The Artful Baker: Extraordinary Desserts From an Obsessive Home Baker384
The Artful Baker: Extraordinary Desserts From an Obsessive Home Baker384
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
From San Francisco to Istanbul, from Blog to Book
Fifteen years ago, had you told me I would someday write a cookbook, I would have laughed hysterically and gone right back to watching The Golden Girls while finishing a tub of chocolate ice cream. I probably also would have been annoyed that you'd wasted my precious energy by making me laugh so hard.
Even today, if you were to ask me my purpose in life or where I see myself in fifteen years, I would answer: I see myself in the living room of my falcon's nest of a house in Big Sur, on the couch, buried under a pile of blankets, watching The Golden Girls. There's a freezer in my kitchen so big a horse can roam freely inside. It is packed to the gills with ice cream. I've had a mechanism installed that, with the push of a button, delivers tubs of ice cream at 10°F (-12°C), slightly softened at the edges, from the freezer directly onto my lap. My life's ambition is to continue watching the girls without moving an inch, tubs of softened ice cream continually dropping onto my lap. Oh, and there's no one around asking questions.
Before you pass me off as lazy, I should remind you that you're holding a book that I've worked on for the last six years, laboring day and night to develop the recipes, write the narrative, style and photograph the images, and design the pages. It's not that I'm so burned out I need to rest for the remainder of my life. I was born like this.
According to my mom, I was an unusually calm and indolent child. I wasn't interested in playing with toys, protested only when she slowed down while feeding me, and would sit for hours in front of the TV watching The Adventures of Tintin without budging. She says that God showed her mercy after creating my curtain-climbing rug rat of a brother by following him with the meekest child he'd ever made.
This is why I have such a hard time believing that the kid with the giant head in the photo to the left is me. The photo was taken by my father during one of our summer holidays in Europe. I discovered the slide after I lost my father, a few months before my Turkish cookbook was published, and I looked at it for a long while in disbelief. So, there were times when I was lively and ecstatic, even when there wasn't an ice cream cone in my hand. I look as if I am almost in a trance. Normally, I would have dropped everything to hug the dachshunds, but I don't think I even noticed them passing by. The reason: my toy basset hound, Foxy, which I dragged everywhere in a continuous, ear-splitting rattle.
I'm not sharing the photo to show off my toy, but rather because it reminds me of how I came to accomplish the improbable task of writing this book. How does someone who avoids lifting a finger for any task make croissants at home? I'll do anything for just-out-of-the-oven croissants, so the fact that I make them at home isn't extraordinary. What is extraordinary is that I find the drive to make them twenty times to perfect the recipe, to take thousands of photos to visually tell their story, then to write about them while pulling out my hair over every word. The fact that I like to eat more than I like to sit also doesn't explain how I eagerly juiced 130 pounds (60 kg) of pomegranates by hand while developing a jam recipe. The photo explains it all: With Foxy along, I'd climb Mount Everest.
I don't know, maybe I've been saving up my energy all these years just to write this book, but I couldn't have imagined a job that I'd love and obsess over this much.
When I was little I didn't have the slightest interest in cooking or baking. You know how most chefs and cookbook authors have childhood memories of rolling out dough with their mothers, or playing with pots and pans? I just watched TV. I started cooking at age eighteen, purely out of necessity, when I moved to a different city for college. That is, if you call tossing some overcooked pasta with a can of tuna cooking. During those first couple of years, my kitchen adventures were confined to the dorm's kitchen, which I shared with dozens of people. It was equipped with just a single portable electric burner. There was a refrigerator, but you wouldn't dare use it, as anything you left behind evaporated the second you turned around. Thankfully, in my last year of school I moved to an apartment with two roommates and started cooking decent food. By the time I graduated, I could make most of the classic Turkish dishes, thanks to my mother, who spent endless hours on the phone coaching me through them.
Immediately after graduating from college, I moved to San Francisco for my MBA. I worked part-time as a research assistant for my graduate fellowship, which covered half of my tuition. To further unburden my family, I also worked as a teaching assistant and MBA advisor for as many hours as my student visa allowed, which left no time for cooking. I occasionally cooked for my roommates who missed their mothers' Turkish food, but if you had asked me, it was unnecessary given the amazing food choices all around us. Three blocks from our apartment was a place with wall-to-wall Kristi Yamaguchi posters that served juicy burgers and thick-cut fries. Two blocks farther was Ton Kiang, the dim sum heaven.
After graduating and landing a job, I moved to a studio the size of a small box on Chestnut Street. My bed and a love seat barely squeezed into the main living area, but the kitchen was big enough to fit a dining table and six chairs, and it came equipped with a brand-new oven. In the two-plus years I lived there, I never once used that oven, because in my new neighborhood there were great restaurants and bakeries at every step. On my way home from work, I would hop off the bus at the other end of the street and gather up whatever I felt like eating that night. Lunch at work was another joy. An Irish bar across from our offices served an Indian buffet at lunch, with unlimited curries, chicken tandoori, samosas, naan, and masala chai for $4.95. The Mediterranean restaurant two blocks down had the best falafel I had ever eaten. Once you started climbing Columbus Avenue, it got even harder to choose. Despite the fact that I was spending almost half of my paycheck on rent, I was able to feed myself (and an appetite big enough for two) very well without breaking the bank. It seemed impossible to exhaust the options, so I never cooked or baked.
After I moved back to Istanbul, I found a good job and began working. I was reunited with family and friends, but I struggled with adapting to my new life. I soon discovered that the Exploratorium museum and learning center at the Palace of Fine Arts was broadcasting live images of my old neighborhood from its roof cameras. I could see glimpses of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz when the fog lifted, but mostly it offered images of people and cars passing by, seagulls perched on wooden pilings, and the sandwich shack on the Marina Green. It didn't matter what I was watching; I had a small window to my old neighborhood in the corner of my computer screen at all times. One of my favorite views was of the weeping maidens atop the columns of the Palace of Fine Arts — at the time, I didn't know that the reason for their sadness was separation grief, just like mine.
Right around that time, Google Maps launched its Street View feature, offering 360-degree panoramic views of streets, and I lost it. I would start from the mother-in-law studio I first rented in Outer Richmond and "walk" my way along the map, block by block, to my school, then to the Mel's Drive-In a few blocks away to reminisce about enjoying patty melts and Oreo milkshakes with my roommates, then all the way down to Ocean Beach, and finally back to where my San Francisco journey began: the Geary Parkway Motel. My body was in a dreary, fluorescent-lit cubicle in Istanbul, but my mind and soul were in San Francisco.
Watching my old neighborhood and "walking" the streets soothed me at first, but I started missing the food as much as I missed the city. It was impossible to find even a decent brownie in Istanbul back then, so I took matters into my own hands and started baking. One day my best friend, Özlem, who was still living in San Francisco, sent me a link to her food blog. I had no idea what a blog was. I started perusing her website and was surprised to see that she had transformed her house into a cupcake factory. She has become so popular that Flickr asked her to bake a cake for the site's second anniversary.
Then, one day I clicked on a link on Özlem's blog and up popped another blog.
Called Nordljus (nordljus.co.uk), it was written by a Japanese girl named Keiko who lived in Suffolk, in the UK. The first photo greeting me was of her rosewater, cardamom, and gum mastic ice cream sprinkled with dried rose petals. I clicked on a thumbnail of a photo that looked like a chocolate and pistachio cake but turned out to be a matcha opera cake, and it took my breath away. I had discovered many food blogs by then, but Keiko's photos were beyond compare. I went through all of her posts in a single day and was so inspired that I decided to start a blog of my own. I didn't know how I was going to do it, but it didn't matter; I wanted to bake cakes and take photos just like hers.
The first order of business was to find a name for my nascent blog. I didn't need to think twice about it; ever since I'd learned that my favorite character from The Golden Girls, Rose Nylund, had a one-eyed teddy bear called Fernando, I'd wanted to name my future dog after it. But I never got a dog, and my blog was the next best opportunity. After I discovered that fernando.com was taken, I decided on cafefernando. com and launched it on March 31, 2006. The first post I published was titled "San Francisco in Jello" and included a photo of the Painted Ladies made of Jell-O by the San Francisco–based artist Liz Hickok. Martha Stewart's chocolate ganache tart followed. A couple of months later, I discovered Dorie Greenspan, and then Pierre Hermé and Julia Child through Dorie's books, and I got more serious about baking. Initially, only a few friends and family members were following me, and my photos looked nowhere near as good as Keiko's, but I was having fun. Somehow the word spread and, with the encouragement of a handful of Turkish readers, after a few months I started the Turkish version of my blog.
About a year into my blogging adventure, I was gobsmacked when Dorie Greenspan left a comment on one of my posts. My baking heroine was reading my blog! Thanks to her, the great Nick Malgieri discovered my blog, too. He included one of my recipes and its photo in an article he wrote for the Washington Post. It was the first turning point of my blogging career (see page 90), increasing my readership a hundredfold overnight. My blog had previously been mentioned in an article Matt Gross wrote for the New York Times about culinary trends in Istanbul, but this was the first time that a recipe and a photo of mine had been published internationally.
That same year, with the rising popularity of blogs, the most reputable web awards program in Turkey added a new category for blogs. I filled out the online form, and about a month later, my "Turkey's Best Blog" award arrived at the family advertising agency where I worked with my father and brother. My brother was so proud, he went out and bought me my first professional camera during his lunch break.
Another turning point came a couple of months later, when Janet Fletcher published an article about my San Francisco–inspired Turkish menu in the San Francisco Chronicle. Janet came to my apartment with her husband, Doug, after their vacation in Bozcaada (an island off the Aegean coast of Turkey), and I cooked them a Turkish dinner influenced by some of my favorite San Francisco food memories. I couldn't sleep the night my friend and fellow food writer Sean Timberlake sent me a photo of the printed article. My photos were on the cover of the SF Chronicle food section, the same paper on which I had left so many coffee rings way back when. A friend sent me five copies of the article, one of which my father kept in the inside pocket of his jacket for almost a year, proudly showing it off to everyone he knew.
As the years passed, many more proud moments followed. My blog was cited as one of the "World's 50 Best Food Blogs" by The Times of London, and it received awards at Saveur magazine's annual food blog awards three years in a row: Best Culinary Travel Blog in 2010, Best Original Baking and Desserts Recipe in 2011 for the brownies I designed for Dolce & Gabbana (see page 96), and Best Piece of Culinary Writing in 2012 for my blog post on dining at Chez Panisse.
By 2010, I had been working at our advertising agency for three years. I couldn't have imagined anyone better to work with than my father and brother, but the job was consuming me. It had become unbearable, and I decided to quit and become a full-time blogger. I didn't think I could make enough money to support myself, but I had some money saved and thought that, if worse came to worst, I'd go back to my job. Right after I quit, I got an offer from my Turkish publisher to write a book.
I'll never forget the first meeting I had at my publisher's office. Çagatay Kandaz, vice president and publisher back then, and Isil Karahanoglu, my editor, asked when I could have the book finished. I had already thought about that on my way to the meeting, estimating that it would take me at least five years to come up with a decent manuscript, but I knew that wasn't realistic. So I threw the ball in their court and asked when they would need it. When Çagatay told me that May would be perfect, I asked him, just to be sure, "Do you mean this May? As in three months from now?" Four and a half years after he said yes, I turned in my manuscript.
I also won't soon forget the dinner I had with the owner of the publishing house, a week before the book hit the shelves. I asked him if he thought it would be possible to sell out the first printing within a year. He explained the realities of the publishing world in Turkey and said that it would be wishful thinking. He told me we should consider ourselves lucky if the first printing ever sold out. My book was published on June 14, 2014, and the first printing sold out in three days. The second printing sold out by the end of the following week, and by the following June, we were into the sixth printing of the book. These were all firsts in the history of cookbook publishing in Turkey, where selling out the first printing in a year is considered a major success. Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, my book was selected "Best in the World — First Place" in the 2015 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. A few months after that, competing among all past first-place winners, it was awarded first place in the blogger cookbooks category in Gourmand's "Best of the Best."
The past twelve years have been nothing short of a dream. And now, I wait impatiently to go into a San Francisco bookstore and see my own cookbook on the shelves. I'm sure I'll be glad I got off that couch.
Right around the time I started working on my Turkish cookbook, Özlem was taking her annual break from her cafe in Montezuma to spend some time in Istanbul. As we sipped our coffees, she reflected, "Isn't it extraordinary what life can bring to us? Do you remember the days you cooked me my favorite lentil stew? Could you have imagined back then that you'd one day be writing a cookbook? I wonder what else we're capable of that we can't even imagine right now."
I'm dying to find out.
Before We Begin
More than a decade of blogging has taught me a great deal about recipe writing and has honed my sensitivity to potential pitfalls. To help even the most inexperienced reader have a smooth baking experience with a reliable outcome, I've disclosed my every tip and trick for each recipe in its headnote and method. Here, before getting to the recipes, I share general advice that applies to all of the recipes. These are my golden rules, vital to achieving success, efficiency, and peace of mind in the kitchen.
STICK TO THE INGREDIENTS, MEASUREMENTS, AND EQUIPMENT.
Every recipe in this book has gone through a meticulous development process in which I've tested countless scenarios. I was conscious of the amounts of sugar and butter I used, not from a caloric or nutritional standpoint, but to achieve a balanced taste and optimal texture. After I was satisfied with the outcome, the recipes were tested by home bakers having varying levels of skill, equipment, and access to ingredients. Based on their feedback, I revised the recipes to ensure that they will work flawlessly in any kitchen. They were made at least once more to be photographed, and many times more than that just because these are the recipes I bake most frequently. After these many tests and revisions, I can confidently say that so long as you follow the ingredients, measurements, equipment, and instructions I've included, you'll have great results.
Excerpted from "The Artful Baker"
Copyright © 2017 Cenk Sönmezsoy.
Excerpted by permission of Abrams Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
From San Francisco to Istanbul, from Blog to Book, 9,
Before We Begin, 20,
Cakes, Muffins, Cheesecakes & Meringues, 100,
Tarts, Galettes, Pie, Quiche, Cobbler & Crumble, 168,
Breads & Pastries, 204,
Ice Creams, Frozen Yogurt & Sorbets, 240,
Confections & Drinks, 268,
Jams & Jellies, 294,
Base Recipes, 318,
Measurements & Conversions, 353,
About the Author, 383,