Dorie Greenspan has had quite the career. The six-time James Beard and IACP award winner has worked with some of the biggest names in food: Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, pastry chef Pierre Herme, and Julia Child, to name a few. Though she has widely explored the world of fine French food, her most recent title, Baking Chez Moi: Recipes From My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere, is all about simple French baked goods anyone can make at home.
In part two of our two-part Q&A, Greenspan talks Julia Child and writing recipes, and she shares a recipe for macaron biscotti.
Clean Plate Charlie: You've worked with some huge names in the industry. How did that come together for you?
Greenspan: I met Julia [Child] when Sweet Times came out in '91. I was invited to Boston University to do a demonstration of one of the recipes in the book. I don't know how this happened, because there was me, little me, Julia Child, Jacque Pepin; I was truly the new kid on the block. She really kind of took me under her wing. After that, we kept in touch, and when Jeff Drummond, who was the producer of Baking With Julia, Master Chef, and later, the Julia and Jacques series, came to me and said he and Julia wanted me to write Baking With Julia; was I interested? I actually turned the job down, because I had just started working at the Food Network. I thought, I have a new career in TV; I'm not writing anymore, sorry! And then I realized, I missed writing. So I called Jeff and asked, "Who did you find to write the book?" He said, no one. I said, "Sign me up!" I was really, really lucky. I would have missed what was an experience of a lifetime.
I had met Pierre [Herme] when I was in Paris; I was researching a story for the New York Times, and we just kept in touch. After I worked on Baking With Julia, I was [at] sixes and sevens; I didn't know what I was going to do. So I wrote to Pierre, "Want to write a book?" And we ended up doing two books together. It was wonderful. First of all, he's an extraordinary person, and he's crazy, crazy talented and inspiring. Working with him was life-changing. It really was also a terrific education for me in French pastry. At that point, I already had a background, but I was translating all of his recipes and making them work in America. I learned everything, so I could write the recipe and teach others to do it. It was a tremendous experience.
How did the two works differ?
The Julia book was completely, completely different, because those were the recipes of 26 French pastry chefs. In a sense, the work itself was kind of similar, in that I was taking professionals recipes and translating them for home bakers. With the Pierre books, it was really professionals who were most enthusiastic. It ended up being the prime audience, but when I'm working, I'm always thinking of home bakers. I always want them to be able to re-create the recipes. I'm an evangelical in that sense: I want everybody in the kitchen baking. So in a way, it was the same.
I had the recipes from the pastry chefs and bread makers who were coming on Julia's show. Each one was different; each one had a different technique. Again, fabulous learning experience for me. I did more bread baking then than I had ever done.
But it was interesting working with Pierre. We did two books, so over 200 recipes, to really get to know one person's style, one person's way of doing things. It was really an immersion into another person's creative mind, in a way.
In both cases, I worked alone with encouragement. But just spending time with Julia, I mean, I was up in Cambridge with her for two months, and we talked on the phone every day for years after that. She was just so smart and so curious about people and everything around her. And she was really a good friend. She was so supportive and so encouraging and so interested. I loved her. She was the same person on camera as she was in real life. When the light on the camera would go on, nothing changed about her. She had a way -- I shouldn't say a way, because it was just how she dealt with people -- she would look you straight in the eye for the time that she was talking to you; there was no one else in the world. I always loved being there watching her be interviewed or watching interviews she had done. Because the interviewer is there asking her question after question, as he or she the interviewer, is supposed to do, and at some point... she'd turn to the interviewer and say, "Well, what do you do in that situation?" Or "What do you think about that?" "Has that ever happened to you?" It was because she was really interested in people. She was so great.
You mentioned you and Julia both write long recipes. Why do you write recipes of the length you do?
Because I want people to succeed. I don't want anybody to have a surprise. I want to be able to tell people, especially, first-timers or people who might be timid about baking, what's coming. Like, when a mixture curdles, that's OK. Or when the sugar turns really brown and starts to smoke, when you're making caramel; I want them to know, this happened, it's all right, pull the pot off. Whatever it is. So I think of myself as a teacher and a cheerleader. I try to make sure at each step, I'm kind of there, getting you through the recipe, so you can be successful. Because what's better than following a recipe and having it turn out just the way you want it to? I feel my job is to make sure that happens. And I need more words than most to get that done.
You have 11 cookbooks under your belt. What do you think is the biggest mistake you see in other cookbooks?
I have a huge collection of cookbooks, and I keep buying them. I don't cook from them; I read. I don't know. I think it's easy -- and I think everyone who writes recipes has this happen -- it's easy to use short hand to assume that readers know everything, and I really try not to. I had a recipe tester baking recipes for me, and she wrote to me and, I can't remember what the question was, but it was something to do with shallots; she didn't understand it. It was one of those things where if you worked in a kitchen, you'd know what it was, but if you cook at home, you might not know it. So I think that because cookbook authors know so much and because they've made the recipes and so many have worked in kitchens that it's easy to not explain things fully. In recipe writing, less is not more.
When you first started working on recipes, how did you work out the process?
I worked thinking of myself as a teacher. So I was always writing to teach. I imagined myself sitting on your shoulder. My husband has walked by and seen me at the computer moving my hands in a funny way, and he says, "What are you doing?" I say, "Oh, sorry, I was just shaping the dough." I always try to describe a movement, and I've always had people retest my recipes after. Do they read properly? Are they easy to understand?
Click to the next page for Greenspan's macaron biscotti recipe.