Friday, December 28, 2012

Baker's Profile

Lisa Basini

Lisa Basini
Baking’s as much a science as an art, which is why creating recipes for baked goods can be so challenging. A quarter-teaspoon of baking soda or a half-teaspoon? Fifty minutes at 350° or 40 minutes at 375°?

Fortunately for us at C&H® Sugar (and our sister company Domino® Sugar), we don’t have to guess—and neither do you. That’s because Lisa Basini, our talented recipe developer and tester, makes sure the recipes in our online recipe database will work as well in your kitchen as they do in ours.

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect person for the job than Lisa, 47, who owns Baking Coach, a baking-instruction company on Long Island, and has been developing recipes for us for about two years. But she’s had to overcome some formidable obstacles on the road to career satisfaction.

Born and raised in Queens, New York, Lisa began baking as a small child, after watching her grandmother bake glazed sugar cookies. “I didn’t just love to eat them,” she says. “It was Wow—I wanted to make them!” She’d line up her dolls and “give them a demonstration” using her Easy Bake Oven. Her father built her a stool so she could reach the real oven, and within a few years she made her first cheesecake from scratch. “I used to go from house to house, asking the neighborhood moms my questions about baking and cooking,” she says. (Her own mother didn’t enjoy being in the kitchen—“I guess it skipped a generation!”) By the time Lisa was in her early teens, she’d learned enough to cook Thanksgiving dinner for 30 guests.

Outside the kitchen, though, the picture wasn’t as rosy. Lisa struggled with schoolwork for most of grade school until she made an important discovery: “I had trouble with reading comprehension,” she says now. “I couldn’t read a novel, but it turned out I could read cookbooks. Each recipe was a short story, and the ingredients were characters.” Following recipes helped her with science and math, too. She went from straight Fs in fifth grade to the honor roll in eighth grade.

After school, Lisa found a corporate job but didn’t feel fulfilled by the work. While still working full time—and with a husband and two young children—she enrolled in a culinary school. “I loved what I learned,” she says, “but I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I knew I didn’t want a restaurant job—the hours were too long. And I didn’t want to work in a bakery—the starting pay was too low.” One night she had a dream about her dolls and the Easy Bake Oven. A sign reading “The Baking Coach” appeared in the dream, and when Lisa woke up, she knew she’d found her answer: teaching baking and cooking to private clients and in libraries and schools throughout the New York-New Jersey area. The business took off, and eventually she found herself managing eight employees.

A series of stories about Baking Coach in Newsday, the Long Island newspaper, brought Lisa to our attention. We were thrilled when she agreed to bring her knowledge and expertise to the task of developing recipes for our customers nationwide.

A recipe project, says Lisa, “starts with a goal. For example, with the launch of C&H® Light, the goal was ‘great-tasting desserts using the Light product.’ I started with a classic recipe, sugar cookies, and substituted C&H® Light for C&H® Pure Cane Granulated Sugar. The result was a bit lighter in color than I’d expected, because the light blend doesn’t caramelize as readily as pure sugar. So my next step was figuring out how to make it better.” After she’s perfected a recipe, she works with our photographer and art director in the photo studio, helping to style the product in an appetizing way. “I want your mouth to water when you look at the picture!” she says. Unlike some food stylists, she insists on using only real food: “It’s all about making it look good and keeping it real.”

Last November, Lisa and her family were displaced for eight days by Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the New York area. All of the food supplies in her commercial kitchen had to be thrown away. Characteristically, Lisa weathered the crisis by doing what she does best: baking. “We didn’t have power, so I baked a lot of apple cobblers on the barbeque grill,” she says cheerfully. “And we made s’mores in the fireplace!” Her school-age son Jake and daughter Anastasia are valuable helpers, she adds.

In January, Lisa will be away from home again—but for a much more appealing reason. One of her private baking clients has invited her to come to Morocco, where the client is opening an American-style bakery. Lisa is looking forward to the brand-new challenge. “The ovens are different over there,” she says, “and the ingredients are, too. They don’t have brown sugar!”

No brown sugar? Hard to imagine! But we’re confident that Lisa’s resourcefulness and can-do attitude will conquer even that hardship.

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