Joy the Baker Answers Part One

Old Stove

You mentioned once that you were an English major in college. What did you want to be when you grew up? Did you ever do it? How did you move from English major to Baker Extraordinaire?

I was an English major in college. Ironically enough, reading makes me fall asleep. Crazy, right? Somehow I managed to work my way through five (yes, it took me a while) years of college. I worked two jobs through college, always with food, often in kitchens. For those years, I either had my head (fast asleep) in a book, or my hands elbow deep in dough. When I finished college, I found that I loved baking so much that I didn’t want to stop working with food. I somehow wanted to find a way to incorporate my love of story telling with my passion for food. So far that journey has lead me here- cooking, photographing and writing for you fine folks. I honestly can’t think of any place I’d rather be!

Have you thought of making healthy versions of some of your recipes, or proposing a corpus of kid-friendly, healthier recipes that use fruit sugars and fat subs for a more conscious approach of your culinary art?

I think butter is beautiful. I think sugar is dreamy. I think cream is over the moon. I bake with ingredients that put a smile on my face. I certainly wouldn’t consider the treats on my site as everyday meal-time staples, but for a special occasion… when you need to reach out to that inner sugar fiend… this is a good place to come.

If you’re looking for fruit sugars and fat substitutes, I just may not be the baker for you. It’s just not what I’m passionate about these days. While I do have a handful of healthful recipes like my Gnarly Muffins… these recipes just don’t bring a sparkle to my eye like cream, butter and chocolate do.

What kind of camera do you use? Did you take classes or is it just the camera that creates those gorgeous shots?

I use a Canon XSi with a 100mm macro lens. It’s a lovely, easy to use camera, made even more awesome with the fancypants lens. Can I tell you a secret? There was a time when the lens to my camera was worth more money than the car I was driving. True…. that’s really true.

I also have to tell you that I’ve actually never take a photography class. A dear friend handed me a SLR camera, gave me a 15 minute lesson all about aperture and depth of field I think he might have mentioned shutter speed once or twice… but that was it. He knew what I wanted to shoot and he showed me exactly how to do it.

The 100mm macro lens It’s totally worth it, isn’t it?

Yes. Yes it is.

Did you go to culinary school? Do you currently work at a bakery? Have you been working at a bakery for your entire professional life?

Here’s the deal: I’m a self taught baker. I didn’t go to culinary school. Why? It was just too darn expensive. As a result, I’m no master at cream puffs, my bread baking is sometimes a comic tragedy and fancy French desserts make me break out in a cold sweat. But that stuff just isn’t where my passion lies. I’m more interested in getting in the kitchen with my Dad to recreate his favorite pie, or filling my kitchen with girlfriends to play with cookie recipes. My approach is all about food, stories, laughs and love and I didn’t feel like I needed culinary school to teach me that.

What recipe ingredients are worth splurging on?

Whatever you love… it’s worth splurging on. I love food, so I think the good stuff is worth seeking out. Recently I’ve come to love raw, artisanal honeys. The people at Ames Farm seem to know what they’re doing with bees. They have lovely honey that I usually eat by the spoonful. I also love love love good chocolate. I like to buy Valrhona when it comes to my chocolate baking needs. Expensive, yes… but the quality is absolutely worth the extra dough.

Clean Your Plate Pancakes

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What’s the best tasting rolled fondant?

I’ve always thought of fondant as that thing that I’ll be forced to peel off of that slice of wedding cake that I’ve been sooooo looking forward to at my third cousin’s wedding. Fondant isn’t for taste… it’s all about the look. Fondant is a rolled, sugary, gummy icing that often covers wedding cakes. It creates that smooth, flawless look that is all the rage these days. The taste, invariably, leaves a lot to be desired. In the few instances that I’ve used it, I’ve mixed Pettinice fondant with shortening (to make it even more pliable and reduce cracking) and a few drops of clear vanilla flavor. It didn’t do much for me… but maybe I’m just not a miracle worker with fondant.

Are you going to write a cookbook?

I would love love love to write a cookbook! The farther I truck along on this blog journey, the closer I get to producing a really special book. When that book is ready to meet the world, believe me… you’ll be the first to know!

Where’s your Yellow Cake recipe with Swiss Meringue Buttercream!?

Hmmm… is it possible that I don’t have a yellow cake recipe here on my blog? Yes, it’s entirely possible. Why? Because I would always choose chocolate cake over vanilla. Even still, this White Cake recipe is pretty dreamy, and this Swiss Meringue Buttercream is just downright awesome.

Will you hold baking courses!? Pretty please!!!

I’d love to! Would you come? Would you really really come?

Is blogging really worth your time?

Blogging is what I do after a long day of work. Taking pictures, thinking about, preparing and writing about food is at the front of my brain just about all the time. That I get to have a little space in the world where I can put all of that energy is such a blessing. Yes… blogging is worth every second of the time I give it.

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What’s your favorite cookbook?

There are a few cookbooks that always find myself falling back on.

I love The Pastry Queen. The Gourmet Cookbook has gotten me out of more than one baking bind, and The Modern Baker is a fabulous and totally approachable pastry book.

My chocolate chip cookies always come out flat and crispy. I want them fat and chewy. What am I doing wrong!?

I’ve baked up my fair share of flat and crispy cookies. It happened all the time when I was a kid baking chocolate chip cookies from the recipe on the back of the Toll House bag. But WHY!? Truth is… I don’t exactly know. Sometimes it has to do with a hot hot oven. Throw an oven thermometer in your oven to make sure that it’s only as hot as the dial says. I love Alton Brown’s Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe using melted butter and bread flour. I chill the dough in the fridge for at least three hours (I think overnight is easiest), and preheat the oven as I dish out the cookie dough. I bake the cookies for a good 12 to 14 minutes and haven’t had a problem with ultra thin chocolate chip cookies since.

Do you prefer cake or raised doughnuts?

I have to go with raised doughnuts. I think they’re absolute magic. If, however, you wanted to send me a boat-load of cake doughnuts… I would kindly and enthusiastically accept.

What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

One scoop Rocky Road meets one scoop Strawberry ice cream meets homemade hot fudge. Yes.

Why do my cream puffs and gougeres bake into flat discs instead of puff into nice little spheres?

Ooooh geez. Remember that part of this Q and A when I mentioned that French pastry kinda makes me break out in a cold sweat? Yea… so…. I’m afraid just the mention of your flat gougeres is making me nervous.

Podcasting

Are you going to do anymore podcasts or what!?

Yes. Yes and Yes! I’m just trying to find the right way for me to do it. I’m not sure stuffy, instructional cooking videos is my style. I want to get out in the world and help tell stories about people and food. That’s what I want to bring to you…. and it’s taken me a bit of time. Have I mentioned how appreciated your love and patience is…?

Pie crust makes me suicidal, and my family loves pies. Can you save them from a pieless life?

I know. I really know. Pie crust can be a royal pain in the behind. You’re right. And you know what? I’m not going to sit here and tell you that pie crust is a no-brainer and I have an easy process you could do with your eyes closed. That’s just not the case. Pie crust takes time and practice… but you can totally, 100% do it. When I made an Apple Pie a few months back, I documented the whole process. Give it a whirl. You can do it… I promise.

Do you have a good cookie recipe that can be packed up and mailed well?

When I think of mailing baked goods, Chocolate Walnut Brownies are the first thing that come to mind. Here’s why: they’re chocolate, they stay moist for a good long while when wrapped individually, and they’re square and stackable… perfect for that shoe box care package.

Hey Joy, one of my friends said he recognized you from U of Windsor. Is it true that you were once a happy go luck Canadian, or is he mistaken?

Not I. I’m a happy go lucky Californian.

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How do you generate traffic to your blog, and what other channels do you use to get your words out there?

Social networking is a beast that I have not yet mastered. It’s a nasty networking world out there. I only half understand it. To generate traffic I try to: take pretty pictures, write silly things, cook delicious treats, and use sites like tastespotting, and stumble upon and technorati. I’ve found that the biggest generator of traffic is quality, sincere and consistent content.

What would your last meal be?… and dessert?

Such an impossible question. Just too hard. I think I’d go for two Hebrew National hot dogs with spicy mustard and sauerkraut, my Dad’s potato salad, and a cold lemonade. For dessert: a root beer float.

I need a little cake decorating love. Do you use a special tool to slice your cake layers so evenly? Also, when serving the cake, how do you get the slices to look so pretty? I used a serrated knife and do wipe it between slices, but still get crumbs all over the slice.

I don’t use a special tool to slice my cake layers before I frost them. I find that a serrated knife, and a slow and even slicing motion do me just fine. I also just use a small butcher knife when slicing cakes, rinsing and wiping the knife down between strokes. Creating a crumb free slice of cakes might just be down right impossible, and I’m convinced that all that worry just takes away from the enjoyment of the cake. I know…I know… I’ve seen those perfect, crumb free slices of cake on Martha Stewart’s website too… I don’t know how do get my world as picture perfect as hers so I just stopped trying.

Part One means there’s bound to be a Part Two. Stick around!

86 thoughts on “Joy the Baker Answers Part One

  1. I’m in LA and would totally come to your class…and if you could do a class on ‘i’m not a professional, but this is how i photograph things’, I’m so there. Are you shooting in natural light all the time? You must have a wonderful kitchen!! :) Thanks for all the enjoyable posts. I really like your blog, and wish you much success!

  2. the best cake layer cutting trick i’ve learned (from Alton of course) is to place the cake on a lazy suzan and then just gently slice into the center while it rotates. easy, peasy and i’ve never gotten as few crumbs or as perfect of slices. not that you need the suggestion, i love reading all your recipes and tips!

  3. Fun post Joy! I love the vintage oven shot.

    A question for Part Two: If you had to pick your two favorite recipes from this site what would they be?

    Phoo-D

  4. Great post!
    I have a question too!

    I’ve never baked in my life. But I’m interested to learn. How do I go about baking my first cake or batch of cookies? What are some easy recipes and important ingredients and tools that I need?

  5. i could read what u write for hours!

    i done english in uni too, but soend the vast majority of my time baking :)

    i have a question to add onto a photography one posed:

    i too use a XSi with a macro but i get this horrible orange cast in most of my pics…. i know it probably boils down to the horrible lighting in my apartment. I guess my question is:

    Do you have any advice for taking food pics in artificial light, or should I time my picture-taking to use only natural light?

    Thanks Joy :)

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