Mr. and Mrs. Day – Griffith and Cheryl – have just released a follow-up to their popular “The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook.” Like the modernized renditions of time-tested pies, cakes, cookies and bars served at their nostalgia-fueled bakery in Savannah, Ga., the new book is “Made With Love.” Here's Griffith – a Twin Cities native – with the details.
Q: You grew up in Minneapolis, didn’t you?
A: Yeah. I left right around 2000 and moved to Savannah, for Cheryl. We had met in our early 20s through mutual friends, and we reconnected in the late 1990s, after many years apart. I worked in and out of the food industry for many years; I was a musician, and I was looking for a change.
When 9/11 happened, it was kind of a pivotal point for us, in terms of figuring out what our real passion was. We both love to bake, and feeding people is our passion. We started talking about how we should do something, so we took a leap of faith, cashed in all of our savings and opened the bakery.
We’re now in our 13th year at the bakery, going on 14, and Cheryl and I have been married for going on nine years.
Q: What’s it like to share both your home and work lives with your spouse?
A: To be honest, in the early days it was really rough. We had never worked together before, so we had to define our roles.
We definitely collaborate, but I do the breads and the lunch menu, and Cheryl loves the pies, the cakes, the cookies, the bars, stuff like that.
There’s a lot of stress in starting a new business. But we really buckled down, and we’re really committed to one another, and to the business.
We’re pretty much together 24/7, although we do find time to do other things, too. It has really developed into a great relationship. We can basically finish each other’s sentences.
Q: The two of you were semifinalists in the Outstanding Baker category of this year’s James Beard Foundation awards. What was it like to get that news?
A: That was such an honor. It’s something we never thought we’d ever even be considered for. We were happily surprised by it, and we were just excited and honored to be a part of it.
Q: You both have a thing for buttermilk, don’t you?
A: We’re in the South, so buttermilk is used for a lot of stuff. We love the flavor, and we love the texture that it adds to desserts. We have a local dairy farmer that brings in the real deal, and that also adds a lot of depth of flavor.
Q: Your recipes call for fine sea salt. Why?
A: To us, it has a cleaner flavor than, say, iodized salt. And it’s better for you. The yin and the yang of sweet-salty and sweet-sour is kind of our M.O. when it comes to desserts. We try and hit all of those notes.
Q: What’s the most frequent feedback you receive from your cookbooks?
A: The major one is, ‘I made this, and it didn’t turn out.’ That’s because every oven is different. It’s often a matter of properly calibrating your oven to make sure that you’re baking at the correct temperature.
Q: Aside from an oven thermometer, is there a tool that every baker should have in their kitchen arsenal?
A: One of the simplest tools I use all day long is a plastic pastry scraper. It’s a rectangular piece of plastic, with rounded edges, and it’s very functional. I use it as a scoop and as a scraper. It’s like 79 cents, and it makes your life so much easier.
Q: What are your words of wisdom for novice bakers?
A: Cookies are a good start for young bakers, and, in general, shortbread cookies are a great introduction into cookie-making. Then cakes, and then, when you’re feeling comfortable, you could advance into pies and breads. What’s nice about our second book is that there are recipes for beginners all the way up to advanced bakers.
We always talk about the foundation of being able to cream butter properly, that’s a skill that translates into all baking recipes. It’s the process where you want to incorporate sugar and air into butter. What it does — particularly in cookies and in cakes — is to help lift and create structure. The optimal temperature for the butter is 68 degrees.
Q: How did you get into baking?
A: I started when I was around 10 or 11, and it has always been a part of my life. I find it very calming. My grandmother made excellent pies, and my mother was a homemaker, and she baked. She had a sourdough starter for pancakes and breads, and that always intrigued me, the way she had to feed it to keep it alive.
I just got into it, starting with cookies and cakes. When I was in my early 20s, I started doing sourdough breads, mostly on the weekends.
Q: Are there any of your mother’s recipes in the book?
A: Ginny’s Chocolate Chip Cake. She’d make it all the time, for after school. The family recipes in the book have been updated and adapted. Cheryl and I are all about layering flavors into our recipes.
Q: It resembles a single-layer cake my mom made when I was a kid, and I loved it. She also made a caramel cake, somewhat reminiscent of the one in your book. What is it about seeing a picture of a caramel cake that always makes me hungry?
A: We’re getting a huge response from that recipe. It’s a classic Southern cake, but this is definitely a different recipe, because there’s caramel in the cake batter, so you get caramel in both the cake and the frosting.
Q: What has nearly 14 years in the baking business taught you?
A: At this point, Cheryl and I are pretty accomplished as bakers. But we’re always pushing our boundaries, and every day is a learning experience.
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