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Cook-Along Experiment

chocolate cupcakes with sprinkles

During a normal Spring season, my extended family would have gathered to celebrate birthdays, holidays, the monthly Sunday night dinner and even a sisters’ night. As it is currently the Coronavirus Stay Safe, Stay Home Spring of 2020, we have done none of those things; at least, we’ve done none of those things in person.

Instead, like many of you, we have texted birthday wishes with lots of emojis, shared photos of decorated Easter eggs, and recorded updates on video messaging apps. With more time at home, both my husband and my brother-in-law exchange snapshots of their latest bakes. Thus far, we’ve received mouth-watering photos of cinnamon rolls, tea scones, 5-grain bread and mini quiches. It’s like having the Great British Baking Show in my inbox. Even if we can’t actually taste every roll, pie or tart, we ‘ooh’ and ‘aah,’ living vicariously through the lucky souls who are quarantining at the baker’s house.

All of the virtual culinary connections gave me an idea: I wanted to invite aunts, uncles and cousins for a videoconference Cook-Along. We would make a recipe ‘together’ through online video conferencing, then share our results and taste in real time.

We scheduled the day and hour for Easter morning, then texted a photo of the family recipe to everyone. We chose my sister’s crepes for its use of common ingredients and a straightforward process, though we recognized pouring crepe batter requires a bit of finesse, so it would be fun to see how things turned out.

At the appointed time, family members filtered into the video conference with mixing bowls in hand. I was surprised by how comforting it felt to see my sisters and brothers-in-law in their familiar kitchens. Usually, we would be standing side-by-side in one of those kitchens, putting the finishing touches on side-dishes for a big family meal. Instead, I loved seeing them in their homes, wearing their aprons. I especially enjoyed watching my young niece propped up on the counter, tilting her head back and forth, enamored with her image on the screen.

We got to measuring right away; though, at times, my daughters took over the egg-cracking and whisking as I leaned in towards the screen, caught up in conversation. It’s interesting how smells, flavors and familiar movements uncover memories and stories. One sister talked about the best crepes she ever ate from a street vendor near the entrance to Central Park in New York City. Another sister described their family crepe traditions, since it is the go-to birthday meal for her husband. We even held a brief debate on how to pronounce our recipe --“crapes” or “crepps” -- We finally settled on the Americanized version since none of us have completed even one French lesson.

During our call, we compared apron fashion, shared recent happenings and even checked in on the health of our parents, feeling grateful that our father had just come through his bout with COVID-19 days earlier. Oh, and we cooked too, everyone at their own pace. My sister shared a useful tip for a smooth batter: warm milk and room temperature eggs. Once you blend in the melted butter and sugar, the result is velvety smooth and ready for the pan.

As expected, everyone’s first crepes were a tad unsightly, but they all improved as we found the best pan temperature. As the thin pancakes piled up, children buzzed about the kitchens, filling their crepes with hazelnut chocolate spread, whipped cream, strawberries and even sausages. My daughter took pride in holding her work of art up to the screen for all to admire.

We agreed to gather again for a learning session, following step-by-step as one of our baking brothers-in-law walked us through more complicated recipes. A couple young cousins also made a plan for a Cook-Along to decorate cupcakes. In the end, we spent less than an hour on the video call, though we gained a sense of connection and normalcy on a holiday usually spent together.

This is Jenn Ashton for Bread and Butter.