Know more about the baking goddess in this exclusive interview.By: Sharlene Tan
How did your love for baking start? And how did you go from baking to writing books?
I got married when I was still a college student and, because I hadn’t cooked nor baked a thing before that, I learned “on the job”. Luckily, I fell in love with cooking and baking almost immediately, but baking really grabbed my heart. When I look back on it, I can’t decide if what made me so passionate about baking was the process—I love everything about baking, from seeing the raw ingredients on the counter, to pulling the finished treat out of the oven—or the pleasure of sharing something home baked with people. Sweets always make people happy.
It was years before I went from baking to writing books. Before I worked on my first book, or even my first magazine article, went to graduate school and took up gerontology, worked as a business writer, had a child, got fired from my first job in a professional kitchen (I changed a signature dish), and quit my second. It was only after all of that that a friend asked, “You’re both a baker and a writer, so why don’t you write about baking?” Nine books and countless articles later, the advice seems almost obvious, but it was revelatory then.
What are your must-have baking gadgets?
I’d never want to be without my stand mixer and my food processor—the heavy weights in my kitchen—and I love having silicone baking mats to use as nonstick liners on my cookie sheets; Microplane graters for zesting; silicone spatulas for stirring custards over heat and folding whipped cream over ice; a kitchen scale that measures in both ounces and grams; and two sets of sturdy, accurate measuring cups and spoons—indispensable in America, where all our recipes are written for volume measures.
Is there any particular ingredient that you love to bake with?
Salt, especially fleur de sel or French sea salt. Salt is often forgotten in baking and it shouldn’t be—it’s just as important in sweets as it is in savories and it serves the same purpose: It enlivens a dish and sparks all the other ingredients. In baking, salt is especially good with chocolate, butter, and anything caramel. I know you asked for only one ingredient, but I just want to put in a word for vanilla—pure, real vanilla. I use vanilla beans and I use extract and I always use just a tad more than expected because you can never have too much of vanilla’s perfume and flavor.
“Baking From My Home to Yours” is one of my favorite books. All the recipes I tried came out extremely well! Any new books we can look forward to?
I’m thrilled that you’re enjoying the book because I loved writing it. And yes, I’m working on another book and I’m wildly excited about it. It will be called Around the French Table and it’s a book about simple French home cooking. It will have recipes from my Paris kitchen and recipes from my friends who live all over France. Look for it in Fall 2010.
How do you come up with subjects to write about?
I am either the luckiest person in the world or the most selfish because I write books about the subjects that fascinate me and work with chefs like Julia Child, Pierre Herme, and Daniel Boulud, whom I admire tremendously.
How many times do you test a recipe before actually sharing it with people?
Recipes are always tested twice, but some recipes need lots more tests—and they get them. I usually create a recipe, write it, and then have it tested from the written version, so that the tester is testing both the formula and the instructions at the same time.
Which cookbooks are your personal favorites?
I have hundreds of cookbooks, but there are some that I always go back to; some to cook or bake from; some to read; and some to just enjoy the pictures. Among my many favorites are Pierre Herme’s Secrets Gourmands, his first cookbook; Anne Willan’s Country Cooking of France, her latest book; all the Maida Heatter dessert books; and everything by Julia Child.