Jackie Alpers was a successful food photographer and budding food blogger when an editor at Quirk Books called with an idea for her – a book of dessert recipes using sprinkles. Because of her sharp eye, experience in the kitchen and playful and creative approach to food, Alpers was the perfect candidate. She dove in, discovering a world of sprinkles that she hadn’t known existed. The result, Sprinkles!: Recipes and Ideas for Rainbowlicious Desserts displays Alpers’ singular vision and style.
Image: Jackie Alpers
Lauren Chattman: When people ask, “What do you do,” what is your answer?
Jackie Alpers: I usually start by saying that I’m a food photographer, because that’s really what I did up until a couple of years ago. My husband kept pushing me to start a blog to post recipes and photos of things I made. I thought, “This is going to be a food photography blog with my recipes, but not about writing.” But once I started writing, I realized how much I loved it. I try and say something educational and entertaining but brief on the blog, and then get right to the food. I’m an educator at heart. The writing is a way to spit out all of the stuff that I want to teach. Now I’m a food photographer and cookbook author. But as far as writing goes, it always starts as a visual. I don’t think I would write without a picture.
What is your favorite part of what you do?
There’s that moment where I see a photo of a recipe I came up with, and the photo works and the recipe works. I think, “This is it. This is a good one.” It’s that feeling of successful creative expression and everything being right in the world.
How are you inspired to create recipes?
Anyone who cooks wants to put their own spin on a recipe. Eventually, that develops into a personal style. I have always liked to invent recipes. I never really thought about it, I just did it. Along the way, I developed my own style, inspired by where I’m from and where I live now. I’m a Midwestern girl living in the Sonoran dessert. I like those classic Midwestern dishes like casseroles and chili and hearty, heartwarming foods, but I also am really influenced by living in the Sonoran dessert, where we are so close to Mexico and the Sonoran-style Mexican food is amazing. Tucson is so diverse. There are so many creative, interesting people here. These days when I get into the kitchen, my first inclination is to make everything taste like Mexican chocolate—with cinnamon, chilies, vanilla. I love the whole chili-chocolate thing.
Fun was the number one factor when I was developing recipes for Sprinkles! There’s this crazy popcorn cake in the book that looks like an exploding circus. I had so much fun making it. You kind of squish everything together and put it into a cake mold. When it came out it was crazy to look at and so good, and I thought, “Yes, that was fun. It’s going into the book.”
Do you have a moment, event or recipe from your career of which you are most proud?
I am really proud of this book because it represents a lot of things I care about. Not just photography and recipes, but also the act of creativity. I’ve got an art-school background. I really want to help people find their own voices in the kitchen. Sometimes people are afraid to try new things, they’re afraid to change any recipe because they’re scared of what will happen. Working with sprinkles is just a really easy way to play with recipes and make them your own. I’m excited for people to see what I’ve made and to discover what they can make on their own.
What are the three most important things that you think the home baker should know?
- Think of baking as a no-pressure way to be creative. It’s okay if the result isn’t exactly what you envisioned. While I was working on Sprinkles! I had a general idea of what I wanted from each recipe, but sometimes in the course of testing, that idea would change. Or when I recreated a recipe for a photograph, I’d adjust the recipe to get the look I wanted. Being flexible throughout the process always got me to a happy outcome.
- It’s not that hard to take your baking to the next level, visually. Sprinkles are an easy way to add visual appeal. Take a look at websites like Cupcake Social and Bake it Pretty. When you see how many kinds of sprinkles are out there, it’s really inspiring.
- It’s okay to mess up. If your final product is hideous, put sprinkles all over it and nobody will care.
Tell us about what you are doing currently.
I’m in the middle of doing publicity for Sprinkles!, lots of interviews. I’m really excited about demonstrating some of the recipes on TV and elsewhere. It’s something I’m comfortable with, since I’ve been teaching forever and I’ve taught art, design and photography at the college level. I hope I can inspire home bakers to be creative and have fun.
What do you hope to do next?
I love taking photographs for other authors’ cookbooks, but I really loved being able to both develop recipes and take the photographs. It’s pretty unusual to have one person handle both jobs, and I think it gives a book a unique, really personal perspective. That’s the direction I want to go in.