Sunday, July 1, 2007

Baking Blogs

Watermelon Strawberry Sorbet
photo by Ariela Pelaia

The best part of baking is sharing: recipes, tips, a slice of pie or cake. So it’s no surprise that baking blogs—in which amateur and professional bakers share their stories with the rest of the world—attract hundreds of thousands of readers. Or that every day new baking blogs appear on the Internet.

If you’re not quite sure what we’re talking about, here’s an overview. A blog, or weblog, is an online journal written by one or more authors. Blogging tools such as Typepad, Blogger, and Wordpress make getting started easy and inexpensive (or free!), even for people with zero programming experience. If you’re on the shy side, one program, Vox, lets you limit your readership to people you know. The vast majority of bloggers blog as a labor of love, but some accept advertising or sell books through their blogs: for example, see cookbook author Dorie Greenspan’s blog.

Sound appetizing? We thought so, too—especially after we chatted with eight talented, successful baking bloggers from around the country. Not only did they generously share their stories, they even gave us some of their favorite recipes!

Family Matters

Blogging is a public activity—anyone who surfs the Web can find and read your blog—but many bakers find encouragement and inspiration close to home.

Jennifer McHenry, a pharmacist in northern Mississippi who blogs at Bake or Break, says her husband urged her to start “writing about my baking escapades.” A dedicated amateur who learned to bake from her grandmother, Jennifer launched her blog in November 2006 and posts a new recipe about once a month—often sweet and simple favorites with a twist, like these Nutella Oatmeal Cookies, made with chocolate-hazelnut spread; and Mini Pecan Pies, a yummy way to satisfy a sweet tooth without going overboard.

Pineapple Almond Upside Down Cake
photo by Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer, a marketing consultant, moved back to her Northern California home town to be closer to her parents, Tom and Alice, who are in their 70s. The three of them cook or bake together every day, and Elise posts the results—along with her photographs—on Simply Recipes. “Every post is an expression of my love for my parents,” says Elise, who learned to bake from her mother and grandmother and who says “cooking with family is more fun because you share the work.” Her dad—an excellent baker himself—is especially fond of Elise’s Pineapple Upside Down Cake, pictured left. So are her readers: “It’s the most popular recipe on my blog!” she says.

Ariela Pelaia also began blogging to stay connected with her family—but in her case, they lived a continent away. “I’m in graduate school in Connecticut and most of my family lives in California,” she says. “I began blogging to stay in touch and share photos. As my interest in cooking and baking grew, more of my posts revolved around food, so I started Baking and Books.” Her family still reads her blog, which she updates at least weekly, but her audience has expanded. (She also contributes to a Jewish food blog, The Jew and the Carrot.) An enthusiastic bread baker—she especially enjoys making challah for the Jewish Sabbath—Ariela also experiments with summery treats such as this refreshing Watermelon Strawberry Sorbet, enlivened with a bit of lime juice.

Community Connections

For many bakers, blogging creates its own sense of family. “The Bay Area food-blog scene is a close one,” says Shuna Fish Lydon, a Berkeley, California, baking teacher and consultant who blogs at Eggbeater. Not only do baking bloggers read one another’s blogs, Shuna says, “we also meet at farmers’ markets, have an annual picnic, and host visiting food bloggers when they’re in town.” Shuna also participates in the annual BlogHer conference, an opportunity for women bloggers to meet and exchange ideas. (The BlogHer web site is a good place to search for cooking and baking blogs.) And she writes regularly for Bay Area Bites, the San Francisco public television blog, which is where her delicious Devil’s Food Cake recipe (pictured right) originally appeared.

Rosebud Crème Brûlée
photo by Dessert First

Another Bay Area baking professional, Anita Chu, recommends visiting other blogs, posting comments, “and getting into the blogging community.” Anita—a former structural engineer who attended pastry school on weekends to improve her baking skills and ended up changing careers—brings her passion for precision to her blog, Dessert First. Anita enjoys taking part in blogging challenges such as Does My Blog Look Good in This, a food–photography event with a different host each month (Google DMBLGIT to find this month's sponsor); and Sugar High Friday, a friendly competition held the last week of every month. Anita created her Rosebud Crème Brulée, pictured above, for one Sugar High Friday. And although she likes “making challenging French-style desserts with layers of cake, mousse, and elements,” her Lavender Shortbread, pictured below, uses very few ingredients. “Which means every ingredient has to be the very best quality,” she points out.

Lavender Shortbread
photo by Dessert First

It was the food community itself that enticed Anna Ginsberg, a stay-at-home mom in Austin, Texas, to enter the world of blogs. She started her blog, Cookie Madness, three years ago as a consequence of reading online recipe–review forums. (For examples, see Chowhound and eGullet.) “It bothered me when people would bash a recipe without saying why, so I decided to make my own reviews more thorough,” she says. “My recipe reviewing evolved into blogging.” Anna posts a new recipe almost daily—which means, of course, that she bakes daily, too, usually variations on favorites like Bittersweet Chocolate Mocha Cookies and Crunchy, Hearty Oatmeal Cookies. Community is important to her: “What I love most about blogging is getting immediate feedback from others who are either interested in a particular recipe or who have made a recipe,” Anna says. “While the idea of writing a cookbook sounds nice, there’s nothing like the immediate gratification of blogging.”

Cooking has brought Anna other forms of gratification as well: In 2006 she won the $1 million grand prize in the 42nd Pillsbury Bake–off with her recipe for Baked Chicken and Spinach Stuffing.

Professional Wisdom

Lavender Pound Cake with Lemon Glaze
photo courtesy of Monica Glass

For professional bakers like Shuna and Anita, and for expert amateurs like Anna, blogging is imbued with a sense of mission. “My goal is to slowly, gently get people into the kitchen,” says Anna. Monica Glass agrees. A pastry cook at New York’s Le Bernardin restaurant, Monica began blogging “to improve my writing and culinary skills, as well as to share my ideas as I learn the craft. I believe in sharing, teaching, and mentoring.” She does all of that at Pastry Princess, where her Lemon Lavender Pound Cake—pictured right—recipe is a reader favorite. The cake is a good example of Monica’s philosophy: “Flavor comes first! Focus on flavor, and try to incorporate a new ingredient into your diet every day. Desserts should be visually seductive and pleasing, but who wants to eat a pretty dessert if it doesn’t taste good?”

Flavor is a prime mover for Ashley E. Rodriguez as well. A former pastry chef at Los Angeles’s famed Spago restaurant, Ashley now works with a catering company in Bellingham, Washington, and blogs at Artisan Sweets about “recipes, links, events, and things I’m thinking about.” She wrote about her son’s first birthday (celebrated with chocolate cake, of course!) and her mother’s retirement (occasion for a much fancier chocolate cake), and recently has added video lessons “so people can see, for example, the proper technique for creaming butter with sugar.” And although she loves experimenting with unusual flavor combinations such as rosemary, mint, and jasmine tea, Ashley also loves going back to her roots. “My grandma bakes by feel,” she says. “I want to show my readers that although baking is a science, it’s also intuitive.” Which is why she bakes this Blackberry Pie—with her grandmother’s superb pie crust—every chance she gets. Enjoy it while the summer’s berry crop is at its most abundant… and be sure to read Ashley’s tribute to her grandmother’s baking.

Do you have a favorite baking blog? Do you blog about baking yourself? Drop us a line and tell us about it!

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