I cried. I cried a lot, when I was learning to bake."
It was a difficult statement to believe, coming from Greg Patent, a cookbook author whose seminal Baking in America, which was published two years ago, contains the definitive recipes for Lady Baltimore cake, Boston cream pie and more than 250 of the cakes, pies, tarts, cookies and breads that make up our nation's baking heritage.
For a man of such achievements, Patent was dressed in remarkably casual attire: flip-flops, black cargo shorts, Pulp Fiction T-shirt. As he spoke, his hands were deep in a stainless steel bowl, working cream cheese, flour, salt and sugar together with his fingertips for an apple pie crust. He was standing at the marble section of the kitchen counter in his simple two-story frame house in Missoula, Montana, which has an unspoiled view across the grasslands to the Rattlesnake Mountains. "It's difficult to describe what I'm doing here—I'm pinching, I'm fluffing and I'm grabbing the cream cheese as I go," he said, pausing to display a palm full of white crumbs that appeared as light as dry snow.