Baking icon Dorie Greenspan welcomed us into her Parisian apartment for an exclusive baking and chat session. As we chatted, Dorie did what she does best: baked. She shared her recipe for her signature French Yogurt Cake, a simple, pillowy cake that melts in your mouth. Pick up a copy of our March/April 2019 issue for the recipe!
You describe baking as your first passion in the kitchen over cooking. What was it about French baking that captured your attention and made you want to explore it?
I loved baking French classics for so many reasons, among them: I knew that I was learning to bake building blocks that I’d be able to use for many different things. I enjoyed the work, and the process of baking engaged all my senses and my imagination, too. What I baked was beautiful and, most important, what I baked was delicious.
First French dessert you baked from scratch?
It was a traditional pear tart: crust, frangipane, and sliced, pressed and fanned-out pear halves. Whenever I make this tart—and I often do—it transports me to France.
When was your first visit to Paris? What were your first impressions of the city?
I went to Paris for the first time when I was in my early 20s and I was so taken with the city that I returned home angry at my mother—I wasn’t sure that I could forgive her for having me in Brooklyn instead of Paris.
Describe the first baked good you tasted and fell in love with in Paris.
It was a tiny strawberry barquettefilled with vanilla cream and topped with three wild strawberries. It was revelatory. I felt as though I’d never truly tasted butter, vanilla or berries until I bit into that pastry.
Is there a certain part of the year you like to spend in Paris? Why?
For the past 20 years, we’ve celebrated Christmas and the New Year in Paris. It’s a wonderful time to be together with family and friends. And, it’s the moment for two irresistible desserts: Bûche de Noël and Galette des Rois. But I’m in Paris for some part of every season and I can’t think of a time that I’m not happy to be there.
What neighborhood is your current apartment in?
We have always lived in Saint Germain des Prés, in the sixth arrondissement. I love it because it’s always lively, has terrific markets, cafés and restaurants as well as my favorite wine bar and, best of all, there are so many fabulous pâtisseries and chocolate shops within walking distance. In fact, I live very close to my favorite Paris bakery, Pierre Hermé. While he’s rightly best known for his macarons (don’t miss his seasonal specials), I love his Tarte Infiniment Vanille. You’ll never think about vanilla in the same way after you’ve had this.
What do you love about baking from your apartment in Paris?
For starters, I’m crazy about my Paris kitchen. It’s very small, but extremely workable. What I love most about it is that it’s got two doors (French windows) that open out to a tiny balcony. In winter, it’s full of light and in spring, summer and fall, I can open the windows, hear the sounds of Paris and pop out to the balcony to take a coffee-and-cake break. I can also cool cookies and cakes out there.
In the introduction of your book, Baking Chez Moi, you write that you would never have known about the recipes you included if you didn’t live in Paris and have friends sharing them with you. Can you elaborate on how important this was?
I came to French baking, as most people do, through the gorgeous formal pastries in Paris shop windows. These were the pastries that I taught myself to make when I was learning the craft. Over the years, I’ve made friends in Paris and had the fun of being invited to their homes for dinner. While some of my friends don’t bake at home (the French are not as ambitious or as avid about home baking as we Americans are), those who made desserts themselves made sweets that were the polar opposite of what you find in pâtisseries. Homemade French desserts are homey. They’re simple, often rustic and always satisfying. If I weren’t sharing meals with my French friends, I’m sure I wouldn’t have discovered these recipes and, for sure, I wouldn’t have had so many of them given to me.
You’re hosting a casual springtime dinner party for a few close friends. What do you make for dessert?
I keep it really simple: a bowl of spring strawberries, some whipped cream or crème fraîche and a slice of my French Yogurt Cake.
While you appreciate the classics, you like to put your own spin on traditional French desserts. What is your favorite Franco-American dessert you’ve created?
I’ve made several Franco-American mash-ups that I’ve liked, among them a peppermint Paris-Brest (usually made with praline buttercream); a pineapple and coconut dacquoise (most traditionally made with coffee filling); and a bunch of desserts with cranberries, including a cheesecake and a tart filled with a cranberry sauce. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I did love the gingerbread jelly roll cake that I turned into a Bûche de Noël.
French cookbook that most inspired you?
Gaston Lenôtre’s Desserts & Pastries.
A must-visit spot for baking enthusiasts’ first visit to Paris that they may not necessarily know about?
G Detou. It’s a wonderful place to buy French ingredients. I always shop there for nuts, chocolates, fleur de sel and almond paste.
Most underrated French baked good?
Plain sablés don’t get the love they deserve.
Which traditional French recipe are people intimidated by but shouldn’t be?
I don’t think that making pâte à choux is difficult, but I don’t think American bakers use it as often as they should. It’s an incredibly versatile dough.
Go-to French bakery in America, and what to order there?
I love Hen & Heifer in Guilford, CT. As soon as I step into the shop and see the beautifully arranged pastry case, I feel as though I’ve been transported to France. Whang Suh makes gorgeous choux pastries and lovely glazed cakes, but I always like his simple and perfectly made Apple Breton Cake.
Biggest “don’t” when visiting a Parisian patisserie?
Don’t buy too much! The pastries are made every day and most are meant to be eaten the day they’re made, so don’t buy to save for later.