First, many thanks for having me on the blog today!
Since debuting my Bakeshop Mystery series I’ve been surprised by how many baking questions I receive from readers. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE getting email from readers—seriously, love, so keep them coming—but I never anticipated when I started writing the series that readers would reach out to ask for my input on swapping ingredients, baking temperatures, or how best to slice a loaf of sourdough.
It makes me think that my books should come with a warning label. Maybe something like, “All recipes provided by home baker, bake at your own risk!” I was at a dinner party recently and the conversation turned to pastry. Someone at the table mentioned that I write a culinary mystery and everyone began to bombard me with questions about the secret to a perfect pie crust (a splash vodka) and whether to make your own puff pastry dough or buy it from the store (buy it—duh). It reminded me of the old spoof of, “I play a doctor on TV…” Am I highly qualified to give professional pastry advice just because I write about it? Perhaps not.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Food has always been a love language for me. My earliest memories are of the dining room table at my childhood home.never fancy chocolate wacky cakes and gooey cinnamon rolls.
My dad, on the other hand, was more artistic in his approach to sweet creations. He would spend hours on a Sunday afternoon crafting a magnificent eight-layer chocolate torte with mocha buttercream and fresh apricot preserves. He would hand-pipe star a design on the top of his cake and adorn it with nuts and crystalized fruits. Food was his medium and he would blast jazz music as he experimented with new flavors and exotic spices. His cakes and pastries were works of art and could compete with any professional bakery. Plus, they tasted divine.
I inherited pieces of my baking style from both of my parents. From my dad I learned to deviate from a recipe, to try unique pairings, and to blast my favorite tunes while working in the kitchen. From my mom I learned that a warm chocolate chip cookie or slice of homemade pie can be more than dessert, that food is a point of connection, and to always slather my cakes with as much frosting as possible.
In my fictional bakeshop, Torte, my heroine Juliet is a professionally trained pastry chef who crafts elegant, regal, and delectable desserts. Like my dad, she believes that pastry is art. I love getting to write about food as an art form and imagine Juliet piping a delicate lace pattern on a five layer wedding cake. When I’m working on a book I spend hours watching baking shows and interviewing real pastry chefs.
However writing about baking beautifully and actually baking beautifully are two different things. My baking style is closer to my mom’s. While my recipes may taste delicious they don’t usually look like something out of the pages of Pinterest, unless we’re talking about Pinterest fails—and trust me I have had some epic fails! There was one particular disaster involving figs that shall never be spoken of or tasted again. My cookies don’t always turn out uniform and sometimes my cakes tilt to one side or have unequal proportions of frosting. But that’s okay because the most important lesson that I learned from both of my parents was to infuse my food with love. As long as it tastes great and is served with love, who cares what it looks like, right? That has become my food philosophy in both my real kitchen and fictional kitchen. That, and using gobs and gobs of frosting to hide any mistakes!
*By the way, if you’re wondering about the sourdough, I checked with my resident bread expert (AKA my dad) and he recommends making sure the loaf has completely cooled before slicing and using a sharp serrated knife. To get consistent slices, start by slicing off a chunk of each end. Cut the next slice at a slight angle and then cut from the opposite end of the loaf. Alternate slicing from one side and then the other. This should give you lovely even slices of light and airy sourdough
RHYS: Here is Ellie with her dad at the launch of her new book. He looks like quite a character, doesn't he? (But I understand the costume has something to do with Shakespeare, not his everyday garb)
So what kind of bakers are you, dear Reds? Perfectionists or "as long as it tastes good" ? Me: I head for the nearest bakery on special occasions!