But I have a better reason than mere prejudice for choosing pastry as the epitome of baking: It illustrates one of the chief paradoxes of life. If you were to poll the man in the street on the question: Which is harder to accomplish- something simple or something complex? you would no doubt find that most people take it for granted that simple things are easy and complex ones difficult. Yet if you were to ask the question of knowledgeable men in respect to their own trades, you would find that the reverse is true. The writer would tell you that he wrote 5000 words because he didn’t have the time to write 1500. The decorator would inform you that she worked longer and harder to produce her dramatically simple window treatment than the dabbler in the next apartment who spent one hour and produced a splendid complexity of chintz and gingerbread. The monk might tell you that he had a simple life, and the married man that he had a complex one; but the married man has bought cheap what the monk has sold dear- he proves the point as well as anyone.
It is simplicity, therefore, that takes the most doing, even though complexity has more going on. Take cake as opposed to pastry…
-Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection (1969).
Maggie and I have been reading (meaning, she reads out loud to me) this strange and wonderful book for a few months. It’s a cheerful manifesto of sorts; a call to take up spatulas and butter in the kitchen. It’s great and I’m not sure how we’ve made it this long without having read this priest-chef. This bit on the difficulty of simplicity is the sort of thing the reader finds throughout the book: discursive observations that wind back, eventually, to the primary subject of cooking, food, and eating.