The Rose Levy Beranbaum Interview: Part 2

Rose’s New Book, The Baking Bible, Debuts

Rose Author image

I have known Rose since 1988 and our first meeting set the tone for our relationship – one of mutual respect, sprinkled with laughs, zest for inquiry and an easy-going rapport. This interview took place over a few months, a few phone calls and many emails! Mainly because we start talking, get way off topic and what was supposed to be an in-depth interview becomes the two of us kibitzing. The flow of this printed interview was constructed from those many discussions. You can also read the Part 1 of this interview.

Some time in August 2014, after I had finally baked out of the book galley for The Baking Bible, I dial Rose’s number. She doesn’t say hello; instead she says,

“I hope it’s you Dédé!”


Dédé: (I can hear the warm, wry tease in her voice). “Oh, well that’s good,” I say, “because it is!” We both giggle. “Is this still a good time?”

Rose: Well, yes, except that I am trying to divide a number in half and it’s not working…


In your head?

No! But it’s coming out to .875, which is not helpful! I will have to come back to this later…you will sympathize. I am making a wedding cake and working out the ingredient ratios for the tiers…


What sizes are you making?

6-inch, 9-inch, 12-inch – my favorite proportions. But it has been a while since I traveled with a cake…I have my large stake ready to go through the center! It will be very secure!


Let’s talk about The Baking Bible. With a title like that and the fact that this has been a long time in coming, how many recipes did you have to cut? (I asked her this, because knowing Rose, I assumed correctly that she would have over-planned and written volumes).

Oh my, well we had to cut an entire wedding cake chapter! We are saving that for a book…the publisher kept thinking this book would be the same size as Heavenly Cakes but I said this is a Bible, it has to be bigger! So I promised them that if we made this a bit bigger that I would give them the wedding cake book that they have been wanting.


Oh! So you will have a wedding cake book coming? That is exciting news!

I don’t like big things – unless they are manuscripts (laughs)! But seriously a lot was cut, but then during the production the designer got so much more back in! I have never had a production team like this before…so much support.

(Ed. Note: every book has a design, which determines page size, font style, font size etc. and sometimes a recipe will not “fit” within the design and edits are asked of the author. Rose was referencing the fact that her designer worked some brilliance and indeed the book is jam packed with info but doesn’t look or read as crowded).


Do you have a date for the wedding cake book?

Not yet. Even though I have most of the work done from years of making wedding cakes I also want to create chapters for the home baker who might have a commercial Hobart.


That’s so smart. So many of our Bakepedia users make large celebration cakes from home…

So I am re-testing…and I want to add more unusual cakes. I have the basics mostly done but I want to include red velvet, banana and cakes with different character. There will be chiffon cakes…I am excited because I really have something to work on!


OK I have a question for you and that was a perfect segue. You and I love to tinker. Most recipe developers do. We are constantly tweaking and improving, so how do you handle inquiries from people who are using an older recipe of yours and want to know why you approach it differently now…how do you explain that? I think sometimes folks think, well, does that mean this older recipe isn’t any good?

This is such an interesting question that you bring up! Of course I do always work to improve recipes. For instance I loved my cream cheese pie crust before, but now it is even better…I use heavy cream instead of water…and with the current book, I keep notes! Then God willing if there is a second printing we can update! You know ingredients change…that’s one major reason – and then you have to rethink it. For instance I was going to make a génoise for this wedding cake but it came out like cornbread…


You mean it was coarse?

Yes! And I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I started looking at everything including equipment. One blogger said she got different results from her Cuisinart mixer instead of her KitchenAid. I kept re-testing but it wasn’t right. It would rise and collapse. I thought, The Cake Bible can’t be wrong! I wrote to Lisa Yokelson and she said it might be the cornstarch…and I also started thinking about the eggs…the sizes of eggs have changed, or more specifically, there is more white than there used to be, so maybe adding a yolk would improve it…the laying hens are younger and their yolks are smaller…

(Ed Note: we ended up having Many emails over several days about this génoise issue and at one point I asked Rose if she had considered the type of cornstarch, as in investigating the difference between non-GMO cornstarch and standard. She re-tested the cakes and you can read about her findings here. It made a difference!)

Bakers have to understand that ingredients change. Technology changes…location…all of these can be factors. Recipes are developed with the ingredients we have available at that time…Woody (her collaborator) said it best: “Your books are Bibles. They are references. Changes do not make the old books obsolete”.


And that is what your fans expect – that attention to detail. It was interesting to me that your publisher and editor allowed so much repetition in The Baking Bible. You have The Golden Rules at the start of every chapter, and much of the information is re-stated. But I know it is because it is so important! You want the reader to know that they should adhere to these rules…

They (the publishers) questioned it! But they know my credibility; they get it. They didn’t fight me. They questioned me, but they didn’t fight me. And you know, everything is important (laughs)! That’s why it’s in there!


Talk to me about superfine sugar, which you call for in many recipes. My market now packages the Domino in these tiny 12-ounce packages, which is a pain…the good news is it’s in airtight bottles with a pour spout.

Woody used to bring it to me in large bags from Minnesota and security at the airport got to know him and they would always ask, “Isn’t there any sugar in NYC”? (Laughs). You are right, it isn’t easy to find in large quantities. See if you can buy some from a local baker…making your own doesn’t always work.


Because it gets powdery you think it affects the texture of cakes and such?

Yes, this is a possibility. I prefer to buy it.


I have another ingredient question for you…I’m looking at the image of the The Red Velvet Rose cake and it is so pristine. I know you like to use Baker’s Joy but how do you get such intricately shaped cakes to release without any residue?

I have to tell you that spray products that contain fat and flour are not all the same, and some do leave a flavor and residue. I like to use Baker’s Joy and I never get any clumpy parts when I spray it on, then use a brush to make sure the coat is even and there is no excess. Get in there with the brush!


Why are you so in love with the Renée Fleming Golden Chiffon? (Rose had told me it was her favorite from the book).

Even with creating the final, perfect génoise, it can still be floury on the tongue…there can be a roughness. But here with this chiffon it is soft, light fluff, delicate on the tongue…the challenge was to create a high, light chiffon without a center tube. It has a tendency to dip…it does have its limitations…but with the lemon curd whipped cream, it is so ethereal and made me think of Renée…it’s the perfect cake. A layer cake no matter how you do it doesn’t have that lightness…the chiffon is even moist on its own. And now since Renée sang the national anthem at last year’s Super Bowl everyone knows who she is, so it all works! God, I’m getting hungry talking about this cake!


You like to use cake strips on the outside of the pans…do you ever like to use a cake core?

No, I don’t like to make a hole…but the rose nail that I recommend for the Renée does the same thing without the hole.


Is Woody there today because I want to talk to him about you…I want him to tell me something about Rose that no one knows…that’s printable! (we both laugh).

He isn’t here today but we can set that up…


We can play it like the Newlywed Game and you can tell me what you think he will say and then we will hear what he really has to say! (both laughing again).

Well, Rose I am very excited about the book. I am particularly looking forward to making the Polish Princess, Renée and also that Frozen Pecan Tart! I have always liked a pecan tart better than a pie because of the crust to filling ratio and the fact that this is frozen will temper the sweetness even further…

Yes! And you must use the Golden Syrup and the Muscovado sugar! They make such a difference. You also have to try the Honey Cake from the book. It is based on a recipe from Marcy Goldman and it is the only honey cake I have ever truly loved!


I will take a look at the honey cake and I love Golden Syrup; I always have some in the pantry! It is so distinct.

You know it is because of me that it is here in the States! I made the importer come to my house. They put my recipe on the label (this was years ago). If it weren’t here I would go to the UK to get it!

(Ed Note: At this point we paused in our chat and went to a flurry of emails and set up the phone meeting with Woody. What follows is a mash-up of my conversation with Woody, which was extensive and meandering because Rose kept adding her 2 cents. I picked out some highlights).


Woody, I am so excited to be finally “meeting” you!

Same here, Dédé!


Did Rose tell you I thought we could play this like the Newlywed Game…see if you tell me things that she assumes you will say…

Well, I know why she trusts me. It’s because of my compulsively accurate approach…my mania for precision.


Well, I am ready to type!

Here’s a pretty good one. We started touring together with the Heavenly Cakes book and I would go to signings with her and she said you can sign too. So Rose signs on the inside front cover and I always sign on my page.


Which page?

Page xii in acknowledgments…not sure where I will be signing on new book! So Rose had some special marking pens that dry instantly so that you can sign and not smear it. When it came to me she handed me these 2 pens and said, “these are for you”, she had marked them with tape, “because boys press too hard and I don’t want you wrecking mine!” (We both laugh). And she is the Emily Post of English and likes to correct me.


But she does this out of love…

Yes, it’s true. We have a give and take relationship. We will follow one another’s lead and it works very, very well. I act as her consigliore.

(Ed Note: At this point I hear Rose in the background. I hadn’t been aware that she was there).


Is that Rose in the background? She sounds like she is correcting you now and telling you what to say. Tell her I said that isn’t allowed! (We are all laughing now. For the rest of the chat, Rose is chiming in here and there with comments, but I have tried to give Woody his voice here). OK, I give up just put us on speaker phone (laughs).

Woody: Like recently we have been doing these génoise tests, measuring eggs, checking the cornstarch…we had done tests for many different sized layers but we needed to do more tests! I said if there is a chance that we can validate it with the non-GMO cornstarch we have to do another test…there are changes to ingredients and that’s why we are going back to test…we both have a persistent attitude…anal attitude (laughs); Rose is a completionist. She wont stop until she brings out the answer…it doesn’t matter what the time frame is or the time of day…if it’s 11pm or midnight, and we need to do something, that’s what’s going to happen!

Rose has her rules for the kitchen…like with egg whites she scrapes out every little smidgeon from the shells. She has made whole angel food cakes out of those scraps!


What do you do with the chalaza? Do you pick it out?

Woody: Depends on the recipe. With angel food cakes I scrape it out and she does too.

Or like with her vanilla bottle. It is on a small dish so it won’t stain the marble counter… we are laboratory efficient around here!

…speaking of angel food cakes, here is a funny story. This is when I was living in Minnesota. Rose calls one day and she says, “How many cups is your angel food pan? It should be 16 cups but we need to make sure, so you need to measure it and get back to me in 30 minutes. The pan is two pieces, so you will probably have to duct tape it together”.

We had discussed how I would fill it with water, weigh the amount of water and determine the volume. Well, I get off the phone and I think about all the residue from the duct tape that would be left on my pan, so I put a thin, lightweight baggy in the pan, filled it with water, weighed it and call her back in about 3 minutes. “You’re done already,” she asked? “What did you do?” So I explain about the baggy…then she was on to calling Wilton because she wanted to know the volume of their pans – they usually just say 10-inch – and the tech department had no idea! She told them, if my guy can figure this out in 3 minutes, then you should be able to also! (We are all laughing at this point).


Rose interjects: “You know I have 3 typical responses to Woody.

1. No way!

2. I might change my mind and

3. Oh, you were right!

Woody continues: It’s mostly the third one! (Laughing). One last interesting thing with the blog. Rose is known as a mechanic…for her precision…and that she is the energizer bunny; she keeps going. We get messages from around the world…sometimes I will answer, sometimes she does. We get the feeling that people think Rose knows everything! Like someone will say I am in Zaire and need Dutch-processed cocoa and they think we will know what store near them will have the ingredient. But we are just human; it’s just Rose and I. Sometimes someone will ask if we can try something out for them – we don’t have a lab of technicians! It is humbling that people think she knows everything…we do the best we can for our community.


Tell me about your early days with Rose.

Woody: Oh, I have a couple of stories. It is always somewhat anxiety producing for Rose when she goes on the road for book signings and has to rely on people to do the food prep for her. Trusting others to make the recipes correctly is nerve wracking!

Once she was in Baltimore up on a stage and she was supposed to be demonstrating a recipe that required whipped cream and she gets onto the stage and there is no whisk and she is thinking, “how am I going to do this?” She ended up pantomiming the whisking! Obviously not ideal! So now she relies on me to help as prep chef and stager…and her coach on a set.

I think we made the decision for me to be her prep chef as a result of an event at NYU. She was about to lecture about 100 people.


When was this?

I think 2009. She was going to be making cakes with Wondra. The prep person there was supposed to make one with cake flour…the event was going to be taped. I offered to bring an extra camera…so we get there and we meet up with the prep person, and she is showing us around the kitchen. So Rose asks her what she is going to suspend the cake on (upside down) for cooling. She beamingly reaches behind herself and shows us this little plastic Pepsi bottle! Rose and I looked at one another and think, you’ve got to be kidding! (Ed Note: the inference here is the bottle would both melt and be too light and tip over). You have to have a heavy glass bottle! Rose turned to me and said, “Woody, you are baking now!” We ended up using a glass Orangina bottle – and now Rose likes Orangina!

So, I had brought my camera and in my haste packing I grabbed extra tapes without really looking at them. Turns out the main cameraman needed extra tape, so I popped one of my tapes into his camera.


You saved the day!

Well, the story gets better! Turns out I taped over the best game of my Broom Ball team’s career! Do you know what Broom Ball is?


Yes, I do!

You do? Well you are one of the only ones! People always assume it’s curling. Anyway, we have the longest running team in the world – 37 years! And I taped over our career best game! There was a putting contest on the tape too…subsequently the guys asked to see the tape and I told them, well, you aren’t going to see it. You will see Rose doing a demo. They didn’t believe me. I had to show them the tape and their jaws dropped open!

Rose interrupts again: “He is such a Midwesterner!”


Rose! This is great stuff! Let Woody talk!

 Woody: Well, I could go on and on.


I am sure you could. I think we have plenty for a great article.

Woody: One last thing. It’s 5 years later and I still have the pen and it’s perfect!

Rose interjects! “No it isn’t! It’s wide and fat!


Me: From him pressing on it?

Rose: Yes!

Woody: Nope, it’s perfect.


(We are all laughing at this point). Thank you, both. This has been so much fun…and I wish you the best of luck with The Baking Bible. It has been long-awaited by many!

Bakepedia will be publishing the Polish Princess cake from The Baking Bible on 10/27 and the Renée Fleming Golden Chiffon on 11/10.




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