Benton Museum Public Relations Intern Rachel Berliner had the opportunity recently to interview award-winning cookbook writer Dorie Greenspan prior to her program here on Thursday, March 5th from 5-6:30. The free event will include a talk and book signing followed by a dessert tasting of several recipes from her latest book, Baking Chez Moi. She will sign only those books purchased at the Benton. All proceeds from the book sale will go to the Museum’s Exhibition Fund.
What first interested you in baking?
When I look back, I see that I might have gotten interested in baking for all the wrong reasons, chief among them, playing to the crowd. I got married when I was in college and had neither baked nor cooked before we set up house. Cooking was a necessity – we couldn’t afford to eat out – and it was a skill I was looking forward to acquiring, mostly because I wanted to have bunches of friends around the table as often as possible. It didn’t take me long to realize that if I’d spent an entire day preparing dinner, as I often did, it was dessert that garnered the biggest grins.
And so I began to put more effort into baking and soon discovered that not only were my husband and friends happy, but I was too: I loved baking! I loved everything about it, from the basic ingredients and the process of working with them to serving and enjoying them. What fascinated me then and what continues to delight me is the magic of baking. Flour, sugar, butter and eggs are pretty much the foundations of baking, but they can be transformed into thousands of things. And each transformation is something to share and just about always something that makes people feel happy and cared for.
What do you consider the primary difference between American and French desserts?
Exuberance! American desserts often have more of everything than French desserts. American desserts are sweeter than their French counterparts, they’re richer, more elaborate, more decorated and bigger by a lot. For the most part, French desserts are more restrained. And they’re always served in smaller portions.
During the time you worked with Julia Child, what was the best baking advice she ever gave you?
It’s odd, but Julia never gave me any baking advice. She did, however, give me a piece of fashion advice that I took and have followed ever since. Julia told me to always wear lipstick! And I do.
What are your favorite desserts from the book?
I always find this a near-impossible question to answer. Since I choose all of the recipes that go into my books, it goes without saying that I love them all. But, with every book, a couple of recipes become my go-to choices.
With Baking Chez Moi, the two recipes that I use over and over again are: Custardy Apple Squares, a cross between a cake and a pudding that can be made on the spur of the moment; and Laurent’s Slow-Roasted Spiced Pineapple, a boozy dessert that can be fancy or plain, served solo or accompanied by a cookies.
What dessert would you recommend for a first-time baker?
I often recommend the Custardy Apple Squares because they are easy to make, naturally beautiful (no decoration needed), created from ingredients most of us have on hand most of the time and, of course, they’re delicious.
But I’m a believer in love-at-first-sight: If you see a picture that speaks to you or the name of a recipe that makes you dream, bake it! Only a handful of the recipes in Baking Chez Moi are complicated and, besides, even imperfect desserts are good desserts. Baking something at home and sharing it trumps little mistakes and mishaps.
What or who inspired your recipes in Baking Chez Moi?
I was, as I have been for years, inspired by France, its food and its traditions, and by my friends and neighbors in Paris. Because I have been living in Paris for almost 20 years, and because I have such wonderful and generous friends, I was able to write about an aspect of French pâtisserie that’s rarely revealed: French comfort baking, the kind of baking that French people do at home for their families and their closest friends. Discovering this style of baking was like uncovering a parallel universe.
What’s coming next?
I’m working on a cookie cookbook. The book doesn’t have a title yet – titles are so hard! – but it does have a deadline: I must finish my manuscript by July 1, so that the book can be published next fall. Stop by my house anytime between now and my deadline and you’re bound to find every surface of the kitchen covered with cookie-filled cooling racks.
For more about Dorie Greenspan’s food adventures, please visit www.doriegreenspan.com