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Game of Scones: Men Who Bake

Why do men from so many walks of life embrace baking with such passion? The answer is in the oven.

By Sharon McDonnell

After retiring last year from tech, where he worked for 30 years, Bob Grand found joy and fulfillment in what, on the surface, appears to be an entirely different — and delicious — field: baking scones.

A man wearing an apron and holding a basket full of popovers
Greg Patent with popovers that he baked.  |  Credit: Courtesy of Greg Patent

Grand, who sells his (literally) homemade pastries at a farmers' market near his home in San Francisco, says that his vocation and avocation have more in common than one might think.

"Baking combines art, science and math," he says, adding that it also is a tactile activity using all the senses and results in a solid sense of achievement (not to mention delight from lucky consumers).

"Baking combines art, science and math."

He bakes scones in 20 flavors, from sour cherry and chocolate to gruyere, rosemary and thyme. He makes about 115 per weekend, and most flavors quickly sell out. He could sell more but has no desire to "scale," a tech industry synonym for "grow." He doesn't even have a website.

Beginning with Bread

Grand is one of many men who enjoy late-in-life baking as a hobby. He started baking sourdough bread after taking a baking class a decade ago, then turned to scones for family and friends, borrowing from several recipes and tweaking to their tastes. Cheered by their enthusiastic response, Grand (whose tagline on packaging is "Everybody Must Get Sconed," inspired by a Bob Dylan song) decided to bring a "bit of indulgence" to his Noe Valley neighborhood.

Greg Patent, 84, was a professor of zoology at the University of Montana, but found the lure of food so intoxicating that while he was teaching, he co-hosted a radio show on Montana Public Radio and produced a TV show from his home kitchen in Missoula. Eventually, he left academia altogether to focus on cooking and baking.

He has written eight cookbooks, including the James Beard Award-winning "Baking in America," which traces how baking evolved over the past 200 years (and shares the origin stories of Lindy's cheesecake, Boston cream pie and other classics).

The Science of Baking

Another of his books, "A Baker's Odyssey," is about 32 immigrant cooking traditions. He visited home kitchens to collect recipes from Italy, Lebanon, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Portugal and Thailand, as well as African-American and Pennsylvania Dutch communities in the United States.

"As a scientist having to weigh things, I became much more aware of the science of baking and the precision involved," the former professor says. He always weighs ingredients on a scale, applauds recipes that also list the weight of ingredients in grams and is as eager to wax rhapsodic about flour as he is to share his recipe for rum-mocha walnut layer cake.

When a recipe calls for a cup of flour, it may sound simple, but isn't. "Whole-wheat or tapioca flour . . . are denser," Patent says. "Bleached flour, which weighs less, is what you want for a cake; unbleached flour is for bread. And how do you get flour into a cup? Do you scoop into a bag of flour and then level it off, or spoon it into a cup? And do you sift it first? It produces different amounts."

A Passion for Pies

Ron Kirchgessner, 64, a retired software developer in an Indianapolis suburb, made a deal with his wife, Julie Sturgeon, a freelance fiction book editor, when they married. "I cook, she cleans up the kitchen," he says. (She adds: "I have never regretted that decision.")

That rule began in his childhood, when he and his two siblings learned to cook for the family. "Whoever cooked didn't have to do the dishes," Kirchgessner recalls. "By 14, I was cooking at least half the meals for the week for our family."

"I think I bought a pie once, maybe 10 years ago."

For Thanksgiving when 30 people come to his house, he always bakes three pies. (He's downsized: In the past, it often was 10 to 20 pies.) He both baked and cooked a variety of small dishes for Turkey Day for 20 years. Even now, he brings a pie he made whenever he and his wife need to bring food somewhere.

"I've made pies since I was 15 — primarily apple, cherry, pumpkin and pecan — and used to make my own crust. I think I bought a pie once, maybe 10 years ago."

Conquering a Challenge

He doesn't let baking's reputation for precision hamper his creativity. Experienced enough to adapt recipes to his taste, he invents variations like Paganini did on the violin. "I'm not a person who really follows recipes," he says. "I do some measurements, but for the most part I juggle it and make changes. I don't make the exact same thing twice."

His sister-in-law's recipes are an exception. "A recipe from her is guaranteed to be golden," he says. "She used to make wedding cakes."

His masterpiece so far: an Italian cream cake with seven different types of nuts, from a church cookbook recipe. "It was one of my more challenging efforts — folded egg whites and all," he explains.

He loves nuts, but notes many cookbooks omit them. "If you add them you have to compensate by adding more moisture, which, depending on what I have, can be oil, butter or egg," the retired software engineer advises.

It All Began with COVID

Heard about all the bread baking done during COVID? Jesse Kramer, 67, a dermatologist in Sacramento, California, was ahead of the curve: He started baking sourdough more than 25 years ago, after medical school. He even built a brick oven in his backyard big enough to bake 12 loaves at a time, teaching himself masonry, at his former home in Redding, California.

"I'd make a dozen baguettes on the weekend, take 10 to the office on Monday, and give them to my staff and patients," Kramer says. "Patients would call on Friday before their Monday appointments to ask for bread. They didn't care about clearing up their psoriasis, they just wanted my bread," he jokes.

Kramer makes bagels often, plus cakes and pies like Key lime for family events. "But day in, day out, I bake bread. It appeals to me: It's like being a medical specialist — my comfort zone is knowing a lot about a confined area. Sourdough was so intriguing, the biology of keeping the culture going, I went head over heels."


"We're defined by our passions," says Kramer, who still works about 60 hours a week. "I just became very — well, my wife and kids say this is an obsession. I'm OK with that."

His passion for bread was honed by living in Sonoma County for decades. "I ate amazing artisanal bread there, often baked in Alan Scott ovens," he says, referring to a style of wood-burning brick oven designed by the late Australian baker.

A Community of Bakers on the Web

"I bought my sourdough starter from a Sonoma bakery, and kept it in multiple moves," Kramer recalls. He devoured cookbooks from Tartine Bakery in San Francisco (called "America's most influential bakery" by Bon Appetit) and Ken's Artisan Bakery in Portland, Oregon. "I was mostly attracted to books that had the best pictures."

He also followed websites like The Fresh Loaf and Breadtopia. "There's a wonderful set of videos and forums," he says. "You can be in a community, due to the whole social media part."

He also racked up awards: His French baguette won a Best in Show ribbon across all bread categories at the Shasta County fair in northern California, while his apple pie won third place in the Sonoma County fair in the state's wine-growing region.

Improvising In the Kitchen

His baking style evolves over time. "Initially when I tried a new recipe, I was very strict about following it exactly. I'm religiously scrupulous about it, and feel like I benefit from some experience," he says. "Once I'm comfortable, I then modify it over time."

"The aroma is always enticing, so you anticipate the taste and reap the rewards in the eating."

His hobby is an integral part of his daily life, and his ardor for it is contagious. "At lunch today, I had a sandwich with my bread. Last night, I had it toasted with a Meyer lemon marmalade that's to die for."

He has persuaded two sons-in-law to start baking bread. One is a pharmacist, the other a Harvard MBA who runs an inn in Slovenia.

Patent, the cookbook writer and former zoology professor, speaks for many of his fellow bakers when explaining his passion for the craft.

"I just love putting things together — cake batter or bread dough," he says. "Then the aroma is always enticing, so you anticipate the taste, and reap the rewards in the eating and seeing how much guests enjoy it. It's very emotional."

Sharon McDonnell is a travel, culture, food, drink and “green” writer since 1999 in San Francisco, published in Conde Nast Traveler, Architectural Digest, AARP, CNN Travel,, TEATIME, Travel + Leisure, BBC Travel,, PUNCH, Blue Dot Living, The Telegraph (UK) etc. plus university magazines for Bryn Mawr, Princeton, U of Michigan, U of WA and U of WI and custom content for Silversea Cruises. She loves offbeat ideas, people and traditions, and has taken cooking classes in India, Morocco, Thailand, Malaysia, China, Italy, France, Bali and New Orleans. Read her work at
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