind of weird snobbery.
It’s kind of not fair to Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines, to be honest. I love Duncan Hines brownies. Love ’em. Or, I did, the last time I made them, which was probably twenty years ago. Maybe I should buy a box and try them again.

I’m now thinking about vanilla cake frosted with Biscoff spread — why can’t I whip Biscoff with confectioners’ sugar and maybe some cream? No reason. This will, I am sure, be excellent. And I will get to work on it, as soon as the gingerbread is all gone.


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