Carole Bloom and I first met through the IACP (International Professional Association of Culinary Professionals) and in a sea of cooks and food people we found ourselves kindred spirits in our pursuit of the best desserts and pastries. I have followed Carole’s career for about 15 years and the thing that has always signified her work is her attention to detail. Her recipes work, and she has a way of bringing new ideas to light as well as explaining standbys in a clear, accessible way. Her newest book, Caramel, offers 65 recipes featuring the rich, bittersweet flavor of caramel in all its guises, from sauces to buttercreams, cakes, ice cream, pastries and more. I sat down with her for a long overdue chat to catch up on her world of sweets.
Dédé Wilson: Carole, what a treat to talk to you; it’s been too long. The minute I saw your new book I knew I had to pick up the phone.
Carole Bloom: Thank you Dédé, yes I am very excited about the book – especially since caramel is one of my favorite flavors.
Well our first question is a fun one as it seems to often elicit silence, laughter or confusion, so here goes. When people ask “What do you do?”, what is your answer?
Normally I say I write dessert cookbooks and the typical reaction is, “Wow, really”? Like all of a sudden they think about the fact that someone must be coming up with all those recipes! Then they ask, “How did you get into that?” My backstory is that I graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Fine Arts. I was contemplating further education, possibly to study dance or art history, but instead I went to Europe … I didn’t go to graduate school, but I did come home and announce that I wanted to go to culinary school.
When was this?
Mid-’70s. I went to work at a restaurant in Berkeley and then went to La Varenne in Paris for a while and then the Cordon Bleu in London. I was bouncing back and forth from Europe and the US. I worked at the Stanford Court Hotel in San Francisco but I wanted more European experience. I ended up apprenticing in Venice and also working at a hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland. When I returned [home] to San Diego, my boyfriend [now husband] and I intended to go to the Bay area, but he had left is car at his parent’s house (laughs).
Well, of course there was more to it than that, but I started a business making small desserts and cakes for cafes [in the ‘70s]. It was a wasteland here; not much going on. It wasn’t what it is today. I started teaching cooking classes, and my business and following started to grow. I had to make a decision and, after working in hotels and restaurant kitchens, I knew by then that I didn’t want to do the same thing all the time, which those jobs demand, so I decided to focus on teaching. At the same time I was, of course, keeping up to date with the culinary magazines and new dessert books and I found myself thinking that I could have written them! I began writing for a local monthly magazine, the San Diego Tribune.
I started the same way. I decided I wanted to write and began with our local paper.
Exactly. Toni Allegra [a mutual IACP friend] was editor at the Tribune and she hired me. I went on to write articles for The Oregonian and the Orange County Register, then decided I would write a book. So I wrote a book proposal. I found myself at a book launch party for a cookbook and I was sitting next to a man from Crossing Press and we got talking. He said to send him the proposal and they ended up buying Truffles, Candies and Confections [her first book, published in 1992]. I worked so hard on that book and produced so much content that when they saw my text, they bumped up the size and added photography.
Carole, what is your favorite part of what you do?
I think the creative part where I get to be in the kitchen and play and work on recipes. Writing at the computer is not my favorite part! I enjoy teaching and promoting, but the time I get to spend in the kitchen and create is the best. I think desserts are much more creative than regular food, some might dispute that, but this is an art form and with my degree, I am still getting to practice a fine art!
How are you inspired to create recipes?
People ask, “Did you really create all these recipes? How did that happen?” I get inspired by colors, shapes, flavors – you know, sometimes it’s from something I have already done and I think, what if I turned it upside down or put it into a different form or shape? I love this process of thinking and playfulness.
We have been speaking to many self-taught bakers and some say they think that lack of early training has allowed them to think outside the box and come up with things they might not of if they have been formally schooled. Do you find that since you are a trained pastry chef that that can get in the way?
Sometimes I do put my training aside. It’s good to have it, to know technique, but you do have to put it aside sometimes to see what happens. I often say I’m like Sherlock Holmes. You can only change one thing at a time [in a recipe] or otherwise you won’t know what changed the outcome. You have to be really investigative; you have to be precise but you have to allow yourself to be open and bring in other elements – your instincts, fresh ideas. Sometimes I will make a recipe 10 times and I am still not happy with it and I will put it aside. Maybe I will come back to it; maybe I won’t.
Sometimes my best ideas come to me at funny times like when I am pulling weeds in the garden. Activities that allow my mind to float, the ideas bubble up to the surface. As a creative person you have to use all of your senses to bring you information, get your antennae up. Sometimes things are just in the ether and you just pick up on them. I keep abreast of what is going on in restaurants, but my audience is the home cook so I am not going to bring them foam and modern gastronomy. That’s not my thing I want to make things accessible.
What are the three most important things that you think the home baker should know?
1. It’s really important to read a recipe and understand what to do before beginning. A lot of times people will not really follow the directions and then not have success and they don’t understand why. But it is because the directions can be exacting and you should follow them. I recommend they read it and make it once as written before making any changes.
2. Measuring is really important. There are liquid measuring cups and dry measuring cups and people often get those confused. They are not the same thing. Measure everything first and set it out.
3. Don’t get distracted! Let the phone ring. And use a timer! And every oven is different, so having a thermometer is really helpful. OK that was more than three (laughs).
I have also started to use measurements and weights in my books.
Did the publishers ask you to?
No, I wanted to do it. This way the amounts are available both ways.
Did you create own conversion chart?
Oh yes I did! You have to because using someone else’s chart won’t be accurate. I provide weights in ounces, not metric. I do volume and weight. I probably wont go metric.
Tell us about what you are doing currently.
My newest book, Caramel, came out September 1st. I am very happy with the photos, and there are 50 pictures for the 65 recipes. I cover all kinds of categories – cakes, ice creams, cookies etc. One of the main things that I have done is teach the reader how to make a Classic Caramel Sauce and then use that sauce to create other recipes. The sauce is a main component, but used in different ways, such as part of the Caramel Apricot Linzer Torte and part of the Caramel Swirl Cheesecake. I also include all sorts of basic caramel techniques.
Do you have a favorite recipe?
Don’t ask me to pick a favorite! It’s like choosing a favorite child! (laughs). I do like the Chocolate and Caramel Layer Cake and the Butterscotch Cupcakes with Dulce de Leche Frosting. The Chocolate Caramel Shortbread Bars are just to die for. And then there is the Caramel Ice Cream.
Carole, thank you so much for your time. Very excited to have your classic sauce, Linzertorte and caramel candies for our community.
Thank you, Dédé.