Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook is a throwback to simpler times

Christine Halls

Complete with flowered tablecloths and old-time aprons, Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah, Ga., is definitely a vintage land. It’s a throwback to the imagined comfort zone of 1940s and '50s, when baking from scratch was a badge of honor. Looking into the cases at Back in the Day, you’d think you were at a community bake sale maybe 60 years ago.

Owners Cheryl and Griffith Day make it all happen: She does the sweets, he does the breads. Together they’ve written The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper: In the photo of you two on the cover, you look like an ad from a 1950s magazine. You’re in that gray dress with the apron. Griffith is in the plaid shirt with the shorts and the white socks.

Cheryl Day: People thought that was styling, but that’s really Cheryl and Griffith Day.

Cover of The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook
The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook

LRK: This is how you look every day?

CD: This is how we look. This is it.

LRK: You two live and breathe vintage desserts, but what qualifies as a vintage dessert?

CD: I think anything that reminds us of a sweeter, simpler time. It’s different for everybody, but I think cupcakes are the all-American dessert. Anything that you long for that reminds you of yesteryear. That’s how I qualify it. And always things made from scratch. It’s just so wonderful now to see this renaissance of people wanting to learn more about time-honored traditions and professions from the past. Fortunately, baking is at the forefront of that. I think now is just the time that people really want to connect with simpler times and really get enjoyment out of the finer, simpler things of life.

LRK: We’ve seen the cupcake craze, and I don’t think the chocolate chip cookie is ever going out of style, but what do you see coming up? What’s going to be the next big vintage dessert to really hit?

CD: I really am into pies right now. I think the craft of making a pie has made a comeback. No matter what your skill level is, you can make a pie. And who doesn’t enjoy a slice of pie? I think it’s definitely going to be coming forward.

And layer cakes -- old-fashioned layer cakes. My grandmother used to call them celebration cakes.

Chocolate Heaven cake
Cheryl Day’s recipe for Chocolate Heaven cake.

LRK: In some of the recipes in the book -- evidently some of them are really big sellers -- you use some techniques that are really interesting to me. You have this Chocolate Heaven cake, which is your chocolate layer cake with the buttercream frosting. But you do things in that cake recipe that you don’t normally see. For instance, you tell people to put all of the dry ingredients into the mixing bowl of a mixer and run the mixer for three minutes. Now, what are you doing? Why are you doing that?

CD: When Griff and I wrote the book, we longed for a book like this. We wanted a book that didn’t feel like a textbook, but still really went into the science of baking and covered the techniques. We wanted it to be a baking companion, like your grandmother by your side to guide you along the way so that you can achieve what we call “bragging rights.” We wanted to give all the details that maybe your grandmother may have done that you may not have noticed. These are the things that we learned after watching baking assistants at the bakery and baking ourselves day after day, and we realized these were the things that made the difference and made a cake lighter.

This particular recipe is an alternative to sifting flour. This is just another way to aerate your flour and get that light, fluffy texture in the cake.

LRK: This is the one chocolate cake that will make your life change, you say.

CD: It really is, and I’ve been making it since I was 8 years old.

LRK: It’s been tested.

CD: It has been tested a long time.

LRK: So you mix those dry ingredients and then you melt the chocolate, all 9 ounces of it, in 2 cups of coffee.

CD: That’s what melts the chocolate -- and it has to be really hot coffee.

LRK: That has to give the cake such an edge in terms of flavor.

CD: It really does; it just really takes it to another level.

LRK: There’s sour cream in this recipe, right? And if I remember, is there oil in it or butter?

CD: There’s oil, actually. Remember it’s an old-fashioned retro cake, and back in the South back in the day, butter obviously was at a premium. So this recipe was made with oil, and it really makes it so moist.

LRK: But you whip together the oil, the eggs and sour cream?

CD: Right. You kind of emulsify the eggs and the oil so you get this light texture with the eggs, and then you add the sour cream and that’s going to add moisture again.

LRK: Then all you have to do is put that all into the bowl with the dry ingredients and you’re there?

CD: Easy. I think the biggest problem a lot of amateur bakers have is that a lot of cookbooks, unless it’s a technical textbook or something like that, assume that you know what creaming butter and sugar means. That is the biggest technique that you need to learn -- it makes or breaks your cookies, your cakes and everything in baking. This recipe, the chocolate cake, I think is foolproof.

LRK: You can have only one more dessert in your entire life: Is it going to be a pie or is it going to be cake?

CD: Actually, you really picked the one thing that I would have: that chocolate cake. It’s the first thing I learned to make with my grandmother, it’s my favorite thing to make and I make it a lot. Every time I taste it, it is just as good as that first time.

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