Bakers' Dozens: Sweet Temptations at the Airport
Why are the sweets at most airports dry, flavorless, high in fat and sugar, and oddly very appealing? Is it the cinnamon-sugar smell that drifts down the terminal corridor, reeling you in with the sweet smell of home? What about the smell of freshly baked soft pretzels or sugared nuts? Intoxicating, especially while traveling, when planning meals is sometimes too overwhelming.
Let’s talk cinnamon buns. I love my cinnamon bun recipe so much, and it’s pretty easy. I keep baked cinnamon buns in the freezer, individually wrapped and ready to go for mornings on the run. Just pop one of these bad boys in the microwave and it’s off to the airport (or work or school). You'll be completely satisfied and never tempted again (maybe) by overly sweet airport buns. Check out this step-by-step how-to for my Bacon, Bourbon and Hazelnut Cinnamon Buns.
What about cute little packaged crumb cakes? Eating old-fashioned crumb cake for breakfast is one of my guilty pleasures in life. The moist, buttery cake pairs perfectly with the giant cinnamon-sugar crumbles that sit proudly on top. I remember eating my very first crumb cake. … It was neatly wrapped in a clear cellophane bag, perfectly sealed at either end. I couldn’t rip into it fast enough, even using my teeth. Once opened, the smell of cinnamon sugar and butter took over, grabbing hold of me and never letting go. To this day, the memory of that prepackaged little square of crumb cake comes rushing back whenever I bake any pastry that has a crumble topping.
Over the years I’ve fooled myself into thinking that the cake at any given airport will taste as good as my memory. I have spent a good portion of my baking career trying to perfect a crumb cake recipe as fresh as my memory. Now, I want to share it and have you experience firsthand the pure joy of eating the quintessential breakfast pastry. I purposely bake more coffee cake than I need so I can freeze the extra pieces. I just wrap them individually for a quick breakfast on the way to catch my plane.
Let me rant a bit longer regarding the “freshly” baked soft pretzel bites common in so many airports. I think they hook you in and play mind games with your brain to make you stop in your tracks and get into a line longer than the TSA line, with the promise of enjoying a baked soft pretzel.
As a kid growing up in Philadelphia, the soft-pretzel capital of the universe, I ate my share of these salty, crusty, twisted-up, mustard-smeared (delicious) pretzels. Philly knows its pretzel.
I think it’s a genetic thing, so much so that, out of necessity, I have come up with my own version that’s so simple to make that I taught a group of 5- and 6-year-old children the key to making soft pretzels at home.
- Schedule a day when the Brownie troop is available (they tend to get really booked during cookie month).
- Make a simple dough, a very easy yeasty dough that is super fun to roll.
- Cut 5-inch squares of parchment paper and oil them with canola oil.
- Portion dough into long ropes and roll out with tapered ends.
- Twirl the dough so it has that familiar center twist.
- They’ll have a blast, and you will have amazing homemade soft pretzels. Sadly, there aren’t any soft-pretzel badges to sew on their sashes.
My list of the merits of making baked goods from scratch could go on for days. Consider baking with a buddy. Make it a fun and effortless affair. Fill your freezer with delicious homemade treats to be enjoyed anytime – running to catch a plane or walking to pick up the daily newspaper.
Pastry chef and cookbook author Hedy Goldsmith is a James Beard Award finalist for the nationally contested Outstanding Pastry Chef category. Her creations grace the menus of The Genuine Hospitality Group of restaurants, including flagship Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Miami. Her first cookbook, Baking Out Loud, was published by Clarkson Potter in 2012. Hedy has been featured in multiple national media outlets, including NBC's Today show, The New York Times and People magazine. She is in her fifth season of Cooking Channel’s Unique Sweets, and her new Food Network blog series, Bakers’ Dozens, appears monthly on FN Dish.