Blog Category Archives: Interviews

Louisa Conrad Talks Goat Milk Caramel and Her Herd of Divas

big picture farm

I had seen boxes of Big Picture Farm caramels in our local Whole Foods store, but it wasn’t until I met the owners at a trade show that my interest was really piqued, and it was all because of the goats. Their display was as much about the goat milk caramels –with flavors like Cocoa Latte, Chai and Maple as well as their Original – as it was about their herd. Pictures and drawings of the “girls” (their milking goats) were everywhere: on packaging, their table, the backdrop, all the signage. It was apparent that the animal husbandry aspect of their business was just as important as the food product, which I found intriguing, being such an animal person myself.

Big Picture Farm Nubian goat named Junebug

Turns out that they have been recognized by animal welfare organizations for their good work. The candy itself has been awarded as well. The image above is of Junebug, one of their Nubian girls, gazing with appreciation upon a 2012 SOFI (Specialty Outstanding Food Innovation) Award for Outstanding Confection, given by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade. The flavors are subtle, but true and natural. The impression is of a sophisticated, quality artisanal product. Check out our review.

We chatted with Louisa Conrad this week – owner, goat den mother and caramel maker.

Bakepedia: Louisa, it is so great to finally be speaking with you. You know through our correspondences how much I’ve been looking forward to talking about your “girls.”
Louisa Conrad: Well, Dédé, we do love our animals dearly and they take up our time. I work for them!

You chose a labor-intensive business! Tell us how it all started.
We lived in Vermont. I was teaching art, my husband, Lucas Sarrell, was teaching writing and we had a four-month gap of time. He had students whose family ran a goat-cheese farm and we decided to apprentice with them. I have always loved goat cheese and we were ready for something new. Of course, I had no idea I was going to fall in love with the goats! We came away saying that we had to figure out a way to live like that, have a life like that. It really spoke to us. So we brainstormed and goat cheese didn’t seem like the way to go. We were in Vermont after all, surrounded by so many great cheese makers already, and many of them were friends. We then apprenticed with a farm that had sheep and goats. I started playing around with the goat’s milk trying to make caramels and they came out pretty well. The farm owners sold their cheese at farmer’s markets and encouraged me to bring the caramels to see if people would like them.

Ah, market research right off the bat! That sounds like it was a perfect situation.
It really was. I didn’t even have packaging. I sewed little bags to hold the caramels and we did this every week for three months and got tons of valuable feedback – this is too hard, or too soft or too sticky. I was really working on the recipe constantly. Then, that fall came (2010) and I felt confident enough to tell friends and family that I was willing to take holiday orders. So it really started at farmer’s markets and then we went online.

Do you ever do any cheese?
We are still very new. We bought our farm end of last fall but we have 1,000 pounds of cheese aging right now. We will probably debut it this fall. We have the candy in about 30 or so Whole Foods around the country and many independent stores as well.

Tell us about production. How does it work? Don’t you have to milk goats twice a day?
Yes, and it is three of us right now for a herd of 40 goats, although we have other workers at various times of year. The batches are almost made to order. The order comes in and goes out four or five days later. We cook about eight batches a day. It takes three hours to cook caramel and there are about 700 caramels in a batch. Last October, we were cooking around the clock. The shelf life is about two to three months.

Did you have any kind of a cooking background?
No, I didn’t, but I have always had an incredible sweet tooth and also a good taste memory. When I was a kid, my parents had European friends who would send us this British toffee every Christmas and I thought it was the most delicious thing ever! So that was the flavor I aspired to. I just kept cooking and cooking test batches. We had pigs at the time. They got a lot of caramel cast-offs. We were in 12 stores before we even had the electric cookers that we have now. We still do everything by hand, but in the beginning it was especially labor intensive. We were in Murray’s Cheese in NYC pretty early and I would cook and cook and throw away a lot of caramel. If it wasn’t right, out it went. I read a lot of science texts, any research I could do to improve our product. We do it all. I did the drawings on the packages as well. 

You did? That’s amazing; you are multi-talented! They are drawings of your actual girls, right?
Yes, and believe me, just like the drawings, they all have individual personalities. Many of them are quite diva-like.

Tell us about how you chose the breeds that you have, and how old the goats have to be before they produce milk.
We fell in love with the Saanen breed [from Switzerland] when we were apprenticing. I seriously had no idea that goats were so loveable. We received some goats as wedding presents! It was kind of like, okay, now we have to do this (laughs). Fern was our first goat and was named after the person who gave her to us. In fact, the goat’s all have names that have meaning, either friends, family or some association. We also have French Alpine goats and Nubians. They are the ones with the floppy ears. We are a young farm; we launched this line 2011. Typically at large commercial operations they will wait for goats to be 3 to 5 years of age when they give most milk, but they can produce until the ages of 8 or 9.

So you blend the milks?
Yes. The Nubian’s milk contains more fat; the Saanen makes more milk but less of a fatty milk. We milk twice a day and get the milk to 38˚ within a half an hour. That milk is cooked into caramel that day.

If you stored the milk and then made the caramels, would you be able to tell in the finished product?
Definitely, by about day three for sure. We milk and cook the same day because the result is just better. We have 86 acres and every day the girls are on a new part of land. We have solar fences that are easily moved. So while the girls are getting milked, we move the fences, so when they are turned back out into pasture, it is a new area. It’s beneficial because it helps the land growth but also because it is always clean. They have new food and new space.

Do you have a favorite product?
Yes, our original sea salt and vanilla is my favorite, but I also love the maple cream. Of course I like to pour maple syrup on everything I eat (laughs).

Well you live in the right state, then! What’s next?
The holiday season is coming up, which is the busiest, but then during the winter I get to start thinking about and developing new products.

Louisa, thank you so much for your time and we wish you luck with your caramels – and say hello to the girls for us!
Thank you, Dédé, will do.

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The Minimalist Baker: Exclusive Interview with Dana Schultz

Exclusive Interview with Dana Schultz


Dana Shultz Headshot 1


The blog is one that I frequent often, to look at the amazing pictures, read Dana Schultz’s musings and to visit and re-visit their Photography School. I was very excited to see that she had written a book, Minimalist Baker’s Everyday Cooking. There is something about being able to hold a book in your hands and browse at one’s leisure. Just like her site the book promises food that is “10 ingredients or less, one bowl or less than 30 minutes to prepare”. Dana took some time to chat with us via email so that we could get a first-hand peek into her world.



Hi Dana! Thank you for taking a moment out of your busy schedule to chat with us. There are many followers of your blog, me included, who feel like we “know” you and I was so excited for you and all of your readers when I saw that you had a book, Minimalist Baker’s Everyday Cooking.​ As you mention in your introduction, there is something about holding a cookbook in your hands. I went from print to digital. You started online and now have the book. Tell us a little bit about how writing for print was different and how you chose recipes to bring us via the cookbook.

Thanks for the love! Writing the cookbook wasn’t much different than writing the blog, to be honest. I kept it pretty simple with short recipe descriptions and a brief introduction at the beginning of the book to invite people into our story and let them know a little bit about how we got to where we are. Writing these sections felt effortless because I felt like it was a conversation between me and the readers of our blog.

As far as the recipes, I chose dishes that were approachable and great for everyday ­ like Chickpea Noodle Soup and my favorite green smoothie ­rather than the sensational recipes I like to post on the blog ­ like Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Ice Cream or General Tso’s Tofu. I wanted the book to be a kitchen companion of sorts, and not one that you only dust off at Thanksgiving or special occasions.


It has been 4 years since you started your blog, Minimalist Bakerwith your husband John. What foods and approaches are most important to your fans?

The first and most important approach to food is simplicity. Our readers know that when they come to our blog every recipe will require 30 minutes or less, 1 bowl, or 10 ingredients or less to prepare. That’s important to me because that’s the way I cook and the way I search for recipes online and in cookbooks to actually make.

I also think our readers value healthy options, and special diet ­friendly recipes.


Is there one recipe that became incredibly popular on the blog that surprised you? Did you do a version of it for the book?

I think people love our Best Damn Vegan Biscuits. They’re undetectably dairy free. And yes, I did do a version of them for the cookbook where I infused cheese, garlic, and herb flavors into the dough and the result is reminiscent of Red Lobster’s famous Cheddar Bay Biscuits!


What are your favorite foods to work with and why?

My favorite foods to work with include bananas for their natural sweetness and ability to act like an egg in some recipes, as well as flaxseed for its ability to act like an egg in baking. I also love working with unsweetened plain almond milk because it’s so versatile and lends itself to sweet and savory dishes alike. I love coconut sugar and maple syrup for natural sweetness. Arrowroot starch is becoming a new love because of its ability to make a cheese sauce almost stringy and thick like the real thing!


Tell our readers how to get the most out of your recipes. What are some important things for them to pay attention to?

I always recommend reading the whole recipe start to finish and observing the required prep and cook time before starting, so they have an idea of what they’re getting into and aren’t surprised along the way. I also don’t recommend making too many substitutions or alterations to the recipes as vegan and gluten free baking especially can be tricky when you make too many swaps. Other than that, it’s pretty straight forward! I hope people love the recipes and go back to them over and over again.


We are featuring your G​arlic “Cheddar” Herb Biscuits​ and also the Dark Chocolate Almond Coconut Bites. ​Give us some inside info about those recipes so that we can make them as perfect as the pictures!

Those are two of the easiest, straight­forward recipes in the book. For the biscuits, be sure not to overwork the dough or they can turn out tough. And don’t forget the melted vegan butter on top before baking for moisture and extra buttery flavor. For the coconut bites, be sure to pack the coconut mixture firmly into the Tablespoon and use a finger to gently slide it out in one swoop ­this will yield a perfect bite that won’t crumble.


Can you share anything about what’s next with your blog or foray into the book world? What is the Minimalist Baker team working on now?

We’re always working on improving our website design and functionality, as well as recipe and photograph quality. We’re also improving a few of our digital products at the moment. We may or may not have our sites set on another cookbook at some point. But for right now, we’re just pinching ourselves with how this first book turned out and can’t wait to hear what people think.


Dana, thank you so much for your time and we wish you the best with the book.

Thank you! I’m honored to be interviewed.



Please take the time to visit Dana at and to check out her book.


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The April Peveteaux Interview: Is Gluten Your Bitch?

April Peveteaux Demystifies Gluten

April Peveteaux_credit Aaron Goldman


April Peveteaux, the blogger behind Gluten is My Bitch has a new book, The Gluten-Free Cheat Sheet. In it she takes our hand and guides us into the world of GF living in a way that makes it all seem not only possible, but tasty as well. April took some time to chat with us about her GF philosophy as well as some practical advice.


Dédé Wilson: April, thank you for your hard work for the gluten-free community! Transitioning to a GF lifestyle can be so daunting and your humor and practical approach makes it less so. Can you remember the early days when you realized this was going to be your diet from that moment forward? What were some of the things that helped you begin going gluten free? Would love to hear about products or recipes or maybe even a mind-set that was helpful.


April Peveteaux: Thank you!

It IS a rough transition, but I have to say the beginning was a bit easier for me since I had recently added food writing to my repertoire (I’m a parenting and lifestyle writer and editor). So I was used to experimenting in the kitchen, thank the maker.

I was determined to remake everything I knew I would miss using gluten-free flours and a lot of finger crossing. I started with breakfast and immediately gluten-freed my favorite lemon ricotta pancake recipe (it’s one of my very first blog posts on Gluten Is My Bitch!) I worked my way through family recipes and enjoyed the challenge. (This is also when I discovered gluten-free batter is not to be licked off the spoon if you want to enjoy your chocolate cake.)

I gradually transitioned from using gluten-free flour blends to experimenting with all-purpose gluten-free flour you can buy already mixed. I much prefer that route for almost every recipe (not all of them!) and I work hard to figure out how to make it easier on those of us who are craving chocolate chip cookies, and fast.

The toughest part came when I realized if I wanted to have fried chicken, cake, bread and even Chinese food—I had to make it myself. I love cooking and discovering new ways of eating gluten-free, but I’d love a break even more. Not being able to just order in when I’m tired of whipping up some magic is still a huge bummer.


I do fine with GF pasta, English muffins, scones, pretzels…but I have to say I still haven’t found the GF bagel of my dreams. Close but…do you have any bagel sources for us? Do you have a GF item you are still searching for?

I recently had Canyon Bakehouse’s new gluten-free everything bagels and I loved them. In fact, they sent me plain and everything and my gluten-eating family also loved them so much that when I went out of town for a long weekend, I came home to no more bagels.

My local bakery, Rising Hearts, also makes an amazing gluten-free bagel. In fact, I find that going local with a bakery that makes things fresh is the best way to go when you’re trying to find pastries, cakes and bagels. Gluten-free desserts just don’t sit well.

With that said, I’m dying for a gluten-free puff pastry. Someone please get on that!!!


How about a commercial GF product you just love that you want to turn us onto? For me, I make sure everyone knows about Food for Life English Muffins. I just love them.

Now I need to try those! Thanks for the tip.

Fresh gluten-free pastas found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store like RP’s have completely changed my pasta game. I can simplify the ingredients in any pasta dish now and enjoy the texture and flavor of pasta without dressing it up with a million ingredients.

My house is never without gluten-free matzo from Yehuda. We use it as crackers, after-school pizzas and anything else we can think of. I love that matzo and am so grateful that my local grocery stores keep it in stock year-round.


Your book, The Gluten-Free Cheat Sheetis a great read. The Meal Plan section is particularly helpful. What go-to recipes are on your rotation right now this summer?

Thank you!

I’ve been enjoying the BBQ Chicken Salad at least once a week. It just makes me happy and feels fresh like summer. Like I should be eating outdoors all the time!

I’m also making the BBQ Spare Ribs this weekend, so clearly I’m in full barbecue mode, as one should be in summer.

Tuna Tartare is my favorite appetizer for the hot months (and let’s be honest, beyond) and my kids make sure we have Strawberry Lemonade on hand as well. Yes, we eat and drink well in our household.


What ingredient(s) should every GF pantry have?

Fresh or dried herbs (and can I include red pepper flakes???? They’re my fave!) You can add loads of flavor to everything—scrambled eggs, greens, roasted chicken and so much more. You want to make food that makes you forget you’re missing out on gluten, and the better the flavor, the more satisfying your meal will be.


We are featuring your Almond Scones and your Caramel Popcorn Sundae. Any tips for home bakers making these recipes? You and I know GF doesn’t mean you have to feel deprived!

I would mix and match your fruits and accouterments on your sundae so it can please everyone bellying up to the dessert bar!


April, thank you so much for your time and your new book.


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The Ronni Lundy Interview: All About Sweet Sorghum Syrup

Ronni Lundy Sets Us Straight on Sorghum

ronni lundy


Ronni Lundy has written a book called Sorghum’s Savor, which brings us the history of this classic southern US sweetener, along with recipes both savory and dessert focused. There has been much media recently on alternative sweeteners and there is a lot of confusion about what sorghum syrup is, and we thought who better to set us straight. Here is our chat with Ronni.



Dédé Wilson: Ronni, thank you so much for chatting with us. In the last few months we have been seeing recipes featuring sorghum left and right. To what do you attribute this recent interest? Obviously you were ahead of the curve, as you must have had your book in the works for a while…

Ronni Lundy: Thanks for having me, Dédé. And you’re right that I’ve wanted to write this book for some time. I was lucky to have been born into sorghum syrup culture in the Appalachian South. I was familiar with its intriguing flavor profile from early on and so it was in my culinary vocabulary as well as my pantry. I started playing with it in recipes almost as soon as I started cooking on my own and I discovered how versatile it is, and what a natural enhancer of other flavors. That’s one reason it’s become so popular now with contemporary chefs. Sorghum syrup can move across a spectrum of cuisines. Of course, chefs had to taste it to know this and so had to seek it out. I think sorghum syrup’s “discovery” has a lot to do with our interest in finding authentic local ingredients. For chefs working in or near the mountain south and certain pockets in the midwest, sorghum syrup can be found at farm stands, much the way John Fleer and Edward Lee describe discovering it in Sorghum’s Savor. Sorghum making is still an annual ritual with a lot of cultural resonance, as well, so it comes with a story—all attractive to contemporary cooks.


It was fascinating to read in the beginning of your book how even those in the industry sometimes call sorghum by the word “molasses”. My fiancé grew up in Memphis and I asked him if he had grown up with sorghum. He said no. But then he said they always had molasses around. Who knows what he was eating! Talk to us a bit about the terminology and what folks should look for if they want to buy true sorghum syrup.

Yes. My family called it molasses, for short, or sorghum molasses and I grew up thinking all molasses was sorghum. In fact, molasses is actually the by-product of making sugar, the liquid left when the crystals form. It cane by bottled immediately or boiled further to intensify its minerality. It’s got the same dark notes as sorghum syrup, but the flavor is much less complex and nuanced, and molasses also often has a brackish backbite.

Sorghum syrup is produced with sweet sorghum cane—a relative of grain sorghum, but a variety of the plant that has a sugary juice in its stalks—is pressed to release that juice, and then the juice is boiled and skimmed to make a syrup. It’s not the by product of another process, it’s the point.

I recommend that people look for labeling that identifies what they’re buying as 100% sorghum syrup, or that bears the logo of the National Sweet Sorghum Producers and Processors Association’s label. And I also suggest they look for something on the label that identifies who actually makes the sorghum syrup.


Do you have some favorite online resources for ordering?

Muddy Pond Sorghum at makes a beautiful product and they have been selling online for many years. They are a great gateway to appreciating sorghum. The NSSPA, mentioned above, also has an annually updated list of members who sell online. I also urge folks to try to find out if someone in their area is making it.


If a home baker has a recipe at home that uses a liquid sweetener, and they want to try substituting with sorghum syrup, what are your recommendations?

Sorghum syrup can make an equal exchange for molasses or honey, although some sorghum is sweeter than some molasses. It’s not a given and not a problem in a recipe where molasses is one of many ingredients (like BBQ sauce). In a recipe where molasses is at the forefront, taste the sorghum. If it seems dramatically sweeter than you associate with molasses, you may want to reduce it by a quarter. Then again, you may want that extra sweetness. I’ve been using sorghum in old candy recipes that call for corn syrup lately—again an equal exchange, but it gives a lovely golden note to the finished flavor.


What is a recipe that you would never make without sorghum and what is one that you have recently discovered is improved with its inclusion?

I would never make a pecan pie or any of its kin without sorghum again. The buttery, tangy aspects are the perfect balance to the intense sweetness. Writing this book, I fell in love with Splendid Chai—the classic Indian spiced tea. That led me to experiment with it in other masala seasoned recipes, and I’ve not been disappointed yet.


We are featuring your Sorghum Bourbon Pecan Pie and the Gravy Horse (with Ouita’s Biscuits). Any extra tips for these recipes?

Make sure to make plenty.


Ronni, thank you so much for your time and we wish you all the best with Sorghum’s Savor.

Dédé , it’s been my pleasure. Thank you so much.

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Kyotofu – an Interview with Author and Tofu Expert Nicole Bermensolo

Interview with Nicole Bermensolo



Dédé Wilson: Nicole, thank you for taking the time to chat with us. Tofu is always in my fridge and these days it is a fairly common ingredient for many. So for those who might have it around, but have only used it for a savory dish, where do you suggest they begin their sweet tofu exploration?

Nicole Bermensolo: Simple is best. Start simply. My recipe for sweet tofu only has 4 ingredients. It really allows the soymilk to shine through.


How about the other soy ingredients that you use in Kyotofu? Can you tell us a bit about those?

There are so many! Miso, kinako, and soymilk to name a few. Miso is fermented soy paste, kinako is toasted soy flour, and soymilk is milk made from boiled and strained soybeans. Each has a very different flavor and lends itself to different uses.


If someone is not in a major metropolitan area or somewhere where they have a lot of tofu choices, what brands do you suggest that are readily available? Or, put another way, what should folks look for on the label to make sure they are getting a good tofu.

I advocate any brand of Japanese tofu. They’re the experts after all! I personally like House brand and Morinaga brand.


You shifted from being a restaurateur to a wholesale business. Now that you are making baked goods on a larger scale, what are your biggest sellers? Any items that you loved that just didn’t gel with the public?

Biggest sellers are the miso brownies and chocolate chunk cookies. Yes, plenty of items haven’t worked with a larger audience. It’s sometimes hard to tell what will be received well in different regions of the country. It can vary widely.


We are featuring your Yuzu Blueberry Pound Cake and your Chocolate Chunk Cookies that incorporate kinako. Can you offer some extra tips for our home bakers who want to make these recipes?

Both of these recipes are very forgiving. They’re hard to get wrong. But if you do stray a bit, there is a very good chance they will still turn out well. My main concern would be watching baking times. Less for a chewier cookie, more for a harder cookie. And don’t burn the pound cake!!  Check it often the first time you make it.  Every oven is different.


Nicole, thank you so much for your expertise and your creativity with tofu!



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The Alexander Weiss Interview: Our Favorite Junior MasterChef

The Alexander Weiss Interview

alexander slider


If you missed watching MasterChef Junior, then you missed out. These kids know their way around the kitchen. Alexander Weiss was victorious and is now developing recipes for House Foods, among other activities – like starting high school! He wants to open a restaurant someday – and we will cover it when he does. He took time out of his busy schedule to chat with us.




Dédé Wilson: Alexander, first of all, we loved your energy and recipes on MasterChef Junior. Your macaron recipe is so emblematic of your really smart approach to cooking and baking. We use plenty of tofu here, but never would have thought of using it for a French macaron. Tell us about your creative process in how this recipe developed.

 Alexander Weiss: French macarons are one of my favorite things to bake, and I wanted to utilize House Foods Tofu to create something different. I figured that the tofu would be a good base for some sort of filling for the macaron, and enhancing it with some simple flavors as to not overcomplicate the pastry, such as mascarpone, or honey. No favorite ingredients or least favorite ingredients come to mind, however, what truly matters to me is the quality and freshness of good ingredients. Living in NYC, I have access to some of the best ingredients, and it doesn’t really matter what kind of ingredient it is, just as long as the quality is good.  Working with House Foods Tofu has given me the chance to create recipes that families can enjoy making and eating together.  Tofu is a great substitution for various everyday ingredients to ensure meals have that extra nourishment with every bite.


Dédé Wilson: You have been all over the place since your win with appearances and recipes…tell us how competing and winning has changed your life.

By competing on the show, and in the end winning; I have had amazing opportunities to travel the world for my culinary passion. My life has been boosted into the path I need to be on to begin my culinary profession at such a young age, and it couldn’t have been done without MCJ.


Dédé Wilson: When it comes to baking and desserts, what are your favorites to eat and to make and why?

I love to eat light and refreshing desserts, nothing too heavy as to not spoil the meal had before it. I love to bake French and American desserts, as that is what I grew up baking with my mom. Sometimes, the simple things are always what make me the most happy.


Dédé Wilson: For others out there who are your age and who have an interest in baking and cooking, what are your words of wisdom?

Cooking is something that many people do at home, but for some it is more than that, it is a passion. For some, it’s that burning desire to whip up a batch of ice cream base at midnight because you had this crazy idea for an ice cream flavor that you just had to make. If cooking and baking makes you happy, you already have half of the foundation of cooking; that passion. If cooking is the path you want to take your life, follow it, and stick with it through all the ups and downs.


Dédé Wilson: What’s next for you? We want to hear about your short term and long term plans.

The next steps for me begin with high school, as well as future summer internships in restaurants to learn. I continue to cook at home, but want to open a restaurant in the future.


Dédé Wilson: Thank you so much for your time, Alexander. We wish you luck with your career and cannot wait to see how far you go! You are an inspiration.



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The Cheryl and Griffith Day Interview

The Cheryl and Griffith Day Interview



Cheryl and Griffith Day bring their zest for life and baked goods to their newest book, Back in the Day Bakery Made with Love. This is a couple who live life together to the fullest, and a large portion of it just happens to be in the kitchen and in their bakery, creating sweet treats for their lucky patrons. Now it is easier than ever to bring their celebration of baked goods into your own home with their recipes. We are featuring their Banoffee Pie and Marshmallow Chocolate Cookie Sammies and they agreed to chat with us about their approach to food and crafting.




Dédé Wilson: Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day.

Cheryl Day: Thank you for calling!


It’s so great to finally speak with you…last year with your first book we featured the Chocolate Bread and your Cupcakes. It is high time we chatted! Love this new book and the fact that it is packed with recipes but food related craft projects as well…like that Marshmallow Chandelier! How did you come up with the idea to do a cookbook that also included these fun side craft projects?

Cheryl Day: So, yes, one of my DIY projects comes after each chapter…we wanted to give readers a sense of what our bakery looks like, to experience our aesthetic. I am all about crafts! And the publisher got us. They knew we wanted to add these this time around (in this book). And we had also gotten feedback from the first book. Readers wanted to know more about our use of vintage linens and treasures. We had talked about them but they hadn’t been photographed in the first book…so in this book you will see Best in Show pie ribbons, Baby Cake Party Hat and a Keepsake Cake Topper and that marshmallow chandelier actually hangs in the bakery…


OK I have to comment on that chandelier. I know this makes no sense – and would be a ridiculous fire hazard – but every time I look at the photo of that marshmallow chandelier I picture the marshmallows flaming. Like a S’Mores chandelier or something. It’s so whimsical and fantastical…

Flaming? That’s funny! Yeah, we have it hanging, but not flaming!


Now tell me, on a day to day basis, who does what at the bakery? Is one of you back of house and the other front of house?

Cheryl: Griff is master of everything. He really is! But over the years we have learned to define our rolls as a married couple. It helps us and the business!

Griffith: I am back of house, handle finances, create menus, work on whatever is in the cases for lunch…I make sourdough breads…Cheryl does the sweets with our pastry chefs…


So you both do production?

Cheryl: Absolutely! He knows how to do anything and everything…but we have separated our tasks…I am the sweet team (laughs).


I am a bit obsessed with your Shaker Meyer Lemon Pie Bars. How did you come up with that?

Cheryl: It was Griff’s idea. Everything we do we try to make as easy as possible. We are self-taught and write for home bakers. Bars are much more approachable than pies…some people freak out with pie.

Griff: Yes, I thought these would be easier for home baker to do…

Cheryl: They are homespun, nostalgic and easy…people have fear of making pie crust but this is so simple and the recipe has been very popular.


We are showcasing your Banoffee Pie and the Marshmallow Chocolate Cookie Sammies. Any tips for these recipes?

Cheryl: Sure! One thing for the Banoffee pie – the crust is a simple press in crust – but people tend to want to rush making the caramel layer. You have to be patient! It really does turn into caramel…don’t rush. But it is something that can be done in advance, so you can make it and have it on hand. Any other tips (Cheryl asks Griff)?

Griff: That says it all. Take the time with the caramel component.

Cheryl: For the cookies, I tell people it is one of those recipes that has several different components but you don’t have to make all same day. It doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Make the cookie part the day ahead…or, if you want to make it al at once it can be one of those fun projects, but being in a bakery we think about what we can do in advance without sacrificing flavor or textures…


What chocolate do you like to use for the glaze?

Cheryl: We use Callebaut and Scharfen Berger in the bakery. Use a chocolate you like the taste of and spend some money on a good chocolate. To me when you work with chocolate it is a special treat so spend a little…


Don’t try to melt down chips for this one!

Cheryl: Exactly. And I thought it as funny the way we photographed that one. We were making sure to coat the whole thing and it looked a bit messy…


Stuff goes through ugly phases! I loved the photo because that’s what stuff looks like!

Cheryl: It is real life she says! Yes, it’s how it was and how it is! We aren’t the type of bakers that are so meticulous. This adds to the character and it resonated with me and will with home bakers; their cookies will look like the ones in the book! We have this fan, this woman, who is baking her way through our second book. She makes every recipe! She did the same with our first book and it is amazing to see her progression. She has gotten so good now she is really food styling!


This is a bakery customer?

Cheryl: No, we’ve actually never met her! But we keep up with her on Instagram. She labels everything and is obviously having such a great time! She bakes more than anyone we know. Her husband stole our book away from her and sent it to us to be signed as a surprise for her…


Oh, how wonderful!

Cheryl: And then she didn’t get the second book right away but she found some previewed recipes in a magazine and she was baking them before the book actually came out!


That’s a diehard fan!

Cheryl: And her styling has gotten so good we should probably have her come out and help us with the third book…


There’s a third book? Can you talk about it yet?

Cheryl: We are doing another book…don’t know what…but it will definitely be related to how we like to bake…we’ve received a lot of feedback on book tour about what fans would like…more savory is definitely a request. It’s great being able to directly hear seeing what folks are asking for.


So what are you doing right now, in the beginning of summer?

Cheryl: Going to the farmer’s market…seeing what I can find there. I’m looking forward to all the ripe tomatoes. I love our savory tomato pie! And I love working with blackberries and all kinds of wonderful fruit…peaches, plums. Pies can’t be beat in the summer!


My favorite breakfast is fruit pie…

Cheryl: That’s why we did hand pies! That way you can have pie for breakfast even if you are the run…Griff does bread everyday…pickled salads…it’s so hot in Savannah…we just go to the farmer’s market and “put up” what we find. That way even on a gloomy winter day you can pull something off the shelf and re-live the bounty of summer.


Cheryl and Griff, thank you so much for your time. And now I want to go look up that fan of yours on Instagram. Nice that fans like that! We wish you great success with the book.

Cheryl: Thank you Dédé! You have a great day!




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The Shauna Sever Interview: Her New Book is Real Sweet

Interview with Real Sweet’s Author Shauna Sever

Author Photo_Shauna Sever


Shauna Sever’s new book, Real Sweet, explores the world of alternative sugars, such as coconut sugar, muscovado, agave and more. We love her approach and have had great success with the recipes in the Test Kitchen. If you are looking to use less white sugar, or are just interested in all of the wonderful flavors these sweeteners can provide, then this book is for you. Read to hear her own words about how this book came about and make sure to check out her Coconut Sugar Banana Sheet Cake and Oatmeal Cream Cookie Sandwiches.


Dédé Wilson: Shauna, when it comes to baking I often think of three key ingredients as our building blocks: butter, sugar and flour. Recently Alice Medrich turned to flour as a flavor ingredient – in fact her book is called Flavor Flours – and she explored all of the lesser-used flours like sorghum, teff and buckwheat. In your book Real Sweetyou seem to be taking the same approach with sugars looking beyond white and brown and delving into coconut sugar, muscovado, agave and maple syrup among others. How did it occur to you to write a book on this subject and approach? And by the way, we are so glad you did!

Well, thank you! That is exactly what I want people to know about “Real Sweet”–that there’s a whole world of flavors out there when it comes to sugar. In the U.S. especially, we’re so used to reaching for refined, white granulated sugar for baking and treat making (and standard-issue brown sugar, which is really just white granulated sugar with a little molasses added back in), that we don’t realize that there are alternatives, and ones that taste better and are less processed, too. It started with the treats I make for my kids, which make up most of the first chapter of the book–things like chewy little Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Raisin Treats, which are completely date-sweetened and packed with whole grains, Homemade Fruit Leather with honey, Breakfast Cookies that are perfect for everyday, Blueberry-Maple Oatmeal Muffins. And then once I realized how easy it was to convert white sugar recipes in other categories, like bake sale classics, candies, impressive dinner party desserts, and ice creams, I got really excited about the flavor possibilities by using natural sugars in recipes instead of the more refined white stuff, which is completely void of flavor and character. 
How did you begin to develop recipes? Was there a basic substitution formula that you followed or developed from trial and error?
It was a lot of trial and error. There is a great Sweet Swaps chart in the beginning of the book to help you start by using whatever natural sugars you happen to have on hand, but not every natural sugar makes a great white sugar alternative in every recipe, because they come from different sources. Some start out as sugarcane, while others come from totally different plants and therefore don’t act the same when you apply heat to them. I learned to sort of “respect the sugar”, and use certain ones in particular recipes where they’re mostly like to be successful. For example, don’t expect a crisp cookie when you swap the dry white sugar in it for honey–it might be sweet-tasting, but the crunch is never going to happen. Liquid sweeteners like honey or agave are hygroscopic and pull moisture from the air and just get more moist as they sit. You can’t control science, man. That’s just the way of the sugar. But if you want a nice sticky cake that gets better as it rests on the counter, honey is your best friend.
Which sugar was the easiest to work with and what was the most challenging? How did you handle the one that gave you trouble?
Dark muscovado sugar is a wonder ingredient. It’s like regular dark brown sugar on steroids, and swaps perfectly 1:1 in just about every recipe, and gives fabulous results and huge flavor with little to no tweaks to the original recipe. Coconut sugar, on the other hand, can be a little tricky. That’s why it’s nicknamed “The Femme Fatale” in the book (each chapter has a “sugar one-sheet” which outlines a sugar’s characteristics and best uses), because it can burn at a lower temperature than white cane sugar, and sometimes can dry things out. I tend to give a recipe four tries–if I can’t get it to work by that point and meet the end goal I have in my mind and tastebuds, I shelve it. 
What are some of the recipes in your book that really highlight the individual sugars best? In other words, if someone wants to really explore and taste muscovado or CC, which recipes bring out their best qualities? 
As high maintenance as it can be, when you find a great recipe for coconut sugar, it’s just so fabulous tasting I can’t even tell you. To combat any drying in cakes, recipes with lots of moisture in the forms of fruit purees or mashed banana (like the Coconut Sugar Banana Sheet Cake with Caramelized Coconut Sugar Frosting) are terrific with coconut sugar, as are things that have a bit more butter or oil in them. Dark muscovado and dark maple syrup are both terrific with bittersweet chocolate and warming spices (like the Dark, Fudgy Muscovado Brownies or Spiced, Bruleed Maple Pumpkin Pie). I love using different flavored honeys, too–blueberry honey, lavender, chamomile…they’re all so beautiful with delicate fruits like berries, citrus, and nuts. 
Do you have a favorite sweetener? What is it about this one?
The aforementioned dark muscovado–it adds so much dimension to familiar things like a classic chocolate chip cookie or blondie. That’s so much of what this book is about–taking familiar things and making them other-wordly with these better quality, more natural sugars and sweeteners that might also happen to have a nice little nutrient punch, too. 
What is the most economic way to buy these sugars? Do you have some favorite sources? 
I swear by buying in bulk from natural foods stores, and buying online. Amazon is a treasure trove of natural sugars! Many warehouse stores now have a surprising number of white sugar alternatives these days, too–it was actually a sighting at Costco of a woman scanning a huge bag of coconut sugar with confusion in her eyes that helped inspire this book. I watched her reading the bag and thought “she’s gonna put it in her coffee for a little while and then forget all about that bag, and miss all the great things she could make with it!”. There is a Sources section in the book that has all my favorite go-to stores and brands and what companies offer coupons, etc. It’s totally possible to make using natural sugars affordable if you know where to look!
Tell me about the Fake-Out Caramel Dip. I keep seeing “caramel” recipes using dates and nut butters and I admit I have not tried them yet. 
It’s fantastic! My version has a good hit of salt and some vanilla to round things out. It’s a great way to get your kids to eat pounds and pounds of sliced fruit. As a salted caramel fanatic, I will admit, it will never fully replace my beloved, but it comes freakishly close, and has a lot more nutritional value. 
We are going to feature your Coconut Sugar Banana Sheet Cake and your Oatmeal Cream Cookie Sandwiches. Any specific tips for our home bakers when making those?
The cake only gets better as it sits, so making it a day ahead is a great idea. The cookie part of the oatmeal cookie sandwiches are divine even before they’re sandwiched with the creamy filling, which really just puts them over the top! 
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The Roger Saul Interview: All About Spelt

The Roger Saul Interview: All About Spelt

Spelt cover slider


Roger has come out with a book devoted completely to spelt. There is much to learn and we are thrilled to have it on our reference shelf – and in the kitchen with us. Here we chat with him about this amazing grain.


Dédé Wilson: Roger, thank you so much for speaking with us. Your book is wonderful. You have taken an ancient ingredient and made it new. There is confusion about spelt and you are just the person to help us sift through the information. In particular I find that depending on what you read, it is said to be related to wheat, but then again sometimes I read that it is not. We need you to set us straight!

Roger Saul: Spelt is an ancient grain and it is related to wheat; it’s an ancient hybrid of goat grass and emmer wheat, first recorded about 7000 years ago, but I suspect much older. In England we know it was grown extensively in The Iron age and in fact was found in the Glastonbury lake village archeological dig not more than a few miles from Sharpham. However it bears very little similarity to the kind of wheat most people eat today.


And then there is the confusion about its gluten content and whether those that are wheat intolerant can eat it. Or celiac…

Spelt does contain gluten but its structure is very different to the gluten found in modern wheat. Many of our wheat intolerant customers find it is easier to digest, as the gluten is far more brittle, therefore more easily digestible, so it’s a good option for them. Modern wheat has undergone thousands of hybridizations to increase yield and change the quantity and quality of the gluten content. Spelt, on the other hand, is an ancient grain which hasn’t undergone this process. There has been and still is a massive amount of confusion between wheat intolerance and gluten intolerance. Spelt seems to be suitable for those with wheat intolerance, which can manifest itself in many ways from irritable bowel syndrome, to chronic illness, or simply headaches, runny nose and bloating. In the UK it is thought that 1 in 6 or 8 people suffer from it. Gluten intolerance is far more serious and you need to be tested to find out if you have this illness, in the UK again it is thought that 1 in 120 have this disease. Far more research needs to be carried out in this area for us to fully understand what intolerances have been caused by crop sprays, modern food processes, modern crop hybridization and so on.


Now let’s get to the fun part. Tell me why you love spelt’s taste and texture…the properties it brings to baked goods in particular.

Spelt really is a cook’s best friend. It’s ideal for making bread and cakes and it can also make pastry and biscuits with a wonderful, crisp texture. The nutty flavor of spelt is delicious and the flour behaves in much the same way as wheat, so you don’t need to learn any new techniques to bake with it, just be prepared for it to vary a bit from what you are used to. Experiment!


And I notice that you use various types of spelt…white, whole grain, flakes…can you talk a little bit about these various forms. What does each bring to baking?

At Sharpham Park we make organic White, Wholegrain, Seeded, Spelt and Rye and Baker’s Blend flour (a blend of white and wholegrain spelt flour to bake the perfect loaf). We’ve just added organic grain to our range, ( You call grain berries, I think ) this can be added to salads, soups and casseroles and pearled spelt for a tasty, high fibre carbohydrate. To make Organic Pearled Spelt we polish off the outer layer of bran so the grain can be used as a substitute to rice or added to dishes where it soaks up flavor, chefs and cooks alike love this form as it is so easy to cook with and yet reflects perfectly the flavours of any ingredient from fish to meat to vegetarian.


Finding alternative grains and flours is becoming easier and easier (we like to source bulk options for economy when we can), but once we get them home, what is your recommended storage?

Wholemeal flour ideally needs to be used within 6 months, white flour and grain ideally need to be used within 12 months. It should be stored in a cool dry place, where the temperature remains constant and ideally below 12 degrees celcius. This really is essential as organic flour and grain must not overheat in warm cupboards next to the oven!


We are featuring both your Rhubarb Sheetcake and your Oat Crackers. Any particular advice for bakers making those at home?

The rhubarb traybake is a delicious recipe and it is currently in season, but it’s worth being careful to avoid transferring too much juice so the sponge doesn’t become soggy. For the ‘spelt’ oatcakes once you’ve mastered them plain, you could always add herbs for extra flavor.


We certainly suggest that for those who have not baked much with spelt that they begin with well-tested recipes such as yours. If, however, the home baker wants to incorporate spelt into their own recipes, do you have some tips for us about substitutions?

Spelt flour can be used instead of wheat in almost all recipes but be careful not to overwork the mixture because the gluten structure in spelt is more fragile than wheat flour. Also don’t add too much water when baking bread as it may appear you need more, but you don’t! For cake baking, don’t forget to add a teaspoon of baking powder to white spelt flour so that it rises.


Roger, thank you so much for your time and your wonderful book. We wish you great luck with it and are happy to spread the word.

P.S. There are some amazing health benefits that I have not mentioned above.

  • High Fiber, medical research in the UK has shown that a high fiber diet can reduce the risk of bowel cancer significantly, spelt is one of the best grains for this and we work closely with Bowel Cancer UK on this. See our joint website:
  • Slow release energy, this is I think one of the most important attributes of spelt. The Roman Army picked up the idea from their German Hun opponents who fought ferosiously and seemed to have endless energy. They found they ate spelt and adopted the grain as their marching bread. We have had all sorts of sportsman and women who have approached us to use it from cyclists to rowers and more every day, gardeners. Great polar explorer Rannulph Finnes took a sled load of pearled spelt with him to trek to the South Pole.
  • Beyond that there are endless health benefits, but I know I will start to bore you, so read the book if you care to!


Consider us schooled! We love learning more about the ingredients we bake with. Thank you so much for your time and the book.


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Pauley Perrette Debuts Donna Bell’s Bake Shop Cookbook

A Chat with Pauley Perrette of NCIS


Pauley Perrette is a southern girl at heart. If you are used to seeing her in her role of Abby Sciuto in NCIS or have caught her in a Metallica video you might not know that she has opened a bakery in Manhattan as a tribute to her mother, Donna Bell. She co-owns Donna Bell’s Bake Shop with her two best friends Darren Greenblatt and Matthew Sandusky and they have just released a book of the same name, Donna Bell’s Bake Shop, based on the desserts presented in the bakery and inspired by her Mom and her childhood. The three chatted with me in a spirited discussion with everyone chiming in.


DonnaBell cover


Dédé Wilson: Thank you for taking the time. I have been reading your new book, Donna Bell’s Bake Shop, from cover to cover and was as taken by the recipes as I am with the stories of you, your Mom and business partners and friends, Darren Greenblatt and Matthew Sandusky. You did a great job of presenting the Bake Shop with a homespun approach.

Let’s get right into it…how does it feel to be a very recognizable TV star and the proprietor of a bakery specializing in your childhood southern favorites? Does it provide you with some kind of balance?

Pauley Perrette: Well, you know they are two very different things…there is my NCIS life and then there is the bakeshop and that is me, Darren and Matt doing this together as an homage to my Mom.


The recipes use easy to find ingredients and easy to follow instructions…do you ever bake at home?

Pauley Perrette: Me? I don’t bake…I don’t even have an oven or stove (laughs)…Mathew is the master…



When you do come into the city and go to the bakery what are you most likely to do? Get behind the counter?

Pauley: I do! Darren and Matthew can tell you more…

Darren: She gets behind the counter but she can’t do that for very long. People see her and you can just imagine…after 10 minutes we tell her she has to go outside and have fans follow her out there. Our shop is small! People come in and ask, “Is Pauley here?” I tell people she is out back doing dishes with Matthew! (Laughs).




We are featuring the Chocolate Chip Cookiesdo these have a direct connection with your childhood?

Pauley: We do have recipes from my childhood but the recipes in the shop and book are really mostly inspired by my childhood and my Mom. Matthew gets inspired by things he tastes or sees or reads about. We try very hard to keep that feeling…that southern part of it.

Matthew: We have beautiful pictures of Donna Bell on our wall and anytime I, or any of the bakers, start experimenting I always tell them to go look to Donna Bell and imagine her in her kitchen. Would she make this? Is it the kind of dessert or baked good she would serve?


That’s a great way to handle that…the story in the book that got to me was your description of all of your families gathering at the shop for Thanksgiving…it was such a great way to show how this is a family centric endeavor…that the vibe is geared towards family and heritage.

Matthew: Well, we really are like one big family. It all began with honoring Donna Bell but it extends to all of our parents. My parents helped paint and wallpaper and Darren’s daughter helps make cupcakes…it began with one little thing but it has flourished and become larger…


And do you have any specific tips for home bakers who might want to make your recipes?

Pauley: I say just follow the directions. You hear that all the time but we really chose recipes that aren’t complicated and all the information is there.

Darren: The philosophy for food at the shop was to make humble, homemade food. This was somewhat because at the time there we were staring there were $1200 hamburgers here in NYC. We want to be accessible…make the kind of food Donna Bell was making in the 1970s with very easy to finds ingredients, simple directions. Simple as that!


My fiancé Damon is from Memphis and he loved reading the book. Now I have to tell you, you have to imagine how many cookbooks I have coming through the Test Kitchen, and I don’t know what it was…I think the recipes and tone were evocative of his southern childhood and his sense of family. He keeps mentioning your book!

Pauley: Oh, thank you so much for your kind words! It really is our personal histories coming together.


Thank you for your time and good luck with the book.

Pauley: Have an awesome day!

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The Gesine Bullock-Prado Interview



Dédé Wilson: Gesine, every time I pick up your new book, Let Them Eat Cake, I find something knew to read. The book is packed with information! How did you come up with the idea of creating a base recipe and then a vegan, gluten free and healthier version for each one?

I had a pastry shop for years and I had more and more customers requesting options that addressed their food sensitivities. When you’ve got a kid standing in front of you, a kid you’ve watch grow up and adore to bits, and all they want is a birthday cake they can eat without putting them into anaphylactic shock, you get to work making that kid a cake. I also have students requesting alternative versions to my recipes because they’ve got allergies or their family members have food issues. After years of jury rigging recipes, it just made sense that there should be a resource for bakers who are thrown dietary curveballs in their baking lives but still want the “no holds barred” version at the ready too.

I also grew up vegan (not by choice). Once I got over my deep seated resentment at being raised in such a cruel and butter free manner, I started appreciating that there were new fangled Vegan products out there that I didn’t have access to as a kid. As pastry professional, I can help children living in similarly harsh culinary conditions and make their lives sweeter.


Did the basic recipe always come first?

Yes. Always. Some were signature items from my old pastry shop in Vermont that customers really missed and I loved the idea of putting their favorite treats back in their hands. With others, I always asked the question: Is this a recipe I’d want in my baking line-up with all the bells and whistles in play and would this be a treat I’d miss if I had food allergies?


Any surprises? Any recipes that just didn’t want to be 4 different things?

Some were already, by their original natures, gluten-free or vegan. I didn’t bother shoving flour or animal fats back in. I had a ton of extra recipes, like savory items, that I had to leave out. That was a bummer.


What inspires you to develop a recipe? Do you get turned on by ingredients? A concept? How does the creative process work for you?

All of the above. I’m in a constant state of dessert creation hyperactivity. Cravings are a huge driving force as is nostalgia for things I miss from childhood.




We are featuring your Chocoholic cake and your version of the Girl Scout Samoas. Any insider tips for our home bakers if they are making those recipes?


A reader made the vegan version of the Chocoholic and told me that she couldn’t wait for the mousse to set up due to an extreme case of chocolate lust. She said it was still delicious but it wasn’t the tidy cake she’d wanted. So let that mousse set! With the vegan & healthier versions of the mousse, you also have to be Johnny on the spot with the mousse because there’s a moment when it’s PERFECT and then a second later it can get granular. There’s an easy fix, you remelt the mixture and start whipping again, but that’s time consuming.   Also, with any ganache, there’s a miniscule chance that the emulsion will break. This is due to an imbalance in the fats from overworking the mixture or simply tipping the fat balance scale. Most think this is impossible to fix but I add small amounts of low fat milk to up the protein quotient and get it back into shape. And with the Samoas, you need to make sure that you watch that caramel so that it doesn’t burn or reach too high a temp so that it’s hard to incorporate into the coconut and dries out the topping. Bottom line, patience and mindfulness are the key.


OK, now I have a compliment and a beef for you. My fiancé and I are a bit obsessed with your Chocolaty Chippy Chunk Cookies. They are, quite simply, Amazing! Capital “A”! They are browned buttery and crispy and chewy and jam packed with bittersweet chocolate and that necessary butterscotch-y brown sugar flavor. They have become our favorite chocolate chip cookie. Yes, this is a tease for our readers because they will have to buy the book to get the recipe, but the shaved unsweetened chocolate in the batter is brilliant. Here’s my beef. Grating all that chocolate on a Microplane zester as you recommend is a pain! I have to think that if you do these in bulk that you have a tip for us as to how to get that chocolate grated as easily as possible. Any shortcuts for us? Or do I just get a helper with the promise of feeding them cookies? By the way we like to make them in the gargantuan size as you suggest.

Oh those Microplaners, making our life easier and more painful at the same time. How many knuckles have to be eviscerated before we find a solution! I briefly freeze the chocolate to make it easier to handle. Also, if you can find a high quality chocolate that’s in a thicker block versus those crazy thin bars, it makes the chore simpler (I’d still freeze it!). You can get nice hunks of Valrhona and Callebaut chocolates at grocery stores these days that are perfect. The other option is to use the grate function in your food processor but it doesn’t really grate the chocolate finely enough. This is how we made our hot chocolate mix in my pastry shop. We’d flash freeze our chocolates and then run them through our industrial processor.


Gesine, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. You keep us inspired with your wit and wisdom in the kitchen.

Thank you!

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The Karen Tack and Alan Richardson Interview

Karen Tack and Alan Richardson on Their Book, Cake My Day


If you like to decorate cakes and cupcakes then Karen Tack and Alan Richardson’s book Hello, Cupcake! is probably on your shelves. They have turned their sites on cakes with the same creativity and inventiveness and the results are fun, approachable and make you want to get into the kitchen and start playing. They chatted with me about Cake My Day!, their newest book and we are featuring their Work Boot from the book. Talking with these two is always fun and energetic. They finish each other’s sentences and of all the co-authors I speak with, these guys are two peas in a pod. Read on…

cake my day cover


Dédé Wilson: Alan and Karen, thank you so much for taking the time to chat. Cake My Day! is awesome! Your fans are going to be so thrilled. Tell me how this came about, to make cakes your next topic.

Alan: It was coming down the pike. We had been focusing on cupcakes for so long and what are cakes but cupcakes blown up in size? It is the same premise, using candies and snacks to help decorate, but now we have a larger canvas so there can be even more room for decorating and more room for fun.


So it allows you to do more?

Alan: Oh, yes. But it was challenging. Cupcakes are a certain shape, and so you are more limited in that way.

Karen: Cakes have different sizes and shapes so decorating options are limitless – but it was another challenge.

Alan: We hadn’t realized we were limited by the cupcakes but once we started playing with cakes we felt freed up and weren’t limited at all!

Karen: Exactly.

Alan: Think of all the kinds of things you can bake a cake in – the various baking vessels. So many different shapes! So it then required a different kind of problem solving.

Karen: But we kept the book to pans that you will have around the house with nothing bigger than a 9-inch round or a 13×9 brownie pan. We want you to be able to use what you have. Some cakes are baked in ovenproof measuring cups!

Alan: Going to cakes from cupcakes changed our way of looking at things – the scale changed. One gumdrop or M&M on a cupcake can look huge, but not so big in a cake, so we changed what we used or used the same candies in different ways.


Knowing you two I think it was an excuse to stock your pantry with more candy!

Karen: Yes, it was! And now, because the inside portions are bigger, too, we got to play around with that. Some cakes have tinted batter or look like leopard spots or polka dots, or they look psychedelic…

Alan: We threw garbage inside!

Karen: Well, not real garbage…

Alan: Candy garbage! We wanted to play with the inside.


This is a good segue to talk about the Bunny Hill Cake with the surprise inside carrots! This is my favorite.

Bunny Hill35

Alan: We wanted to surprise you twice! Twice the fun!

Karen: The cake is baked in a mixing bowl. Most times when you cut into a cake it is solid and we wanted there to be fun inside, ‘cause you know, there wasn’t enough candy on the outside! (We all laugh).

Alan: It was incredibly popular for Easter and it’s interesting that you were drawn to it…


For me it’s that combo of the whimsy and reality all in one cake!

Karen: And the realization, “I can do that”!

Alan: You scoop out the cake…it’s so easy!

Karen: I do love the vacuum and the boot…


We are going to feature the boot. Tell me why you love it so much.

Karen: Because you go immediately to decorating because you use frozen pound cake and doughnuts and the whimsy of taking Kraft caramels and rolling them out into sheet of “leather” for the outside of the work boot…


That is brilliant, I have to agree…

Karen: And the waffle of the soul is a Kit Kats! Its’ fun – and I have boys so I like rugged stuff.

Alan: I like the ones that have art references, like the Keith Haring Nerd Dance Cake and I love the the Tiger Lilies.


Oh, that one uses the flattened Circus Peanuts candies for the flower petals. It’s brilliant!

Alan: But my favorite is the monkey because when you realize the arms and legs and tail are just cookies and that you don’t even have to frost them, it explains our approach. You can see it; “Oh, those are just cookies; I can do that!” I can turn to people and show them that picture and ask, “Now do you see what we are doing?” And they get it.

Karen: And the fur is just a fork pulling…

Alan: Fork pulling the frosting to make the texture.

Karen: Fork you! (Laughs)


You guys have fun together!

Alan: We do. And this book has really let us go even further.


What would be a good starter cake?

Karen: What I like to call our “press and play” cakes. Like the rainbow would be a good start. It’s a round cake that everyone is familiar with. And you are just pressing them together to make an arc. It’s one of the things we do…take a standard cake and changing it up to make it into something different.

Alan: And people should take a look at our barnyard animals. On our blog we have pictures of these made by little girls, maybe 10 and 13 years old. They made the pig and goat and they turned out so well! We get so happy to see that!

Karen: And with the Barnyard Master Cake you have like 6 projects…with the same simple round cake layers you can arrange them into a new animal…sheep, roosters, we even had more that didn’t make it into the book…

Alan: It’s like a tangram. You just rearrange the pieces. But our editor didn’t know what that was…


Really? Well, I guess I haven’t heard the world in a while…but I know what it is!

So now that you are on a larger scale with cakes, what was new?

Alan: We got to use whole cookies and snack cakes! – Twinkies and Ding Dongs and bigger building blocks in general…

Karen: And breadsticks, too. In terms of candy, I wonder if it’s less per cake because you let the frosting texture show?

Alan: I think with cupcake a gumdrop can look like a large thing…but for a cake you would go to a snowball or even a Mallomar because of the scale change.


Thank you so much for the chat you two. Your fans are going to love this new book!

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Sarah Tenaglia on Punches, Pitcher Drinks and Madeleines


Sarah Tenaglia has an exquisite palate whether she is cooking or baking. Now she has set her expertise to beverages, both alcoholic and non in a lovely little book that is packed with full-color pictures, classic drinks and plenty of new ideas. Check out her Fifty-Fifty Punch (it’s like a Creamsicle in liquid form) and the special Citrus-Glazed Madeleines that she made just for us at Bakepedia. We discussed how her book Punch Bowls and Pitcher Drinkscame about.



Dédé Wilson: Sarah, thank you for chatting with me. Let’s talk about big batch drinks! How did the book come about?

Sarah Tenaglia: Jeanne (Ed Note: Jeanne Kelley is her co-author) and I were approach by Laurie Buckle (a fellow former Bon Appetit alum) who was working for on packaging books and she had the idea for the theme…Jeanne and I both love making cocktails, so we said sure! We did the book and it was 5 of us: Jeanne, me, Laurie and a stylist and photographer…we grouped them by season and the book covers it all – hot, cold, non-alcoholic, drinks for big groups but smaller get-togethers too. There is something for everyone. We didn’t want to exclude a get-together of 4 or a large party…there are fresh tasting agua frescas, sangrias, muddled drinks but we wanted to do things differently, so there are little twists throughout. There are classics but some very new flavor combos, too. And some are in punch bowls while others are in pitchers or smaller, individual portions. But they are all perfect for entertaining. They are all special.


Were there any surprises for you?

Yes! As we went along we realized how easy it was to make a tweak here and there…it isn’t like when you are baking and have to commit to a recipe and you don’t know until you are done. With these we could taste as we went along. Tinkering was easy, quick and fun…


Wow those testing days must have been, um, spirited!

I would take just little tastes starting at 9am when we began working or I would have been loopy within an hour!


Are there any that you absolutely love?

My favorite is the Kumquat Tangerine Smash…I am a huge kumquat fan and this also has the kick from jalapeno and the herbal flavors from cilantro. It’s a complex drink but the balance just works, the acidity, the sugar, the herbal, the spice…I also love the spa water with vodka. It has mint and is light and refreshing. I put little yellow Post-Its on the pages of the drinks I love and make again and again and there are Post-Its on almost every page! The most fun we had was with the ice molds!


Oh, I am so glad you brought those up. I love them! I love how the fruits and flowers are just bursting forth…

I did a lot of research on ice molds…most people spend a lot of time talking about how to make sure the ice remains clear but none of the techniques yielded consistent results for me. And then when I thought about it, we all have different water and our freezers are different temperatures and there were too many variables to worry about. I decided to just take a different approach…and also many people have fussy approaches to make thin layers of ice with fruit or flowers, or whatever it is you are freezing, and building up layers slowly bit by bit so that the item remains submerged and really, we liked the look of the fruits bursting through! And it is so much easier! Don’t worry about it. There is no need to make those painstaking layers and spending hours freezing each one before you proceed to the next. And you can use anything as a mold – you can pick the canister.

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I am so glad you did this; your approach is so textural and visual…

Yes and with the pieces above the surface of the water it gives the molds more dimension.


Let’s talk glassware…how did you go about picking and choosing drinking vessels?

I’m not a stickler…if the drink looks pretty in it, use it! The only time you have to really think about dimensions with these drinks is if one is particularly viscous. Like with the Pina Colada you do want a wider mouthed glass, but most of the recipes will work in most anything…beverages that are topped with champagne are always nice in a flute, but it isn’t necessary. This gives you the freedom to use what you have…I had a lot to choose from, Jeanne did too and so did our and prop stylist; we were loosey goosey about it. You will find glassware to use in your own cabinet.


Talk to me about the Madeleine with the double hit of citrus…

You can just do the powdered sugar lemon juice glaze, but the syrup comes from the lemon cakes of long ago when you would brush a syrup on top to add flavor and moisture. These madeleines have an orange syrup and then a lemon glaze. They are buttery and tender and are truly the moistest madeleines – but you can do them with just one of the citrus additions.


Can you elaborate on how much to fill the pan’s indentations? How do you tell if there is enough batter? I ask this because it seems as though so there is so little standardization with madeleine pans.

Great question. This batter mounds, as it is thick, so I would start with a rounded tablespoon and you should see the tip and the bottom of the scallop…those parts of the pan will not have any batter at first. As they bake they fill out the entire scallop in a nice, rounded way.


What about pan prep? I have often had issues with madeleines sticking.

I like using the melted butter and the flour to coat thoroughly. I never have any issues this way. I suppose it is easier to use spray, but I can detect a flavor with the spray…


Oh, I can too!

And madeleines have a delicate flavor. You can’t go wrong with the melted butter approach.


Do you like silicone madeleine pans?

You know I have an old set of tin madeleine pans that I bought in France and I love them. I have the silicone and I have never used them!


I don’t always like silicone pans because they retard browning and caramelization, but popping the madeleines out is so easy.

I think if you use the melted butter you will have success…I have never had one that stuck to the point where I couldn’t get it out pretty much intact. Occasionally there will be one or two that you have to help. I just use the tip of a knife and kind of pop them out of the pan. It’s not like a layer cake where you can lose big hunks and go through all sorts of shenanigans to put it back together. These are such a little cookie (or cake)…maybe out of every 30 madeleines there is one that is a bit stubborn.


What’s your take on the madeleine hump? So many classic French chefs say it is a “must”.

I think that’s so funny. I mean, what a funny thing to worry about! 90% of the time I get a hump…and sometimes I don’t…the cookie tastes delicious with or without the hump! I haven’t noticed one being superior to the other. One time I had an entire tray go flat on me. I hadn’t let the batter sit…or maybe I used too much butter, but they were still delicious.


Let’s talk a little bit about the drink we are featuring of yours, the Fifty-Fifty.

The Peppermint Stick and the Fifty-Fifty are both great for kids, but believe me, we adults really loved them during testing, too! And when the weather gets cool again, you must try the Aztec Chocolate Punch…hot chocolate with a little ancho and allspice…


We are just climbing out of the winter here! I think I can wait (laughs). I’m looking forward to the summery ones and the pretty ice molds.





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The Charmian Christie Interview

Charmian Christie Gets Messy

Charmian Head Shot

There is a new book on the shelves called The Messy Baker. Right away, I was excited – because sometimes baking is a messy affair and it is not only nothing to shy away from, it is something in which to indulge! Think about when you dust your counter with flour and get kneading. Or when melted chocolate is dripping here, there and everywhere. That’s not a downside as far as I am concerned. I don’t know about you, but I have never been able to be one of those cooks who keep their apron clean. That’s what it’s there for, right? Author and blogger Charmian Christie takes just such an approach. This is baking at its best. Dive in with gusto, use great ingredients, sling that butter and sugar around and have fun. And end up with some delicious baked goods. Charmian chatted with me about her new book and her Chocolate-Orange Gingersnap Drops and Welsh Griddle Cakes.


Recipes from The Messy Baker: More Than 75 Delicious Recipes from a Real Kitchenby Charmian Christie. Published by Rodale Books, 2014.

Dédé Wilson: Charmian, I love the tile of your book. Baking is messy and it is about time that we come celebrate that. Getting my hands in the ingredients is what I love…the tile The Messy Bakerreally resonates with me. When I was last baking an apple pie I was mesmerized by the pile of peelings and thought, this is just as beautiful as a finished pie! You are speaking my language…

Charmian Christie: I get such a positive response…people laugh and say they are messy to, like it’s a private confession! Now professionals say, “how can you be that messy”, but I say this is what baking is! Things drip and drop and it gets messy…the book is definitely for people cooking at home…it’s an organic process and it is the process that’s enjoyable. I have to say, I don’t like the cleanup as much…

I do wonder how much creativity comes into if you are so orderly, setting up mise en place and what have you? It limits you from you breaking the rules that help you improvise. I like the surprises that sometimes happen…that’s how life goes. You need a cup of milk and all you have is a half-cup, so you sub in sour cream and you realize you like this new creation even better!

Neither approach is right or wrong – but they are different. I look at it this way: are you a creator or into analytical precision? Do you want the same cookie day after day? Then you need to be precise.


OMG, that’s what happened to me with my bakery years ago. I hated it, making the same exact things every day. It stifled me. I mean, I get it, as a customer you want to know that you can come in every day and get that same cookie that you love so much, but I am definitely more of the creator type.

I think something is wrong with me…I don’t find comfort in repetition (we both laugh).


Oh no, I get it…I am the same way.

There are only so many things recipes in the world… a scone is a scone; there is nothing ground shaking about it…I want to have fun.


Do you teach?

I do. There are some schools in the area…


So how do you encourage people who are scared? Is it contradictory to say baking is precise, yet you want to encourage them to relax and not get hung up on specificity?

There is a difference between being a professional baker and having to make that same cookie every day and being a home baker creating for friends and family. People are told that a half-teaspoon of something is too much and that frightens them. Or they see an ingredient list that says 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons…it’s scary!

Look, you might not get the same cookie every single time, and some batches might be better than others, but most will work – and you will enjoy the process!

I tell them I’ve written these recipes to be successful because I don’t want angry emails (laughs). I do try and set bakers up for success, but there are some things that should be adhered to. There is a substitution guide in the back of the book. The more you bake, the more you learn. You can swap chocolate chips for dried cherries but there are some ingredients that shouldn’t be swapped.

I explain what you can fiddle with, but I always suggest that you make it first the way it is written. Students come in with a sense of what you can and can’t do. They have a recipe for a lemon recipe and they think, “I can’t make this! I don’t have any lemons”. And then I help them understand that you can swap orange zest for the lemon and they have a light bulb moment.

It comes down to this: are they accountants or artists? Neither is better or worse but they are different. I have one friend who won’t stray from a recipe at all and her dishes always work out and they are good. Another friend is much more spontaneous and sometimes her recipes don’t work, but when they do, they are fabulous! Hey, if it is made with love and good intention, it usually works out. If you make a cake and it falls, just slather it with whipped cream and say it was intentional!


We are featuring your Welsh Griddle Cakes. Any special tips for those?

Well, first of all I have to apologize to all of Wales for making them square! According to a lovely 85-year-old Welsh woman that I met they would never be square! My Mum always made them square so…


Well, you also avoid waste!

Yes, and the need to re-roll…but apparently it is a rebellious move if you are Welsh! My pan is well seasoned…if you don’t have nonstick, line it with parchment paper.


Oh, and this is on top of the stove! That’s fascinating!

I was doing a demo and there was a gorgeous stainless steel pan and the cakes were sticking. The parchment was an improvisation! And it worked beautifully.


See, there you have that improve in action leading to brilliance! Okay we are also featuring your Chocolate-Orange Gingersnap Drops.

These are so easy, but sophisticated, which was my goal. I actually had the flavor combo in mid but was going to use them in a cheesecake, but it was too complicated. It didn’t fit with the rest of the book – too involved. I was thinking about how people like ginger and chocolate and orange and chocolate and orange and ginger and how all three really go together. A fabulous trinity. And then making a super simple recipe starting with the gingersnaps. And the Lyle’s Golden Syrup


Oh, yes too! We love it, too. It is like buttery, liquid toffee…

I’m Canadian and the British imports are here and it is well known. Not all Americans seem to be familiar…


I am trying to change that! I know Rose Levy Beranbaum is too. She is a huge fan.

You can use corn syrup but I would emphasize the Lyle’s makes a difference. These are fun for kids…super messy…kids can mush up the gingersnaps…you can’t really go wrong because by melting the butter with the syrup you won’t burn it or scorch the chocolate…as long as you don’t check email in the middle it will work out very well…you can drop by spoon or scoop…you can freeze them or chill in fridge…they are portable…. people bite into them and don’t know what to expect and then there is this look they all get. The eyes light up and they say, “These are really good!” Maybe it’s the texture; they aren’t sure what they are biting into…they will melt in your hands and can be messy in that way too. Warning: you can’t eat just one…they are a lovely little teatime mouthful.


Charmian, give us your top 3 tips for home bakers

  1. Make sure you have enough time to make a recipe. When I was a university student I would want to bake and I would think if I just combine steps and hurry it up so that I could make it to class and it never works. So read the recipe and know how much time you need. In the book I didn’t put timing in because everyone works at a different pace…

This is so true…

But by reading it you will know what your own pace will be. Also look for where you can break it down into stages. If it is a more involved recipe, wait and take a Sunday to spend time in the kitchen!

So, number 2 is really do read the recipe all the way through. It will tell you pan sizes, when to preheat the oven, whether you need to grate something ahead of time. One time I was so excited to make a recipe that called for lemons and poppy seeds – I love them both and had both on hand – and I dove right in and then saw that the first step was to soak the poppy seeds for 2 hours.

And number 3 is making sure you have the ingredients on hand. I will make assumptions, but I don’t love alone…


Good point!

Exactly, just because there was milk in the carton the last time I touched it doesn’t mean it’s there now! People eat things!


Charmian, thank you so much for your time and recipes – and the way you embrace the messy process of baking.



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The Karen Page Interview

Karen Page and The Vegetarian Flavor Bible


After all these years of reading and feeling like I “knew” Karen Page, I hadn’t actually met her. When her first groundbreaking book, Becoming a Chef, came on the scene in 1995 I was energized and transfixed. She and her husband and collaborator Andrew Dornenburg brought to life what it actually was like to be a chef. They unveiled the stories of 60 chefs and they showed us a behind-the-scenes world in a way we had never seen before. The idea of the food business being something aspirational or inspirational was not so universally accepted. It was the beginning of what we take for granted now – that food and food information are everywhere! Karen and Andrew felt this pulse early and they have continued to bring us books with singular visions.

Their newest book is the The Vegetarian Flavor Bibleand while I am interested in every book they produce I wasn’t sure how this one would have applications to what we do here at Bakepedia. Then I received the book. It is very hard to describe, but I will do my best to entice you to buy it, as it will become a standard reference for you if you have an interest in flavor and how flavors work – and I know you all do! Karen took some time out to chat with me.


Dédé Wilson: Karen! I cant believe that after all these years of reading you and feeling like I “knew” you that we hadn’t actually met – what with all our overlapping circles of friends…thank you for chatting with me today. Tell me about how the Vegetarian Flavor Bible came about?

Karen Page: Thank you for talking to me and including the book, Dédé. This one was very personal. My father and stepmom both passed away from cancer between 2006 and 2009…we don’t always think about our health and especially for those of us in the food and wine business, it can be difficult. We eat more and drink more than the average American…and you can’t ignore the headlines anymore. We have to pay attention to nutrition for the sake of our health. I really began to start thinking about what we were eating and putting in our bodies when I was not eating professionally…I started reading and it opened my eyes – a lot. I began learning so much and yet there were so many contradictions. The book opens with a quote that I love:

“ Over half of Americans believe it is easier to figure out their income taxes than to figure out what they should and shouldn’t eat to be healthier”.

That’s a stunning fact, however, while many sources don’t agree, they do agree that plant based diets are best.

The reason for the book was to share what we have been learning on the nutritional end of things and the flavor end of things…I hope book will convey some complex info simply.


Let’s talk about how to use the book. It has an unconventional layout and I want to give our readers a clear understanding of what to expect and how to maximize the information. How should they dive in? I’ll just give them a head start by explaining that there is important info in the front of the book that should be read that sets up some guiding principles as well as some helpful info on how to use the book…

There is a lot of color-coding to help you. The most nutritionally dense foods have dark green dots – you can see immediately what foods are the most recommended…


And the bulk of the book is alphabetical. So, in thinking about the foods that we bakers use a lot, you can for instance look up Apples and within that section you can find out flavor descriptions and pairings along with the nutritional info…the pairing are what stand out to me as intriguing and unlike anything I have seen…

Yes, exactly…I’m a big skimmer…so maybe skim for an ingredient that you are familiar with or one you want to learn about…you could look up Acai and see how it is pronounced, seasonality, get a general sense of what this ingredient is. Let’s say you are planning a June wedding and you want to know if something is going to be available – it will tell you…and then you can also easily see where flavor and creativity intersect!


I am drawn to the parts where you describe flavor combinations. Some will be expected, like apples + cinnamon + nuts + raisins (Ed Note: this is the format used in the book), but some make me thing about an ingredient in new ways and then my mind starts racing and thinking about new ways to use that food. That’s very exciting. When I read apples + cinnamon + lemon + honey I could taste it in my mind…

Were there any particular surprises for you? Particularly when it comes to the kinds of ingredients we use in the dessert kitchen?

Almond milk was a great example…it’s not just for heating for hot chocolate or using on granola or oatmeal. There are now cheeses that are made from almond milk that are incredible…fresh cheeses that can sub for ricotta and even soft ripened cheeses. (Ed Note: we love those from Kite Hill, which are the ones Karen is referring to).

The first time I tried them I was floored…so many vegan cheeses can have off putting aroma and texture…if my palate and nose aren’t happy I can’t eat it. I don’t eat anything that’s weird…there is a lot of weird vegan food…these are very neutral…there’s just a note of almond and sweetness. I was impressed with the texture and flavor. I have wanted to try them in a cheesecake for a friend. I’m not sure of the baking properties yet…also Claudia Fleming has a ricotta tart that she makes that is just about the greatest thing I have ever had. I might try modeling after that…

…vegetarian and vegan…we have come so far. Still, we see the letter “v” and we think “weird”, but in fact both vegetarian and vegan foods and restaurants are more mainstream than ever…one of Philadelphia’s top restaurants is vegan! (Ed Note: Vedge was #6 on a recent Philadelphia Magazine poll of best restaurants).

I do agree there is a long way to go…especially with baked goods…so many that haven’t been invented yet!

Anyone on the cutting edge of creativity (in the food scene) should be interested in this whole slew of new products to use that are very compatible with great eating.


This is a good segue. Decades ago vegetarianism was fringe, then more acceptable. We are at that bridge where veganism is crossing that river. Vegan food doesn’t have to be fake.

Exactly…when I was in college in the late 70s there were restaurants beginning to experiment and some weren’t 100% vegetarian but had roots and were exploring organic, way before it was trendy. It was wonderful because it was another option. They made their own cornbread with stoneground corn and the flavor profiles were different.

Right now is a very exciting time for vegan and vegetarian cuisines. They are becoming more mainstream. Restaurants like Per Se and 11 Madison Park are offering vegan tasting menus. Vegan cuisine is being addressed and explored within gastronomy.


So how do you describe how you eat? Do you say “cleanly”?

I say “plant strong” or “plant based”. I don’t like to say vegetarian or vegan because I like to focus on what I eat not, what I am giving up.


Do you eat desserts?

I believe in sweets and sweetness. That period at the end of a meal…but so often we have such large portions of our main meal that by dessert our palates and stomachs are just done! I love the idea of a sweet at end of the day…life is good…not to use as a motivator…but a lovely way to end the day…

Sweetness serves that function of satiation…a hint of sweetness. I am more interested in petits fours than a whole dessert. That tart I mentioned of Claudia’s is truly perfect…and I like so many fruits…and nuts…and nuts take on much more importance in vegetarian diets so they are covered in the book in a thorough way.


Well your book allows us to take a deep dive into plant-based ingredients in a new way and I think it will help bakers expand their way of thinking. I am looking at the Chocolate entry right now and that combo of chocolate + hazelnuts + dried plums has me thinking…

Thank you, Dédé. I am, so glad you are enjoying the book.



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The Ron Ben-Israel Interview

Ron Ben-Israel Comes to Bakepedia


The first time I heard of Ron Ben Israel was from a stunning image in a Martha Stewart magazine many years ago. It was a wedding cake covered in sugar paste lace and it had the same quality as the genuine article…fabric-like. Elegant. Old-world. Feminine and just flat out gorgeous. And yet there was something new and contemporary about it at the same time, in that I had certainly never seen a cake like that before! It was one of those images that you just can’t help staring at and the longer you gaze the more detail is revealed. I became a fan. As the years went on I could easily recognize a Ron Ben-Israel cake. Whether it was in a magazine, book or newspaper, his style was so solid, so singular that it would jump out at me. It didn’t matter whether it was another lacey creation, a sparse monochromatic design, one bursting with vivid color or metallics or even a graphic style – they all had his stamp. If I had to qualify it I would say it lies in the precision of approach. And also, while some are quite elaborate and even covered with texture over every square inch, there is still a sense of restraint. It shows style. A chic-ness. Well, it was about time Ron and I chatted so that I could bring him to you. We had so much fun talking, we could have gone on for a couple of hours easily…

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Dédé Wilson: Ron, it is so good to connect with you and to be able to bring you to our Bakepedia community!

Ron Ben-Israel: Dédé, thank you!


I feel like I have “known” you all these years even though we haven’t really had contact. Rose (mutual friend Rose Levy Beranbaum) was telling me how she used to get her big bags of superfine sugar from you when she couldn’t find it anywhere else in NY!

Ah, yes, she used to live in the Village and I was in Soho…but we recently moved to a huge place on West 38th street, right in the garment district. You know at one point 95% of what Americans wore came from this area…there was much manufacturing…zippers, leather, you can find it all…



Oh, my favorite store for feathers and imported tulle is around the corner from your new place…

I used to come here all the time for lace to make my own silicone molds and to get trims and ribbons…


It’s one of those, “only in NY” things. You can find everything here!

Ron, how would you describe your style?

It can be monotone, romantic or bold…there is not one way, but they have to well executed…I am not a food snob. I will eat Pringles with caviar…and for baking I don’t shy away from doing vanilla cake…recently a client flew me and a cake first class to Paris. On the one hand I am celebrated by French society and I am on top of the world…the next day I use sprinkles and call it “funfetti”.

ron ben israel cake

But of course you are starting with good ingredients…

I am always interested in the many different ways of baking…how well is it made? Whether it is a church bake sale or for home it has to be made well…and I am not spouting empty words, blah blah blah…if you only use vegetable shortening, then, well…it is how you approach it…I read books like detective books…Rose is crazy in a wonderful way (we both laugh)…I take it with a grain of salt…and way back we had Maida (Ed Note: he is speaking of Maida Heatter).


Oh, Maida! She was my earliest inspiration…and I love that you say you read baking books like detective novels because it is so true that you can get so much from the words. Maida’s books never had any photography and yet her writing was so evocative…she made me want to make every single recipe!

Yes! And even before then someone gave me a hand-me-down of The Joy of Cooking…and then it is changed and I think the older (versions) the better…they tell you how to make a machine to make yogurt…the history of wedding cakes…we didn’t start from nothing…. there is something there. We make cakes today, but we are connected…

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This is so true. And there is so much to learn from history and from the classics.

Of course your web presence is totally different, but there is so much unreliable information out there…they jump around from this topic to that…where is the basis for experience? The reason for expertise?

In order to get to quality of execution you have to get to the sources…I can tell by looking at recipes that they aren’t going to work…

I have been lucky enough to be part of the Food Network and they test recipes. And my team, we have a test kitchen…we don’t want to be snobs but I say, “Know Thy Recipe”.


You know I hear all the time from people who follow a recipe and it doesn’t work and they think that they failed. It doesn’t even occur to them that a recipe can be at fault. There is an art and science to developing and testing recipes that not many people understand.

You have to get a tried and true recipe and follow it!


Rose told us the number 1 trait she wants from home bakers is obedience (laughs)! She knows her recipes work, but if folks don’t follow them to the letter…well, then they can’t complain!

I can tell people to go to the Food Network site and find my recipes…these I can recommend…I come from my Mother…she wasn’t just a baker; she was a home cook and fully employed…but she drew maps by hand, so she was very accurate…I would watch her in her schnitzel…they way she would set it up…like a test kitchen…all the bowls had to be the same size…set out the flour, egg and bread crumbs, lined up left to right…and she would work like this and cutlets had to be pounded the same way, every one of them…and she taught me how to wash my hands first and prepare and I just loved it. It gave order in my own world…this is how I found baking so exciting!


Let’s talk about something fun…trends in the wedding cake world…

Let me explain trends. Some people think it is what they see that a celebrity had and then they think it is a trend and they come to me and say, “I want a Great Gatsby Cake” because the movie had just come out. A real trend takes months even years to develop…we always work with gold and silver and around the time that movie came out there was a lot of silver and black, so, we could accommodate.


So what do you see for 2015?

Just like fashion we make a collection…gold is going to be very strong…


What do you attribute it to?

I don’t really know why…it’s in fashion…and it works really well with the Pantone Marsala (Ed. Note: the Color Of The Year)…a lot of people like cakes in red and burgundy…I can tell people will like that…another thing I notice is trims. A lot of trims added. You see it in invitations, too. And additional linear things…swags and lines and crisscrosses and diagonals…and I am very happy to report the cakes are getting bigger and bigger…we are getting away from a recession.


What is big for you? 500?

That is big! Manhattan, 200…it’s not Texas! But more important than number of servings is they want height…they say they want it over their head!



Okay, Ron you mentioned that you were preparing for this chat and that you had some things you wanted to say.

Yes, I have Tips for the home baker…as you asked!


I can’t wait to hear!

Number 1: Get a good recipe for the cake…one you can understand…read it…know where it comes from and test it. Do a trial run just to be familiar with it.

Number 2: Put a timeline down on paper. This is extremely important…the idea is to be like any military – they will know how they will achieve the results! The way I do it, I sketch the cake or you have a photograph of a cake you want to achieve, then you go backwards…cake has to be delivered…calculate. If the cake is served at 5 o’clock, when does it need to be on display?

What vehicle? Do I need dry ice and as you do this it will open up more and more questions. This is good! This is the time to figure this out! Will I do decorating there? And I think people underestimate how important delivery is!


Oh, I couldn’t agree more. I go on and on about that in both of my wedding cake books. I always put a sign on the vehicle that says “Wedding Cake on Board” and people understand why I am driving slowly with blinkers on!

I never like to do it last minute…finish the day before and refrigerate the cake overnight. That way it rests and the cake can stabilize and be chilled and you can rest and not go crazy…then, again, backwards…decide when you will ice it, when you will make fillings. Before that you bake the cake…in the timeline figure out what can be done ahead…always good to have extra time…make all buttercreams ahead and and refrigerate well covered…fillings can often be refrigerated for a week or more…cake layers can be frozen if well covered…these are the big questions!

Number 3: Gain knowledge and experience…there is only so much you can learn from books and videos. Classes are better but it is best to find someone to mentor with.


Mentor is a big word and a big concept…

It could be local bakery…go and help out…it could be classes but has to be hands on…or even getting together with a colleague and friend and practicing together.


That’s a great idea…

Number 4: Know your tools and ingredients…


Let’s talk about buttercream and fondant…

Unfortunately there is a very popular type of American buttercream and as an American I am ashamed to have my name attached…it is not a buttercream…it is easy to make and not perishable…but with a terrible mouthfeel, vegetable shortening, powdered sugar, no butter. It really should not be considered…and it is too sweet and airy. And too thick, like toothpaste! You need to understand how beautiful French, Swiss and Italian meringue buttercream are and explore those…so versatile and delicious…I push you to do that! The nice thing is that buttercreams can be refrigerated…you can build a cake…learn how to ice the cake…refrigerate overnight…and then we can drape with a very thin layer of fondant. I love Satin Ice. It is shelf stable…it can be rolled very thin and then you have a beautiful look. A non-greasy look.


How thin do you roll your fondant?

Very thin. One-eighth of an inch but you can even roll it thinner! Satin Ice is available in the USA and very consistent.


So what is new for you right now?

The move! The move was major…months in the making…obtaining current permits and regulations…but it is all very exciting – and scary…we now have over 4000 square feet.

I started as a single person in a tiny place…now we have parties, classes…I don’t want a store front…and I did not want to be in a basement…so we have the whole 13th floor of a commercial building. Terraces and light. Ideally you work with daylight.


Well, it is an artistic endeavor…makes perfect sense.

I planned the move like I plan a cake! Knowing everything you need to know…people are jealous. Pastry chefs come see it and they cannot believe it! And all while we were moving we had to continue producing cakes.


How the heck did you manage that? Moving is so stressful and the cakes demand attention!

We have 8 full-time, and then always add interns. They spend time with us, anywhere from 3 to 5 months…and some become future employees.


Ron, I picture it like Santa’s workshop! (We both laugh). A hub of activity where magical things happen.

I cannot thank you enough for your time. This has been one of the most thoughtful and insightful interviews and I know our community will love it.

Thank you, Dédé. I enjoyed this talk as well.


Top Image by NYCCakeGirl
All Other Images from Ron Ben Israel
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The Gale Gand Interview

Gale Gand Gives Good Pastry

GaleGand author photo_Stephen Hamilton  tif

Gale Gand is a fellow dessert maven who has done so much for our sphere of interest it boggles the mind. My introduction to Gale was through her multi-year turn as host of the Food Network series “Sweet Dreams,” the first nationally televised all-dessert show. And then as the founding pastry chef and partner of the acclaimed Chicago restaurant Tru, (opened with long-time culinary partner Chef Rick Tramonto in 1999). In her free time she has created an artisanal root beer company, raised three kids, written several books, opened a burger restaurant, Spritz Burger with a Next Food Network Star winner, and was recognized as Outstanding Pastry Chef of the Year by The James Beard Foundation and Bon Appetit magazine – and has been inducted into the Chicago Chefs Hall of Fame. And this is just a taste of her accomplishments. I spoke with her about her book, Gale Gand’s Lunch!, and about her approach to dessert and baking.

Gale Gand's Lunch jacket


Gale, so great to speak with you. Thank you for taking the time…you are one busy woman! You are coming to my neck of the woods soon to teach a class at Different Drummer’s Kitchen in Northampton, MA…

Yes, on April 17th. It’s a Backyard Buffet Class featuring a Pavolva for dessert!


These recipes you are teaching are from your book that I want to talk to you about…of course there are many savory recipes, but I am focusing on the sweet – and your background in general, which is so interesting. Tell us about how this all started for you.

Pastry is my passion as well as my career…I was waitressing in Cleveland while in art school…it was a vegetarian restaurant and one of the line cooks didn’t show up. The boss says, “Gale come cook”! Now I’m from the North shore – we make reservations! I was forced into the kitchen…ultimately, really, this career picked me, I didn’t pick it…I had 6 seconds of terror but I had baked all my life with my mother and grandmother – of Hungarian decent – they are all bakers and cooks – and I’m a great waitress because I know food. I give good descriptions…so I got into the kitchen and after the panic I had an odd sense of calm come over me…it was as though I found my home…I actually get choked up talking about it…


Oh, I get it. I know I was meant to do this too, so I totally understand where you are coming from…

…I felt I was speaking a language I already knew…I don’t remember learning it…cooking was like a language that I just got…so I dropped out of school and went to culinary…my parents wanted me to finish my BFA. They weren’t happy. I started working in restaurants full time and then to La Varenne in Paris, which is really my only formal education…my Mom sent me checks secretly to help me out. You would think I was doing something subversive (laughs).


Did you initially focus on pastry or cooking?

Both but when I started working full time during college I was garde manger but after I graduated college and he came to me and asked me to be his pastry chef…girls always get stuck there…this was at a fancy hotel in Rochester, NY…I said, okay, I’ll do it for 6 months but if I want out after that you have to agree…I wanted to be one of the tough line guys. I had feminist anger in me!


So what happened at the 6-month point?

The boss came and asked me if I wanted out and I said, give me another 6 months (laughs). I still see him from time to time and he asks me if I want out! So often women were getting stuck but it’s where I belonged! I was a diamond setter…so I was well suited to pastry…I have the manual dexterity like a surgeon. My eyes can measure equal pieces without a ruler. I can even see spaces that way. I think I was genetically suited…but I cook as well. When you are married to chefs you end up being a sous chef – it’s your turn to make the soup! But I also give great coat check and accounting…my weakest area was sommelier…but when you are in this business it is good to know everything…


Let’s get into your pastry headspace…

…I was in NY a lot…this was the early days of the Food Network…and I always would let them know when I was in town and they would invite me to come do Sara’s show (Sara Moulton). I went on a lot and loved it. I loved it so much I would lie and tell them I was coming into NY for whatever but really I was making excuses to be there so they’d put me on her show! And her kitchen fit me! It’s 3-inche short!


Oh, that is so funny, I didn’t know that! I have a 6-foot baker’s bench in the Test Kitchen that is cut 3-inches shorter than standard for me (laughs).

I’m very comfortable on camera. I don’t have stage fright…Rick Tramonto and I divorced around the time I had been working with the Food Network for about 4 years and it is such a tumultuous time and you aren’t sure what’s going to happen next in terms of work or money…and then the Food Network offered me my own show! They were looking for an all dessert show…they already knew I was comfortable in front of the camera and I could teach and bake. Jacques Torres was too hard to understand and Francois Payard’s accent was too strong…and they wanted all-American and I fit the criteria…I had been freaking out…my kid was three years old and I was divorcing and then I’m offered a show…it was meant to be.

So it allowed me not to panic and we were friendly in the divorce…I didn’t have to be scared about money…the show allowed me to move forward and our relationship survived…


It’s so great when the universe somehow provides…

We taped the show for 3 or 4 years but it ran for probably 10! And I became this American baking icon…I love to bake and I love to teach; it was perfect for me. And it is a great way to teach. You have 4 cameras and you get to show what you want to show. I developed a fan base and they still show up…I shoved the money in a 529 and I like to say that the Food Network paid for my kid’s college (laughs). I actually made a T-shirt saying that…


You did?

Yes, and I sent thank you notes to Brooke Johnson and my producer Bob Tushman, and director Mark Dissan…the show really impacted my life…I try to remember to thank them regularly. It has allowed me to travel and meet all these heartfelt bakers…I teach in the Midwest…I have cooked for Presidents…and I continue to go to France every year to learn…whether cooking on a cruise or doing a stage at a hotel…



Let’s talk about your books.

My books are written for home bakers…but the fact that I have restaurants is great for the hardcore fans. They come to visit! But cookbooks are a way to connect with people who aren’t going to jump on a plane…I once asked Julia Child why she never had a restaurant – she said she was way too smart for that! (laughs) I get so many emails from people saying, “you were at my Thanksgiving table because I made your sweet potato purée”. This is an eternal life. Pass on your recipes and you will live eternally…


Tell us your Top 3 Tips to help home bakers have success.

1. I find home bakers have the most fear of piecrust…so get yourself a recipe you are comfortable with and make it again and again. Keep the fat really chilled and under mix it! If you can get yourself to do those 3 things, you will have success. this gift, they melt into tears…


Saying “undermix” sounds so funny, but it is so true!

You want to do that! So that the water in the fat can make a compartment of flakiness…chemistry and physics, which I didn’t pay attention to in school and it’s so interesting that my whole world relies on chemistry and physics…

2. You need decent equipment…sheet pans with weight to them…muffins tins with weight to them…cheap ones are flimsy and it makes it very hard to have success…I go to people’s houses and they want me to help them…and their cutting boards are warped and their knives are really dull… I buy boards and knives as gifts, so it’s there next time I help them prep. Even I would burn cookies with flimsy pans! That’s not a skill you are lacking. You are sabotaging yourself.

Number 3 is wear comfortable shoes!


What do you like?

I wear Vans.


Dansko clogs saved my back…So we will be featuring your Homemade Devil Dogs. Tell us about that recipe.

They are something my husband grew up eating…it’s an East Coast thing…he grew up with Drakes cakes…I made them for him for his birthday – they were his birthday cake! They are great because they are handheld and they pack well for lunches on the go. I like to bring them to 4th of July picnics. And folks like individual servings. I like that they are inter-generational and that marshmallow filling! This is not for snobs. Oh, and make sure you end up with an even number for the pairs since you are sandwiching them together.


How about the Blueberry Ginger Hand Pies? Any tips for those?

Feel free to add more ginger to come through more strongly. My husband is very into the ratio of icing to pie. He doesn’t like too much icing, but check with your family. You can vary it to your liking.


Gale, it has been such a pleasure speaking with you. You and your recipes have been inspirations for years. Anything else you would like to add?

When I travel I take my great grandmother’s rolling pin with me…she was from Budapest…it grounds me and helps me remember where I came from. It is a slender wooden pin; the TSA says it’s a weapon! I have it in my kitchen when I am home. It reminds me that I am a fourth generation baker…she and my Mom weren’t professionals or anything but they were very good. It helps me remember that I am taking this farther. My kids use it now…it is kind of emotional…


What was your grandmother’s name?



Well, she gave you a gift, just like you give the gift of perfect piecrust in your classes! Thank you for your time, Gale.

 My pleasure, Dédé. This was fun.




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The Mindy Segal Interview

What Real Cookies Look Like with Mindy Segal


Jill Browning, publicist extraordinaire, gave me a heads up a few months ago about an upcoming book called Cookie Love. Great, I thought, another cookie book. I try not to be cynical, but it isn’t easy to create new points of view when it comes to something as common as cookies. The book arrived in its plain brown cardboard mailer. I pulled it out and BAM there on the cover were these cookies that, well, they just looked so bite-able! Now that might sound weird. We talk about food here all the time and it’s all edible, but does it make you want to bite into it? Now? As in, I wish that were in my mouth now? Not all of it does. But look at the cover below. The dark, almost black richness of the cocoa-based cookie set off by that sugary, chewy, messy, melted marshmallow. I could taste and feel in my mouth how this cookie might be experienced…were there nuts in there too? I flipped to the page. These were Jill’s Spiced Double-Chocolate Cookies and they were even so much more than I thought. Check on the Dutch-processed cocoa. The spice was provided by cinnamon, cayenne, nutmeg and clove. Plenty of butter and sugar of course, but more specifically author Mindy Segal called for cane sugar and dark muscovado sugar, and a combo of kosher and larger flake sea salt. Then there was the addition of smoked almonds, gianduja and homemade marshmallow. Now, that’s a lot in one cookie, and there are plenty of simpler and more streamlined cookies in the book, but what drew me in, immediately, was the messiness. The realness. These cookies looked like the cookies most of us bake at home. They aren’t perfect and the fact is, they don’t need to be. They just need to be stuffed full of great ingredients, just like these recipes we are featuring: Peanut Butter Peanut Brittle Cookies and Cocoa Nib Hot Fudge Rugelach. I needed to talk to Mindy…

Sega_Cookie Love
Dédé Wilson: Mindy! I love your book! I love it because the cookies are so, so messy and real, sugary and crunchy and they make me want to eat them!

Mindy Segal: (laughs) Well, thank you Dédé. I’ll give you the inside story. We were doing the photo shoot and using natural light for all of the images and it was all set up…but I wanted something different. It was important to me that the cookies didn’t look like a pastry chef had made them. I took the manuscript to the manager of the studio – she loves to bake – and I asked her to make them. She did like, 60% of them and those are what you see. They look like the cookies that you would make at home…


How did that go over, with the photographer and everything?

It was fine…me and Kate (Ed Note: Kate Leahy, who co-wrote) were editing while we were shooting, testing and re-testing the recipes and it was the perfect chance and opportunity to make sure they worked perfectly for the home baker…does the language work…it was very important to me that the baker could follow to great success. I’m a professional. When I make a recipe it’s like dodododododododo and it’s done. While writing the book I had to go back and think about everything…I loved the experience.


We are featuring your Peanut Butter Peanut Brittle Cookies and Cocoa Nib Hot Fudge Rugelach. Any tips for the PB cookies?

Hmmm, peanut butter extra tips…well I re-worked a classic peanut butter cookie and took out some of the flour and leavening agent so they were crispier although you still get chewiness from the peanut butter. I wanted to take something ordinary and add something different…the idea came to me to bake in a peanut brittle…make it funky and ugly (laughs). I guess the tip is that I have taken care of all the tips and tricks for you. Seriously. Follow the recipe exactly as written and you will have great success. That’s the trick for both of the recipes! Take advantage of the information I give you…and use great nuts in the brittle! They have to be fresh. You can mix them up…use honey-roasted if you want.


OK, how about the rugelach. When I owned my bakery this was the bane of my existence…when it came time to cut the triangles to roll, I really sucked at getting them even…

So, why do they have to be? Let them be different sizes!


(Laughs) Well, I know what you mean but since they were all priced the same…for home baking, yes I agree! Do you use a pastry wheel?

Yes, one with a scalloped edge…


Mindy, give us your top tips for the home baker to have success in the kitchen:

I can tell you extremely important to read a recipe through and when the author is giving you tips or suggestions or tricks of the trade, you should listen to them because they have made that recipe again and again and are helping you learn what you need to know.

Also, to use fresh ingredients. Are your baking powder and soda fresh? Your butter and eggs should be fresh and at room temperature. I go so far as to tell you the temperature…butter should be 63 to 68°F.


Use an instant read thermometer?



Do you have a preference for cookie sheets?

Yes, Teflon coated are great for egg white cookies but for the rest I find that the standard jelly-roll pan, the ones with the sides are best.


I couldn’t agree more. They are sturdy…don’t warp…I recommend them too.

Exactly and they are easy to grab and get in and out of the oven, too.


Great point. How did you come to focus on cookies?

I wanted to write a book and I had worked on several different ideas and they were all body-of-work books and I started thinking that really what I wanted to do was write several single subject books. I have a lot to say! I wanted to focus one at a time…cookies came first because for sure they are my favorite and I have been baking cookies since I was in the single digits…also, I have been making cookie plates at all these restaurants and really into all the different cookies. And for the home baker they are so easy to make…for me it started as a kid baking with my Mom, making chocolate chip cookies.


You know people always say to me that they are still looking for the perfect chocolate chip cookie. I always ask them, well, what is the perfect chocolate chip to you? Because we all have our own likes…what do you like?

I have many different takes on that. Right now my friend is sick and I went grocery shopping for her and I was walking through the aisles and started thinking oh, it would be cool to add potato chips to some chocolate chip cookies or maybe peanut butter filled pretzels! It really depends on my mood but for me a great chocolate chip cookie has a few key components. It definitely has to have a great chocolate quality. The chocolate shouldn’t be dry, it should be warm and soft not just a little chip…I like to use baking chocolate (Ed Note: she means bulk baking chocolate, not unsweetened) and you can taste the salt…there should be salt but also a balance between sweet and salt. The salt should hit your mouth and tongue and they should be crispy and chewy…when you bake it , it rises and then it falls and if you get the perfect fall, it crinkles a little bit and its got that vanilla and brown and white sugar…


Oh, great description. I have a thing about baking powder in chocolate chip cookies. I don’t usually like it. Where do you stand?

I actually use equal amounts baking powder and baking soda…


Hmm, I haven’t made a recipe with equal amounts. I am going to try that.

Mindy, thank you so much for your time. I love the book and I wish you all the luck with it…and cant wait to see what you write about next.


(Ed Note: We made her chocolate chip cookies in the Test Kitchen and they were a huge hit. They were the best baking powder included version we have tasted. My fiancé was eating one and out of nowhere said “These are damn good cookies. Damn good cookies!” Now, you can imagine how many cookies her has access to, so this is saying something. Indeed they had that “perfect fall” and crinkly, brown sugary deliciousness. Mindy said chocolate chip cookies must taste great without the chocolate, and these do. Great dough.)





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