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Tuesday with Dorie

(article, Giovanna Zivny)

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On a recent Tuesday, cookbook author and baking expert Dorie Greenspan woke at 4 a.m. in Seattle and made a TV appearance before flying to Portland, Oregon. When I sat down with her at 11 a.m., she was wide awake and cheerful. I, who’d only driven downtown, needed coffee more than she did.
 
If you’ve read Greenspan’s cookbooks, including Baking: From My Home to Yours, you already know she’s funny. If you follow her blog, you know how approachable and generous she is. Settling into conversation with Greenspan was, well, a piece of cake.

[%image dorie float=right width=300 caption="Dorie Greenspan"]

Over the course of an hour, we chatted about everything from family (she ran a pop-up cookie shop with her son earlier this year, for five days: “In hindsight it was fun; the last time I’d been that tired was childbirth”) to bouillon cubes in France (she’d hoped for rabbit-based cubes, but settled for veal).  

While Greenspan’s love affair with France is obvious, so is her interest in the wider world. The recipes in her new book, Around My French Table, strike an elegant balance of the traditional (think boeuf en daube, aka beef stew) and dishes showcasing less traditionally French ingredients (such as pork roast with mangoes and lychees). 

“The world is a smaller place,” she said. “It makes the French unhappy to think about mondialisation, but there are new ingredients available and people are playing more.”

Community matters, too. We talked about a reception that bloggers and bakers held for her in Seattle (wherever Greenspan goes, there are home bakers eager to meet her and to bake for her). “They are close, and actually see one another,” she said. “I can’t remember the last time people came to me or I went to them in New York. It makes me unhappy.” 

Paris, however, is different. As soon as Greenspan gets to her Paris apartment (where she spends about four months each year), she can call her friends and plan to see them for dinner two nights later.

The meal will be a proper meal; there will be four courses, including cheese. “But it will be a family meal,” she said. “All the elements together are more important than whether you’ve got that beef stew just right.” The French do this midweek, she explained, because food and conversation are basic elements of their lives. 

Obviously, Parisians are busy, too. But as with fashion, she said, “stylish French people always mix and match. You choose good quality.” That means buying dessert at the corner patisserie. Or using frozen potato pellets (which Greenspan insists are of high quality and wishes were available here) to make a purée.
 
“No one waits to invite friends because they have to get their house repainted,” she said. “I just want my friends at the table. Let’s spend the evening together.” 

Which of course made me wonder: What have I been waiting for?

Greenspan’s newest book focuses more on the savory than the sweet. This did not distract us from talking cake. I’d recently made a Zigomar cake from an old cookbook — an ingredient-heavy nut torte, flavored with chocolate, lemon, cinnamon, slivovitz, rum, and coffee. I was a little concerned, but I told Greenspan that I followed the recipe exactly as written, trusting the flavors to come together. 

Her response was encouraging. “I love following recipes,” she said. “It’s nice putting yourself in someone else’s hands. The process is satisfying.” Reassuring words from a cookbook author!

What about the cake’s texture and intricate flavors, which are perhaps not as familiar to Americans as to Europeans? “I love cakes like that,” she said. “I like the way they feel in your mouth. It’s like the French cakes, which aren’t light and moist, and they’re not meant to be.” 

She pointed, as examples, to the quatre-quarts tea cake and the savory chive cheese bread in her book — then hastened to assure me that she also loves fluffy American layer cakes. 

We also discussed her New York Times gig, The Baker’s Apprentice. The blog series follows Times blog producer Emily Weinstein as she learns to bake with Greenspan’s help. 

Weinstein’s first go at a blueberry cake was not a success; Greenspan said she received an email with the subject line “Catastrophe” and thought, “Be still my heart!” 

Weinstein had made a cake so ugly she felt bad taking its picture, so Greenspan had her make it again. “I want everything she does to be just right,” she said. “I want her to have that fabulous feeling of satisfaction of having done something right.” 

It’s the same encouragement bakers get using Greenspan’s books.

But what I really wanted to know was if Greenspan truly bakes every day. You see, my mother, Lindsey Shere, was a pastry chef, and people always assumed I grew up eating cakes and pastries. Sadly, being a pastry chef’s child is not unlike being a cobbler’s child — the shoemaker, that is, not the biscuit-topped fruit dessert. Whereas that child might go barefoot, I went to bed most nights without dessert — and not because I’d been bad. 

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The year my mother wrote a cookbook — Chez Panisse Desserts — was the exception. Recipe testing meant that we sped through our dinners, knowing there were three types of ice cream that needed tasting. A couple of months after her book was published, I met the man who later became my husband. He’s always been a little sore he didn’t meet me sooner; I’ve always been glad I didn’t meet him earlier. I might have suspected he’d fallen in love with the desserts.

Greenspan, who considers herself a home baker, is foremost a writer. And writing all those books means testing many recipes. So it’s true: She does bake nearly every day. 

I’m officially jealous of her son, but he probably should take extra care in the vetting of prospective mates. 

p(bio). Giovanna Zivny, a writer based in Portland, Oregon, keeps a blog called Giovanna's Trifles.


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