Anne Zimmerman lives in and writes from the Bay Area. She is working on a book about the food writer M.F.K. Fisher.
For months I have been the only baker in my apartment building. I am the only one who sends the sweet smell of butter and sugar up into the air, the only one who tempts the apartments around me with sugar-plum fantasies of cakes and breads and cookies and scones.
But now, someone new has moved in. They’ve placed a gorgeous tall plant and an elaborate stand with two artful and expensive-looking vintage umbrellas just outside their door. These things alone caught my attention.
And then they began to bake.
It started on a Thursday night — a great baking night. You have sweets to unload at work on Friday morning if you’re feeling generous or sweets to hoard for the weekend if you’re in the mood to be selfish and indulgent.
I caught the subtle whiff of butter and sweet cinnamon wafting through the walls while puttering and doing evening chores, but quickly dismissed it. I assumed the fragrance was a concoction of my brain, an attempt to lure me into the kitchen and pull out the eggs, vanilla, and brown sugar.
Then I left my apartment to bring my dried laundry up the stairs. Now the smell was unmistakable. There was cinnamon, yes, and butter, and loads and loads of white and brown sugar. It smelled like coffee cake or crumb cake or sweet bread. I breathed deep again and again, and wished with all my might that the smell was coming from my apartment — that it was my hot oven, my large mixing bowl that needed scrubbing.
But alas, my apartment was cold; my oven had been quiet for days. For once my dishes were done and the kitchen light had been prematurely shut off. But still, I sniffed and sniffed, trying to figure out just what it was that was being baked and which exact apartment it came from.
I walked gingerly from door to door, not wanting anyone to know I was outside. I stopped feet away from the umbrellas in their stand. The smell was stronger, and sweeter. It was definitely coming from beneath their door.
The gauntlet had been thrown down. Now it would be up to me to respond. I needed to bake something to make their noses quiver, their mouths drool, their stomachs believe that they are really and truly hungry, even though they know deep down inside that they are full.
Next time it will be my turn to make their mouths water with anticipation and want. And this is what I think I might prepare: a dozen cinnamon-blueberry muffins that smell like heaven while they are baking and taste even better while melting warm in your mouth. They are sweet enough to be dessert, perfect with coffee, a suitable breakfast with a fruit salad or a side of plain yogurt.
The smell alone will make them swoon, and the taste? Well, they’ll just have to imagine it, just as I sit, at 9 o’clock in the evening in a chilled living room, imagining what their warm, just-baked confection tastes like. Yes, revenge will be sweet.
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Beyond a supporting role
The great Sicilian-Neapolitan kitchen rivalry
Five ideas each month for eating better