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Savannah's Back in the Day bakes up its first cookbook

Retro Revival

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On an up-and-coming stretch of Bull Street in Savannah, Ga., past the main tourist district, you'll find what is quite possibly the cutest little bakery in the South. Walking through the doors is like taking a step back in time — the furniture is mismatched and mid-century, pastel bunting hangs from the ceiling, and antique kitchen appliances and dishes line the shelves. It makes sense that this place is called Back in the Day, especially since the owners' names are Cheryl and Griffith Day.

After a decade in business, the Days have earned legions of fans — including fellow Savannahian Paula Deen — who are drawn to the bakery's fresh take on old-fashioned Southern desserts. And now they can recreate that feeling at home thanks to The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook.

The Days have spent the last year and a half working on the book, though they've been collecting its 100-plus recipes for years. Many are adapted from family recipes and almost all of them have some kind of story attached, like the Chocolate Heaven Cake. "I feel strongly that everyone should have a chocolate cake recipe in their repertoire that's a really good, heal-the-world chocolate cake," Cheryl Day says. "That particular cake I've been making since I was about seven years old. It's one of the first things I learned to make with my grandmother, and it's one of the first things I made for Griff when we were dating. It's been a heavenly cake for me, and I hope it is for everyone else, too."

Although she grew up in Los Angeles, Day was deeply influenced by her Southern mother and grandmother, both of whom taught her how to cook. "We consider ourselves unabashed Southern bakers," Day says. "We just learned to make things that are comforting to people, nothing that's too complicated. These are really easy-to-follow and accessible recipes. It wasn't difficult to do that because that's what we've always done." She recommends that beginning bakers start with cookies, like lavender shortbread and bennecake thumbprint cookies, or bars, like Creole brownies, drunk blondies, and pumpkin crunch bars.

More than just a collection of recipes, the book is filled with tidbits about each recipe as well as helpful tips about everything from freezing berries to turning custard into crème brûlée. There's also a chapter where the Days share their secrets for successful baking. "We're trying to take the mystique out of baking," Day says. "That's why we put the 'method of the magic' section in there to show people it's really not that hard, you just have to know simple techniques," like ensuring that your ingredients are the correct temperature and mixing things for the proper amount of time.

They even make an effort to de-mystify pie, a Southern staple that can be a challenge for even the most experienced bakers. "I'm obsessed with making pie, but I realized that most people I know have pie fear, so in the book we developed crust recipes that are simple," Day says.

The couple continues to invent new recipes both in their free time — yes, they still enjoy cooking at home — and at the bakery. Day leans toward the sweeter side of things, while Griff prefers the savory, like bacon-jam empanadas and rustic breads.

The Days proved their mettle while shooting for the book, an eight-day process that took place while they were still running the bakery as usual. "The hardest part was shooting the food," Griffith says. "We had to do over 75 food shots in eight days. We had to make everything fresh that day for the shoot, and we wanted the food to look as it did out of the oven. ... We didn't want to doctor up the food or make it look too pretty." Luckily they had a trio of Charlestonians helping them out — photographer Squire Fox and his assistant Sully Sullivan as well as food stylist Cynthia Groseclose. "We became really close to them over eight weeks of shooting." Jewell & Ginnie also made their book trailer.

Now that things have returned to normal, the couple has settled back in to their routine of getting up around 4 a.m. and opening the bakery. "We enjoy that time being bakers because we really do love what we do every day. We feel very fortunate," Day says. "I have a special place in my heart for bakers, making cupcakes throughout the night and living in the shadow of everyone else."

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