The recipes on these blogs are mostly from the book Baking Pure and Simple, a labor of love collection of a lifetime of recipes. I started baking when I was a young girl and eventually became a professional Pastry Chef. Every recipe in the book was recreated in my own kitchen at home. So I know you can make them, too. Some are more challenging than others, some are gluten-free or come with healthy options, but all of them are delicious. I hope you will try a recipe from the blog, check out one of my How-To videos or buy the book and get crazy in your kitchen.
I would Iike to thank my friend Audrey Schwimmer for the beautiful photographs in the book and on this website. I would like to thank Mira Lancaster for the graphic design of the book and Stasia Ponser for helping me index the book. Thanks to everyone who helped sample recipes – you know who you are…
Here’s the rest of the story…
When I was about ten years old I used to visit my grandparents for a week or two in the summer. My mother’s parents were German and my father’s were Dutch-Danish. I loved to cook and, luckily, so did both my grandmothers. One summer, my Dutch-Danish grandmother, Grandma Gert, taught me to make raspberry jam with fresh raspberries from my Grandpa Bert’s garden. (Yes, they really were Bert and Gert.) The following week I went from her house to my Grandma Lisl’s house where we used the raspberry jam to make Linzertorte. My Grandma Lisl was German and she baked using a gram measure and a scale. I converted the metric measurements for the recipe into cups and teaspoons, etc. and have kept that recipe and others from her for years. No one, myself included, could bake like my Grandma Lisl.
Throughout my childhood and teens I was always in the kitchen when I had free time. I scoured Better Homes and Gardens magazines for recipes with my baby sister in my lap playing a game we called, “That Looks Good” and tore out pages with recipes for later use. My mother always worried that I would try something which would not turn out and that I would be disappointed. She still talks about some triple braided anise seed bread that I made. She was sure it would fail to rise or fall or just fail in general, but it was fine. I never worried about things not turning out. I am sure that I had my share of failures or goofs, but nothing could keep me out of the kitchen for long.
I can still remember being in our kitchen one day when my mother said to me, “You know, you could be a chef.” I thought time stood still. “People would pay you to cook,” she went on. I was probably only about thirteen years old and until then I had only thought of cooking as this thing I loved to do. The only possibilities I had thought of for the answer to, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” were the traditional “lawyer” or “doctor.” I had no idea there were other creative options out there. It was a watershed moment in my life. From then on my answer was, “I want to be a chef.”
Life is full of compromises. When the time came for me to go to college, I still loved to cook, but it was inevitable that I would go to college for some type of professional degree before trying out the culinary arts. I struck a bargain with my father and agreed that if I went to the University of Michigan and finished, he would also send me through culinary school. At the time, I was applying for the culinary program at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Michigan, and the wait to get into the program was four years, so it seemed that everything would work out fine. After two years at Michigan and a lot of indecision regarding a major, my name came to the top of the list for Schoolcraft’s Culinary Arts program. Additional negotiations with my father yielded the result that I would defer and stay at Michigan to finish up and I settled on a degree in business administration. The fall after graduation I started the two-year program in the culinary arts. The instructors were a colorful set of characters and all very talented. I was instantly enamored of the pastry chef, Chef Steck. He had been the pastry chef at a hotel in downtown Detroit for many years and was a very precise and disciplined man with a wonderful sense of humor. I still love to quote his favorite admonition to us: “Remember, strain the mixture, don’t strain yourself.” Sometimes I try it out on my staff, but they just look at me strangely; I am not sure it translates out of the kitchen and into the office. Chef Steck taught two semesters on pastry: one on baking and the other on frosting and filling, including decorating. It was wonderful. We learned all about production baking and we made the best macaroon cookies. We always had to taste the product, of course, so we would know how things turned out.
While in school another chef, Chef Benson, helped me find a job with a small catering and specialty foods shop in West Bloomfield. I worked for a fellow graduate of the Schoolcraft culinary program, Debbie Hamilton, and her partner, Patrick Vargo, who both had worked for a famous restaurant in Detroit before starting their own business. I baked and worked the front counter doing sales. I learned a lot of new recipes and had fun trying out new things for the shop. Debbie taught me to make trifle, which we would sell by the pint. Our favorite was the Coconut Macaroon Trifle and I think we made it more for ourselves than for the customers. I have changed the recipe since then, using almond cake instead of ladyfingers.
After graduating from culinary school I moved back to Ann Arbor and eventually found a position as an assistant pastry chef at Weber’s Inn. The pastry chef at Weber’s was a former Culinary Institute of America graduate. I learned to bake in very large quantities there. We made French bread and Danish pastry from scratch. We made sheet cakes and pies for banquets, and fine pastries and tortes for the dining room. We even made wedding cakes. It was really something. At Thanksgiving we would bake over 200 pumpkin pies, and that was just one of 6 pastries being offered that day. Flour came in 80# bags. It was heaven. After about a year, the current pasty chef decided to get married and move to Virginia, so I became the head pastry chef.
We had begun to try a lot of new things already while I worked for Stephanie, but now I was very interested in making the best pastries from scratch, given the volume that was needed in the hotel. I remember that once a salesman came in with some instant mousse powder, just add whipped cream, etc. I would not even try it. He stormed off in a huff. I wanted everything to be as homemade as possible. Even in 1988 the culinary field was changing and many companies were starting to sell pre-made frozen desserts to restaurants. Weber’s Inn was one of the few family-owned hotels which still had its own bakeshop and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to keep the art of baking alive. I had a crew of four and we baked day and night.
Before becoming head pastry chef at Weber’s Inn, I had taken a course in advance pastry at Washtenaw Community College, to add to my general knowledge base of recipes, and when the instructor left I was offered the job of teaching the course myself. I taught two semesters of an advanced pastry class at Washtenaw Community College in Ypsilanti, Michigan. As a final exam I would have my students create a new pastry recipe by combining the recipes they had learned in class. While writing this book I ran across a few of their exams. One student made French Meringue Shells, placed a small amount of chocolate Ganache in the bottom and then topped it with Lemon Curd and Whipped Cream – touché! I liked teaching and began to think about it as an alternative career, at the same time feeling the pull toward a life with more regular hours and less time on my feet. I decided to go back to school for a degree in the fine arts and education. I finished up the degree in fine arts, but obtained a job in event sales and soon found myself on my way to another career I had never imagined existed, the world of event planning. For a few years I made wedding cakes while I worked full-time in event sales for Katherine’s Catering and Special Events, Inc. Though I have wandered even further away from baking into the field of institutional advancement, event planning is still a portion of my work today.
At the time I began writing this book, the majority of my baking took the form of what to make for someone’s birthday or, of course, the annual cookie baking marathon that comprises my December weekends. My decision to write this book came because I was looking for a recipe in my old binder of recipes, many of which we used at the hotel, and found that my recipe pages were turning yellow and the ink was actually fading away. 20 years of sitting on the shelf and my beloved, hand-written recipes were fading into oblivion! My friend, Audrey Schwimmer, agreed to be my photographer and we started the book by doing our first photo shoot at the Zen Buddhist Temple in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was the annual 2008 potluck for Buddha’s Birthday celebration and I made Carrot Cake, Raspberry Rhapsody, Flourless Chocolate Mousse Torte, Wheat-Free Chocolate Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cake and Coconut Macaroon Trifle, plus some cookies. From there I have been baking a few things at a time and getting together with my faithful photographer to amass this collection of recipes from my childhood and time as a pastry chef. I have included ways to make some of these pastries wheat-free or with alternative natural sweeteners, such as maple syrup. I also include a recipe for Gluten-Free Baking Mix which can be substituted for flour. Writing this book has rekindled my love for baking and I have rediscovered that spark of enthusiasm for the craft which I had as child. I know there are others out there like me. Let me know if you come up with any new combinations from the recipes in this book, like my students did for their final exams.
I hope you will enjoy these recipes. I wrote this book so that they would not be lost but would be available for those who love to bake as much as I do. They come from as far back as my earliest memory of baking with my grandmothers and from as professional a situation as the kitchen we had in the hotel. Some of these recipes take more than a little time to prepare; others are simple with only a few ingredients. No matter which you choose to try, I hope you will enjoy preparing them as much as you enjoy tasting and serving them.