Jenny McCoy’s Dessert for Every Season (Rizzoli, 2013) couldn’t be more aptly named. Jenny has been baking and creating recipes inspired by what is ripe and available for as long as she can remember. She almost stumbled upon her career by chance. Right after high school, not quite feeling ready for traditional college, she enrolled in the Baking and Pastry Program at Chicago’s Kendall College and loved what she discovered, then went on to work in Chicago-area kitchens, including Charlie Trotter’s, Blackbird and Bittersweet Bakery. After traveling the world for inspiration, she returned to school and completed her BA in Food Writing at DePaul University. She then headed to New Orleans where she worked within Emeril Lagasse’s empire until the lure of the New York food scene pulled her north.
Jenny made her mark on such restaurants as Tom Colicchio’s Craft and was awarded the 2011 NYC Rising Star Pastry Chef Award from StarChefs.com. Now, she can be found teaching at ICE (Institute of Culinary Education) and volunteering to help change school lunch programs through Wellness in the School, a NYC Department of Education program. She is giddy with excitement over her new book, and is also launching a line of products sometime soon, which she is pretty hush-hush about, but we tried our best to pry her for information.
Bakepedia: Jenny, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. We know you are one busy lady, which is why we can’t wait to hear how you answer our first question.
Jenny McCoy: I’m ready, Dédé!
When people ask what you do, how do you answer?
I say I am a pastry chef extraordinaire (laughs.) No, seriously, I say something to that effect, but also that I am a chef-instructor at ICE, that I maintain my blog, that I consult with food start-ups on product development, I am developing a class for Craftsy.com, I am a cookbook author, working on my own line of products and I was recently “won” as the dessert course in a fundraiser auction to benefit Wellness in Schools. This program is working to convert public school lunch programs from what they are into a program that provides awesome, cooked-from-scratch food. And that’s just this week!
That’s why we ask this question! It is always fascinating to see how multifaceted pastry chefs of today are. What is your favorite part of what you do?
My life has changed since leaving restaurants. As a pastry chef, I always loved having instant gratification, making something that I could complete quickly. I have a short attention span. To be able to share it immediately and being able to see the experience and gratitude from people eating it, that’s a whole other level of gratitude for what I do. Now, being a free agent, getting that instant gratification is there, but in a different way. My hours are always different. I have to wear a million different hats, but that’s fun. It keeps me motivated and excited; a bit scattered perhaps, but that’s okay.
How are you inspired to create recipes?
I am probably most inspired by colors. I have this theory that ingredients with colors that go well together visually will also go together in terms of taste. Many chefs think about components in terms of warm/cold, crunchy/soft on a plated dessert, and I do too, certainly, but I also think about color. Of course, this speaks to seasonality as well. There is that saying, “what grows together, goes together.”
Do you have a moment, event or recipe from your career of which you are most proud?
I honestly think it’s this new book! It was an idea I had when I was 18 or 19 years old. I was just out of school and was working at Blackbird in Chicago, which was one of the first fine dining establishments that was also market-driven and sourcing locally.
What year was this?
1999. I started daydreaming about how if I were to write a book, what it would be? I realized it would be very much seasonally based. So here we are. It has finally come to pass and I am thrilled; I get to complete the circle. We even shot the book seasonally. We did six shoots. There was no way I was going to do a book with this as the topic and shoot with mediocre fruit that was out of season. We shot four seasons, then another shoot was tablescapes and another shoot was me doing the step-by-step “How To” shots.
That’s unheard of! How did you convince the publisher to do that? Most cookbooks are shot all at once to save logistical and monetary resources.
You would be surprised how persuasive I am and what I can get people to agree to (laughs)! I couldn’t be happier with my team. I want to do another book!
What are the three most important things that you think the home baker should know?
1. Don’t be afraid to break rules. A lot of home bakers are very recipe-driven and when they’re first starting out, they can feel attached to a recipe. I want them to know that they can make things their own. If it doesn’t work out perfectly, it won’t be the end of the world. Listen to your instincts. If the recipe says bake for 20 minutes but it is nowhere nears done, keep it in the oven! Recipes are guidelines, not hard and fast rules.
2. I teach bakers every day and the most obvious thing we all have to remember is to read the recipe all the way through before beginning. It should be a cardinal rule. Nothing worse than realizing halfway through that you need an ingredient or that there is an overnight step.
3. I really love baking and I want to encourage others to love it too, so what I want to say is, it is really hard to make a bad dessert when you use great ingredients. If the recipe recommends a high-end chocolate, don’t use the cheap supermarket chocolate. Go out of your way to buy what you need, and if you bake within the seasons, everything will taste great.
Tell us about what you are doing currently.
I am waiting for the Sept 24th launch of the book! A week or so after we will have a launch party with family, friends and colleagues. One thing I want to point out about the book is the seasonal harvest calendar in the front. I spent a lot of time thinking about produce from all over the country, what is available when. I envision someone buying the book, opening it up to any page, getting inspired by a recipe, but maybe the recipe is not one from the current season. I hope they will look to the calendar to see what is fresh and ripe right now and maybe make those substitutions. I hope it helps people make their desserts timely. There is a “how to use the calendar” section in the introduction.
What do you hope to do next?
Another book. A sequel! I hope everyone who buys the book tells Rizzoli they want a follow-up! You know when I was almost done with the manuscript I started thinking, what am I going to do with my life? What am I going to do with my time and energy when I don’t have the book to work on? I ended up writing my literary agent at 2:00 one morning detailing ideas for a chocolate book and one on summer pies and this idea and that idea (laughs). I probably had a dozen ideas. Next morning I get an email back saying that my enthusiasm was wonderful, but why don’t we see how this book does first? Keeping it real. Anyway, I am away from the day-to-day work in professional kitchens, so I am now able to share my experiences and knowledge. This is why I wrote with home cooks in mind. I am also working on a line of products. I can’t say much about the line yet, but I will tell you that it is all about products that help the home baker, that make things easier for the home baker.
Well, you have to keep us in the loop and let us know when we can bring them to our Bakepedia community.
Sure! We will talk again when my products come out. I also just wanted to mention that there are certain things on my blog, JennyMcCoy.com, that complement the book’s content. For instance, the Pear-Cranberry Strudel you are featuring uses phyllo dough, but if you are ambitious, you could make strudel dough from scratch. There is a recipe on my blog including a video showing you how to do it. I am also very active on Twitter and in social media in general. I hope people join me. I just want people to bake. (Ed. Note: we are also featuring her Buckwheat Honey Ice Cream, which goes perfectly with the strudel or enjoyed on its own).
Jenny, that’s our goal too! Thank you so much for your time, and enjoy the launch of your first book. It’s a special time and we bet there will be more.
Thank you Dédé. We will talk soon.