After much anticipation, the food mavens behind Food52 have released their very first baking cookbook—and we hope there will be many more. Check out our Editor-in-Chief Brian Hart Hoffman’s chat with Food52 founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs!
In Food52 Baking, you talk about your love of “uncommitted baking.” Tell us about that concept.
Amanda Hesser: Lots of people see baking as a project or something that’s reserved for special occasions. But it turns out that you need baked goods pretty often in everyday life. For a school bake sale. For a colleague’s birthday. For a potluck. For an after-school treat. And for yourself, dammit! We wanted a collection of great recipes that could be made on the fly, without a special trip to the grocery store or without setting aside three hours—so everyone, even uncommitted bakers, could be great bakers.
Amanda, you talk about loving to bake simple cakes with your eight-year-old twins. What’s your favorite easy cake to bake together?
AH: I love baking Nigella Lawson’s chocolate loaf cake because it’s a friendly, impossible-to-overmix batter and makes a deliciously moist cake. Another great one is Marian Burros’ plum torte because the batter can be mixed in any order, and my kids can press the plums into the batter in the pan.
What’s your go-to ingredient of the moment?
AH: Extra dark cocoa.
Merrill Stubbs: Dark brown sugar.
Merrill, you don’t consider yourself a baker, so where do you come by your confidence in the kitchen?
MS: I often say that baking is not my area of expertise, but I did actually complete a three-month course in pastry at Le Cordon Bleu after I got my culinary diploma, so I have had some training. It’s more that I’ve never been identified as a “baker,” per se. I’m happiest in the kitchen when I’m winging it a little, and most intricate baking recipes require a lot of precision. That’s why I like all the baking recipes in this book—they’re solid and produce great results, but they’re not fussy.
What is your biggest baking success/most epic baking failure?
AH: My mother’s peach tart is foolproof and seems to please everyone, so that’s definitely one of my back-pocket baking recipes. Merrill, I believe our epic baking failure was a delicious chocolate cake that we baked in a Bundt pan and which fell in half when we unmolded it. By the way, icing works well as glue!
MS: Yes, wasn’t it a chocolate coconut cake? Heartbreaking, but it was ultimately fixable. My biggest baking success was making a wedding cake for a good friend. It was probably the most stressful day of my life, but it turned out beautifully, and I was so thrilled that she seemed happy with it.
Favorite dessert: cake or pie—and why?
AH: I prefer to eat pie, but I love making cake. I never tire of watching flour, butter, sugar, and what-have-you come together to make a smooth, dense batter, which then miraculously transforms into a cake in the oven.
MS: Cake, to make and to eat. I love a good pie, but there’s something so nostalgic and comforting about biting into a squidgy piece of cake—with lots of icing, of course!
Must have baking tool you can’t live without?
AH: I love my long icing spatula, which I always use to level flour and other dry ingredients in measuring cups.
MS: I have a vintage angel food cake slicer (with long skinny metal tines, instead of a blade) that keeps the delicate cake from compacting as you slice it. It has a kelly green handle, and I love it.
If you could open your oven door and find any baked masterpiece, perfectly golden and ready to devour, what would it be?
AH: My mother’s peach pie.
MS: A giant meringue, crisp on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside, ready to become a Pavlova.