Yossy Arefi Shares Why She Bakes

The baker, cookbook author, and photographer shares how baking feeds her soul.

Yossy Arefi
Yossy Arefi. Photo:

Glen Allsop

Baking has been a constant in my life for as long as I can remember. I have always found magic in the alchemy of turning simple everyday ingredients like butter, sugar, flour, and eggs into countless beautiful and delicious treats. The thing about dessert is that while you never really need the final product, sometimes the process of rolling up your sleeves and getting into the kitchen is the only thing to do. I bake in times of joy and stress. I bake to celebrate and to meditate. It is a way for me to communicate and connect with others and to show my love. Whether the celebration is a personal or professional milestone, or just getting through a tough day baking can always bring joy. Sometimes the act of baking itself is the celebration. 

When I moved to New York, I felt totally lost, but realized quickly I could turn to my old friend, the kitchen, for some guidance. I baked bread and wedding cakes and so many cookies in my truly tiny kitchen, which had about two square feet of counter space, a bar-sized sink, and a mini oven. I did it to help a new city feel like home. I thought I might go to pastry school, but instead got a job in a restaurant and bakery as a reservationist. Every day, I saw the bakers making beautiful frosting-covered cakes and piles and piles of scones and cookies. I just knew I had to get out from behind that desk and into the kitchen, and when there was an opening in the bakery, I convinced my boss to let me take the job. I learned so much in those years of early morning baking. Even when my life was messy or uncomfortable, the kitchen was a place where I felt strong, confident and safe. The math and science of baking (almost) always worked. 

Now, that’s not to say it was easy, because it wasn’t. Baking at the restaurant was a full mind and body discipline. I worked early mornings and missed holidays with my family. But I loved the work. I loved how physical it was, and how satisfying it was to cross things off of the prep list. The kitchen became a creative and expressive place for me, where  I could start experimenting with my own recipes. 

What I love to bake most are fruit desserts that celebrate seasonal produce. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, home of some of the best fruit in the world, picking wild (invasive) blackberries every summer and turning them into pie and jam. We always dusted the pie crust scraps with cinnamon and sugar and baked them as a treat. My parents also had a beautiful garden with tons of gorgeous raspberries that we ate by the warm fistful. 

Nothing else brings me the joy and peace of picking warm and fragrant spring strawberries to turn into shortcakes. In the summer, I love making peach and sour cherry pies with just a bit of sugar and lemon to highlight their luscious flavor. Fall brings apples, pear, and quince that I turn into upside-down cakes and crumbles and all sorts of cozy treats. And in the winter, I love to bake with citrus fruits to brighten gloomy days.

Now, baking serves a slightly different role in my life. It is my job, but also my hobby. It is the way that I express myself and show my love for others. When I’m in the mood, I love throwing myself into a multi-step, multi-day baking project, dirtying every bowl in the house and ending up with a towering layer cake or elaborately decorated tart. I love making a big birthday cake and seeing someone I love bathed in the light of too many candles. Sometimes, when life is a little busier or my attention span is a little shorter, I’m more in the mood for more of a quick and easy bake. Simple recipes and spontaneous bakes can be just as comforting and satisfying than an all day project. Sometimes, even more so because of their ease. 

Baking has served a number of purposes in my life, as a release, a creative outlet, as a job, and a hobby all at the same time. I truly can’t imagine my life without it. 

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles