Dorie Greenspan, Baking Guru, Visits BAKE!

“Baking is the exact opposite of being online all the time.” – Dorie Greenspan

Last week, BAKE! hosted Dorie Greenspan, five-time James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and sparkly delight of a person.

Dorie visited in support of her latest cookbook release, Everyday Dorie: The Way I Cook. During her visit, she graced us with a cooking demonstration and an interview with Amy Emberling, co-managing partner of Zingerman’s Bakehouse. The duo’s conversation covered a wide variety of topics including Dorie’s life story, how the publishing world has evolved over her career, and how American eating habits have impacted her work.

Before she arrived in Ann Arbor, we were lucky to have a conversation with Dorie on baking, modern life, tradition, tips for home cooks, what baking together can add to life, and what her must-have Ann Arbor treats are.

What led Dorie to baking

“I grew up knowing how much my mother loved my grandmother’s baking. I grew up feeling very fortunate that my grandmother baked, and her baking made me feel loved in a very special kind of way. I didn’t grow up cooking or baking myself –– I actually burned my parents’ kitchen down the first time I went into the kitchen when I was twelve or thirteen… so I wasn’t allowed back in the family kitchen. I wanted to learn after I got married because I really felt that was how we would make welcome friends and make them feel loved –– the special type of love I felt when my grandmother baked specifically for me and my brothers.

I taught myself. When I got my first baking job, I was working on a doctorate in gerontology and decided I didn’t want to finish it. I got a job as a baker and my parents were so mad. To them, I think they thought it was okay for me to make a birthday cake, but it wasn’t okay to make a life out of it. In the end, I’m so lucky I made the jump because it has made me so happy.”

Dorie on baking and modern life

“Now, more than ever, baking means so much. In our day-to-day lives, we do so many things without personal contact. We work. Many of us work at jobs where we never get to see the end product of what we’re working on because we work in big groups.

When you’re baking, it’s all yours. You’re in direct contact with the ingredients. You have the satisfaction of making something with your hands, from start to finish. You have the joy of sharing what you’ve made meeting with people you care about. And I think that it’s old. That’s always been true. Nothing –– nothing about baking has changed over the centuries in that way. It’s always been handmade. It’s always been meant to share. We don’t bake for ourselves.

I think it has a new, important meaning and a new satisfaction now. I feel that it’s really important to take a moment to create something. We’re not talking about anything fancy, we’re not talking about anything that takes great skill. We’re talking about making something simple and sharing it.

I think I think it’s really important that we have something we can look at. I mean, this has always been true. There are so many pleasures attached to it. You’re using all of your senses. You’re making something with your hands. You can look at it and know that you’ve done a good job. You’ve tasted it and enjoy it and can share it. It’s the exact opposite of being online all the time.”

Dorie on baking as a tradition

“Our son’s birthday is on Saturday. He’s grown up, he’s married and his wife is throwing a big birthday party for him. She said, ‘Well, you can bake his birthday cake’ and I said, ‘I’m not even going to be near an oven before his party.’ Before the party, they came to visit us and I made his birthday cake for him. I didn’t tell him or his wife that I had made it. We had dinner at home, and after dinner, I came into the room with the cake and the candles –– the look he had on his face… I mean, I knew he was disappointed that I wasn’t going to make the cake. And seeing his face was just wonderful. I’ve made that cake for him every year for I don’t know how many years. I couldn’t do it for the party, but I could do it for just the four of us. And it was something so special.

Every year, I enjoy making it. As I’m making the cake, it’s a moment to really think about my relationship with him and how much I love him. I think about the times we’ve shared together. Every year it gets more special. I mean, I know he was happy but it made me so happy that I was able to do this knowing that it was what he wanted and that the tradition was something I built.

And it was wonderful that it was the cake that I always make. There’s something so nice about building that tradition. It’s so easy to do things like that –– whether it’s a birthday cake or a special cookie or something for any holiday –– something that you choose, that you enjoy making, that you know your friends or family like, and making it year after year.”

Dorie on the value of cooking together.

“The value of cooking together is invaluable. It’s extraordinary that you can spend a half hour together doing something as transformative as cooking or baking together.

It’s really unlike any other craft –– it’s not like doing your homework together. You’re really in a trance. It’s magic. You’re transforming ingredients together. When kids are little and you show them butter + sugar or flour + egg and they can see that they’re like a magician –– they can turn ingredients into a cookie.

You’re using your hands, you’re touching and feeling ingredients and it’s different than doing your math homework together. This is something that’s simple to do, but it’s just a pleasure. It builds a skill that a child will take with him or herself for the rest of his or her life.”

Dorie’s advice to people who cook or bake at home.

“I teasingly call myself a baking evangelist. I just want everybody in the kitchen baking. If I have any advice, it’s just to slow down and pay attention to each step. Not because you’ll get a bigger cake out of it, but because I think because you’ll get more pleasure out of the process.

Each step when you’re baking has its own little moment of pleasure. Whether it’s the way the ingredients look when you measure them out, watching as you’re beating the butter and noticing how the batter changes each time you add an egg. When you pay attention like this, when you bake long enough, you almost don’t need to set a timer. I’m at this point where I can smell something and know that it’s almost ready to come out of the oven.

There’s pleasure in learning about the craft the more you do it. The more comfortable you are doing it, and the more you pay attention to it, the more you enjoy it. It’s like its own kind of meditation.”

Dorie’s Ann Arbor shopping list

  • Zingerman’s Zzang Bars –– “I’ve already been asked to bring candy bars back home. I’m obsessed with those peanut butter crunch ones.”
  • Monogrammed notebooks from Shinola
  • Vinegar from the Deli’s retail space
  • Pimento Cheese from Zingerman’s Roadhouse