The Dorie Greenspan Interview

Baking With Dorie

DorieGreenspan-photocreditAlan Richardson

Dorie Greenspan’s new book, Baking Chez Moi, is about to hit the shelves. The nearly 500-page book is complete with chapters covering cakes, both simple and fancy, cookies, pastries, fruits, creams and candies. You can also read our complete book review. This article is about my chat with Dorie to discuss the book and the inner workings of her brilliant, ever-exploring baking mind. The subtitle says it all: “Recipes From My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere”. The aim of the book is true to Dorie’s raison d’etre. She loves to bake. She wants you to bake. And she wants to help you love it too, with a style and approach that is both thorough and sophisticated yet accessible even to the beginner. She holds your hand. Here you can read about how some recipes have “wiggle room”, that the term “French bake” can describe people as well as things and how Pierre Hermé is a softy. This Dorie Greenspan interview is lengthy; consider this your time to fireside eavesdrop with Dorie. Also make sure to read our interview with her food photographer, Alan Richardson.



Dédé Wilson: Dorie! Thank you so much for taking with me today. I know you have been very busy, preparing for the book launch …

Dorie Greenspan: Oh, Dédé, it’s my pleasure! How are you?


I’m great! I baked the Custardy Apple Squares and Edouard’s Chocolate Chip Cookies in preparation for our chat!

How do you have time for anything?


Actually, I don’t know (laughs)…

Is every second of your life given to Bakepedia?


Pretty much! But hey, I gave birth to this baby and now I have to feed it!

Well, Dédé, I have to tell you…it is remarkable. I look at it and can’t even imagine how you are doing it all – that’s one chubby baby! (We both laugh).


Well, speaking of busy, I know you were at a shoot yesterday. What was that for?

I was volunteering my time for Cookies for Kids Cancer, the OXO campaign. I will be teaching a class and we shot some Good Tips videos.


We will be looking for those! So what number book is this? I think I’ve lost count!

Book 11!


Tell us what distinguishes this book…

This book is the sweet companion to Around My French Table. As a friend called it, it is comfort baking. I had never heard the term but it is the perfect description. Whereas Around My French Table was what people are cooking in France at home today, this one is the same but with baking as a focus…and it’s very personal. The recipes are what I see my French friend’s making and what I make in our Parisian home, and also what has caught my eye from traveling around…it is really Franco-American because it is not only what I love to bake but also what I introduce a lot of my French friends to. Some ingredients or recipes are new to them.


Are they resistant to anything?

Resistant? No! In fact they are fascinated by a lot of things that we know (as American bakers)…like a no-bake cheesecake. The Philadelphia Blueberry-Corn Tart was something they had never seen before. The book also has my take on traditional French desserts. What is always interesting to me…what I do with my cooking…is to take recipes that might have a 100 year old tradition but they can be constantly tweaked and improved upon, which makes them fresh and it is also a way to have fun!


This is a perfect segue to talk about the chocolate chip cookies…you even say in the headnote that you didn’t know how your chef friend, Edouard Bobin, would put a spin on them, but then there are the very end of the ingredient list is the baker’s choice of almond or hazelnut flour, which is of course, a new take. And, not only is nut flour incorporated into the recipe, but instead of being whisked with the other dry ingredients, the nut flour is folded in at the end with the chocolate. Why that technique?

You know this is how he presented the recipe – and it works! It is a great idea because you aren’t mashing it in thoroughly by adding it earlier…the nut flour is treated like the chopped nuts in the classic recipe and folded in with the chocolate.


That’s really interesting…and it did work! And I have to fully disclose here that I used almond meal made from ground natural almonds and not a fine almond flour, which is what was called for, which leads me to something I wanted to bring up…possibly my favorite quote in the whole book is on page 56 within a sidebar titled Measuring Flour where you discuss not only the difference between measuring flour by weight and by volume but also on using different kinds of flour, such as bleached versus unbleached all-purpose. The quote is: “I’ve never had a failure when I’ve used one flour or the other, but what I bake is never exactly the same”. You also go on to describe how you measure by volume, the way Julia Child always did, and the way we do here in the Test Kitchen, which is to whisk and aerate your flour, dip and sweep. Rose (Levy Beranbaum) and Alice (Medrich) are scale fanatics and crusaders and I understand that if precision is the goal, that approach will get you there. But here’s my thinking, if you are the pastry chef at Per Se or you are baking for a commercial bakery where guests and customers expect the same dish every time and demand that consistency, you need that accuracy…in my mind, for the home baker, it isn’t necessary…for me it also takes away from some of the fun…

Oh, DédéI couldn’t agree with you more! Thank you so much for saying that. I speak to home bakers…and I have said before that I think of myself as a baking evangelist…I want to get people into the kitchen and realize the fun. It can be magical! I love the process and I get to share the kind of baking I do…an extra 2 grams of is flour not going to make ruin your dish! I was happy to put weights in the book this time for those that are interested…but most good recipes are forgiving and have some wiggle room…people don’t even table about that.


Exactly! Look at the chocolate chip cookies I made. I used a coarser almond meal from natural almonds than your recommended fine almond flour and the cookies worked!

The cookies worked! And they were great, right?


Yes! Different from the image in your book, but they worked and they were delicious.

But you now what? Deliciousness is the final criterion. People say it’s about science and precision but home baking can be easier than cooking because the blueprint is there…think about it, when you are cooking a steak and to test doneness chefs say to feel the fleshy part of your hand. That’s not that easy to determine! It can confuse people…I give people permission to enjoy themselves.


More than permission – you give encouragement…

Thank you! You know I just thought of something. In my first book I had little sidebars called Playing Around, telling bakers how they can do this or that, like add raisins next time, or extra chocolate or whatever and in this book I have continued to do that but this time it is called Bonne Idée (Good Idea)…I like to do this because I am always thinking…I get ideas and I want to share them…to offer people alternatives, but also as a way to encourage make to make the recipes their own…


What are you most excited about bringing us in the new book?

(There is a long pause)…Oh! There isn’t just one! Hmm…one of them is finally making cannelés with a result I love and techniques that work, but you know this is why working with food is so great. There is always a new discovery. I can make it again and again and then there is something new, like with Edouard’s chocolate chip cookie! Having been a French pastry follower for so long, having lived in France for 20 years, finding new things is so exciting…and surprising. It can be small things. Like I got excited about learning how to oh-so-delicately glaze madeleines thanks to Fabrice Le Bourdat of Blé Sucré and Philippe Conticini of Pâtisserie des Rêves taught me to start with chilled batter in a cold pan and bake on a hot cookie sheet. I have been making madeleines for years and now they are better than ever – with the very proper dome-like bump! You can always learn more. Like the Pailles! So inviting…


Oh yes, I noticed that picture…they look delicious. (Ed Note: imagine two caramelized flaky, crispy puff pastry cookies sandwiching thick fruit jam).

I would buy them and finally finding out how to do it making them at home you would think I had never baked before (laughs)…there is still that excitement. Or toasting flour! I not everyone is going to turn to the Toasted Buckwheat and Chopped Chocolate Sablés, but they will be missing out! I love what buckwheat flour is like when toasted…even the Desert Roses


What an evocative name!

Yes, but do you know what they are? Cornflakes and melted chocolate! The recipe has been on the French box of cornflakes…my French friends had made them and when I chided them for not sharing the recipe they all said that it had never occurred to them!


I suppose it is like us just knowing a chocolate chip cookie is on a morsels bag…



It’s funny but I never thought of the French baking from labels!

It tickled me to know all of this…here’s another story…my friend Martine is a great cook but rarely bakes; she will server ice cream and store bought cookies, but every now and then she makes a chocolate mousse and it is always perfect…she would never give me the recipe, even though I asked over the years…you know where this is going, right? It was also curious because she would ask me for recipes but never for a mousse recipe! Here’s didn’t need any improvement! So one evening she served the mousse and it was an intimate dinner, just me, my husband and her cousin and as I am leaving she hands me a Nestlé chocolate bar with the recipe on the label!

You know I was presenting a slide show and there was a French woman in the audience and I said to her, you are going to keep me honest, aren’t you? She said the only thing that I could say wrong is that French women bake (meaning the more complex desserts)! What they do is simple…these are the home recipes from my wonderful friends. Not the desserts you would be served if it was your first time having dinner with them or that they purchase from a shop…really the things that they make at home.


This goes back to what you said about deliciousness – about taste being the deciding factor…

Exactly, it didn’t matter that my friend used supermarket chocolate for the mousse. It was delicious…or take a look at the Crackle-Topped Cream Puffs


I noticed those! They have a very rustic, homespun look…they look like they have a crackly pastry of a different texture on top…

Yes, like a streusel or cookie crumbs. I had been seeing them all over France and didn’t know what it as that made the topping and the crunch; when I made them for first time I was really excited…you know pate a choux is 100 years old! There is a trend here for shops that just sell cream puffs and they fill them to order, a la minute. But you aren’t seeing as much frosting or glaze…this topping is the topping! It is baked right in…


It might not have the visual but it has the taste…

Yes! This points to the willingness to experiment with a classic. It is a actually like a tart dough that is cut into little rounds and places on top of the pate a choux…


And they still puff up?

The puff power is so great that the little disc does not contain them.


Dorie, tell us 3 things every home baker should know to help them have success…

(Long pause). I think the basics…your oven temperature must be accurate. This is so basic and necessary, yet often overlooked.

Oh, um, Oh Dédé there are a million things people should know! (Laughs)

How to judge that something is done…and to trust your fingers and nose and eyes – not the time! The clock is a suggestion. Doneness can be assessed by color…visual cues…if you can smell it, it’s time to look at it!

Also people should know that there are very few failures – and even failures taste good!


I have to ask you something about failures…years ago I was having issues with my chocolate macaron…there was so little consistency from batch to batch and it was driving me nuts! You told me that when you were working on the chocolate book with Pierre Hermé that it was the one recipe that gave you the most trouble as well. Am I remembering that correctly?

Yes! In fact Bon Appetit did that recipe for the magazine for a Master Class column. I didn’t see the images until the issue landed on my doorstep and in the picture they were cracked! And I thought, oh no, Pierre is going to be upset. So I called him right away and you know what he said? He said, “that’s okay because that’s the way they will look for many people and it’s fine”.


I love it!

The macaron in Baking Chez Moi are my best version yet.


Did you do something different this time with ingredients or techniques or wording in how you describe how to make them?

Baking temperature is different for one thing…I used to start hot, lower it, turn 3 times and pray to the baking gods (laughs). I re-worked it. Now they go into a 350°F oven and just get baked like a cookie! You could still pray (laughs again) but there aren’t 7 pages like the Hermé recipe. I do take time in the headnote to describe what you need to pay attention to…older, liquidy egg whites, very finely sifted almond flour…in the end it’s the prep and temperature – and that there is a counter-intuitive step where you really mash and beat the egg whites. I think this is the first time I presented a macaron recipe of my own. They are not hard, but they are weird! It is just that they are their own thing…


Well, people go crazy for macaron and I am sure they will be flocking to check out that new recipe…

I have another Pierre story…I was testing a loaf cake for him and as I was mixing the butter, sugar and eggs it was the ugliest looking batter! Curdled and liquidy and just truly ugly and very unpromising…I will often toss things early to begin again. I called Pierre in Paris because I thought we should do something to make it look better so that people wouldn’t be discouraged. He asked me how it turned out. I said great. He said, “I don’t care what it looks like while you are making it. It works and it tastes great and that’s what’s important”.


What two recipes should we highlight for our community? We have beginners and advanced bakers…

I would say for beginners the Fall Market Galette. I’m excited about the dough…it is fun to work with…it’s sturdy and it’s easy…you can even see in the picture how it broke a little bit and opened and it doesn’t make any difference. It is delicious and takes advantage of fall fruit.

For the more adventurous baker I would say the cannelés. You do need the special molds but I am just obsessed with them…crunchy and caramelized on the outside, tender, custardy and chewy inside…an almost impossible to imagine combination if textures. They are rustic and elegant at the same time. You can now find silicone molds, which makes unmolding easy…


The traditional molds being copper and not your everyday purchase…so the silicone works to give them their caramelized exterior? And while we are at it, do you use silicone for your madeleines? I feel like if people have a problem with madeleines, it is with the unmolding…

I prefer metal for madeleines but use both…silicone molds are great for anything ridged because they make it so easy to unmold, but you do that little bit of extra crust with the metal that I prefer…oh, I don’t even know if I like “crust” as the right word…metal makes them a little firmer, the browning is more even and therefore there is a more even texture…if baking them depends on the right mold, don’t procrastinate! Just make them; they are too good to miss! What do you use?


I agree with you about metal pans giving madeleines that little extra exterior texture that I love too, but my molds are so old and some are scratched and that gives the batter places to stick, so I do appreciate the silicone as well. Speaking of browning…makes me think of those air-cushioned cookie pans. I don’t like them! Cookies bake up looking anemic…with no browning they lack caramelization, which gives flavor!

I couldn’t agree with you more on those air-cushioned tins and anemic is the perfect word. You know I wrote a sidebar on color in Baking Chez Moi. I was working with Sarabeth Levine of Sarabeth’s in NYC and one day she was looking at my baked goods and said, “I see you like a French bake.” I had no idea what she was talking about but figured out that she was referring to the rich level of browning. The French like their baked goods a bit darker and so do I…


You know I have noticed that when walking around Paris and looking in patisserie windows…that things are darker than in the U.S.! I never thought to give it a name…

People bake too pale! Color equals flavor! As you said you have to get the caramelization of the sugar, the browning and nuttiness of the butter…color can tell you so much.


This goes back to what you were saying about using visuals as a method to gauge doneness…

Yes, it has to do with your involvement with the baked good…a cookie cutter approach doesn’t work. The same exact cookie recipe is not going to be “done” at exactly 8 minutes every time…it is hard to ask a new baker to use color…but I think it is something you learn…just like everything with baking it becomes part of who you are…forget needing a life coach! Start baking! (We both laugh). You get more out of what you bake, the more you bake. It is so encouraging; it helps you feel so good about yourself and you get to learn new things…


And then you get to share with friends! What a great note to end on, Dorie. Thank you so much for your time. We can’t wait to share your recipes with our community and good luck with the book!

Dédé, thank you so much! It has been a pleasure…

 Author and Cover Image: Alan Richardson

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