Chef’s Table: Cheryl Day

Baking up a legacy with this Savannah sweetheart.

Excerpted from Cheryl Day's Treasury of Southern Baking by Cheryl Day (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2021. Photograph by Angie Mosier.

Cheryl Day of Bake in the Day Bakery learned to bake the way many of us in the South did: by watching her loved ones whip up sweet treats in the kitchen. She was just 8 years old when she started baking alongside her grandmother, and her passion for it has never waned. Today, she and her husband, Griff, are the proud owners of the acclaimed Back in the Day Bakery in downtown Savannah, Georgia, whose doors opened 20 years ago. But their culinary recognition goes beyond the South—they’ve built a loyal base of customers that spans across the world.

While the COVID-19 pandemic put a temporary pause on their ever-growing success, for Cheryl, there’s always a silver lining. The time that the bakery spent closed or operating at half capacity allowed her to focus on other projects she’d kept simmering on the back burner, namely her newest cookbook, Cheryl Day’s Treasury of Southern Baking.

“I’ve been working on the book on and off for about five years,” Cheryl says. “Things moved slowly with it because it kept growing and growing. And then the COVID-19 [pandemic] meant things like [scheduling] photography slowed it down even more, but it was important to me to finally get it out.”

Excerpted from The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook by Cheryl Day & Griffith Day (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2012. Photograph by Squire Fox

Their followers and customers know that Cheryl and Griff are no strangers to the hard work and dedication that comes with authoring a cookbook. The pair have written a handful of best-selling works prior to releasing this latest book. Their last award-winning publication, The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook, hit stores and shelves in 2012 and immediately captured the hearts (and stomachs) of readers with more than 100 sweets and treats from the beloved bakery’s menu.

With this one, though, Cheryl decided to do things a little differently.

“I wanted to take a deeper look into the Southern baking canon as a whole,” Cheryl says. “So, this one’s a love story to all the bakers who came before me, paying homage to all the women who created the recipes I love… with my own modern twist.”

With that in mind, Cheryl developed delicacies like her festive Boozy Fruitcake, decadent Chocolate Chess Pie, zippy Three-Citrus Cake, and so much more—like nearly 400 more recipes. One recipe that we can’t get enough of is the Cornmeal Madeleines. They’re a great way to put specialty pans in your cast iron collection to good use.

“The cast-iron pan I used for them actually belongs to a friend of mine,” Cheryl says. “Like all good cast iron, it’s been in their family for generations, but I was so happy to borrow it.”

The aforementioned cakes and pies are certainly not all Cheryl enjoys whipping up in her own heirloom skillets; she’s well versed in the benefits of baking with black iron.

“Most people would be surprised by the fact that you can bake cakes beautifully in your skillets,” Cheryl says. “They get intimidated because they think, ‘My seasoning isn’t going to work well with any baked goods.’ That’s exactly what’s going to make it better. I even make one of my and Griff ’s favorite recipes, honey-caramel sticky buns, in our skillet every Christmas Eve or Christmas morning.”

Once the hustle and bustle of the holiday season dies down and the dust settles after the new book launch, Cheryl has a few other surprises up her sleeve. Because repercussions from the COVID-19 pandemic almost crippled the restaurant industry, forcing many owners to scale back operations, Cheryl took it as an opportunity to make a few necessary but exciting changes.

With the bakery’s dining room closed, she took a leap of faith and renovated the space into the home base of operations for Back in the Day Bakery’s newest division, Janie Q, named after Cheryl’s mother.

Excerpted from Cheryl Day’s Treasury of Southern Baking by Cheryl Day (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2021. Photograph by Angie Mosier.

“We’re starting a small-batch jam and provisions company,” Cheryl says. “In what was previously a dining space, we’re producing jams and biscuit mixes and other fun things to ship out to people who can’t make their way to us these days.”

For now, these items are going to be sold exclusively through the bakery’s website, but you can also get your fix at their handy walk-up window that was recently added to serve customers sans dining room.

The transition Cheryl and her team have made reflects the ingenuity and resiliency of her fellow restaurateurs. When it comes to Back in the Day Bakery, though, one thing is for sure: Cheryl will continue to put every ounce of love she has into it for as long as its doors remain open. She does it to honor all the memories she’s created and will continue to create inside.

“Griff and I got married in the bakery,” Cheryl says. “We officially tied the knot right there in front of the customers, and there’s probably a hundred other great times I could mention. The bakery is in our hearts and everything we do.”