Batter Chatter: Judith Fertig, author of The Cake Therapist + Giveaway!

Are you one of those jerks who just wants to enter the giveaway and doesn't want to read the awesome interview? Shame on you...scroll down to the bottom of the post for the giveaway.

OMG. Dudes. Dudettes. I am so excited to say that I got to interview Judith Fertig about her new book The Cake Therapist.

My first contact with Judith's work was in the cookbook All-American Desserts: 400 Star Spangled, Razzle-Dazzle Recipes for America's Best-Loved Desserts. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, it was one of those comprehensive books that has all sorts of recipes spanning all sorts of styles, from humble puddings to fancier fare like layer cakes and a killer brownie recipe. Every recipe I tried was absolutely solid, but it wasn't recipes that made the book a treasure to me. It was the headnotes. 

Somehow, even in a huge book like this, the headnotes each included interesting anecdotes, historical tidbits, and informative recipe notes. I realized, in reading them, that I liked the author, just from her writing. It was almost like receiving a huge file of recipes from a friend with handwritten, witty notes to accompany each one. 

Since coming across that first book, I've followed Judith's recipe books, which are impressively wide-ranging: she's written about everything, from BBQ to plank cooking to even, yes, an entire book about cinnamon rolls. 

And now, she's branched out into foodie fiction. The Cake Therapist is an absolutely engaging story about a woman starting over in her hometown after a stint as a fancy pastry chef in NYC. But what unfolds as she opens a bakery in a sleepy Ohio town goes much deeper than just a fresh start. It's a story that spans generations, includes plenty of delicious food descriptions, and will leave you feeling as comforted as if you just ate a huge slice of your favorite layer cake.

OK, so DO buy the book. But before that, enjoy this interview: 

You are well known as a cookbook writer...was it an odd leap in any way to dive into fiction after writing so many non-fiction cookbooks? I was an English major before I got into the culinary arts, so it was like writing a headnote for a recipe that turned out to be 62,00 words! Sort of. . . .

I felt like I learned so many cool baking tips from the book. What did you learn while writing this book?  That the strawberry cake in The Cake Therapist (and on the cover of Bake Happy) really does take me back to my childhood. Something about the combination of strawberry and rosewater. My mother never made strawberrycake, but this one has the simple, summery flavor that just makes me want to go play outside. I learned that flavor--especially in desserts--really can resonate with us just like a favorite song or the smell of suntan lotion or the feel of cool sheets on a hot night.

The lead character, Claire (Neely) O'neill, says that she makes sense of the world by flavor and taste. Is this something that you identify with? Can you expand on that? I think we've all had times in our lives when we're hungry for something, but don't know what. So we sample this, sample that, until we hit on just the right thing. It's emotional eating. What we're craving is the feeling that that flavor or texture will hopefully induce--like all is well, we're safe, we're loved, we're gonna be all right. Food and flavor can be the vehicles to self-enlightenment. We finally taste the right thing and voila, "So that's what's going on with me!"

I love the fact that the lead character is an unofficial "cake therapist". What therapeutic benefits do you believe cake and baking can offer people? Unlike cooking, which can be spur-of-the-moment, baking is more methodical, more meditative, more repetitive. It give us a chance to just chill out, be in the moment. Baking is also transformative. You take butter, sugar, flour, and eggs, put them together in the right way, and end up with cake! Small-batch baking, like Neely does in her bakery, has the true flavor of homemade, of honest ingredients. Flavor is telling, sort of like a test to determine if you have a diamond or cubic zirconia. 

What kind of research went into the historical parts of the novel? When writers say they can get carried away by research, I can relate. You Google something and all of a sudden, you're down the rabbit hole and find out so many more things that are related. And then other things just turn up. Ethel Parsons Paullin really did visit Stearns & Foster in Lakeland Ohio, with Ben Nash. She went on to paint religious art as well as commercial. Ireene Wicker, the Singing Lady, also had a long career. I just happened on a little cereal box with a Singing Lady story on the back at an antique mall.

Tell me more about your inspiration for Rainbow Cake bakery. My first job in high school was at a mom-and-pop bakery that made all of our family's celebration cakes for birthdays, graduations, and so on. I remember walking in and smelling that wonderful bakery scent. I also saved a story from the late, great Country Home Magazine with an inspiration bakery that I put up on a vision board I made for The Cake Therapist. I also visit bakeries or macaron shops when I'm in a new city--or an old one, like Paris.

Writerly question: where, and when, do you prefer to write? What is your working style? I write when I have big blocks of time, any time of the day. When I think I just don't have "it" that day, I do other things like order books from the library or research or bake.

What is your favorite type of cake or dessert? I love a tender yellow cake with a secret filling and a fluffy coconut frosting; I'm also a sucker for a really moist, fudgy chocolate cake.

I'm intrigued by the idea of different flavors having different significance. Is that fictional, based on fact, or anecdotal? Like there can be a language of flowers (a 19th century conceit written about by Vanessa Diffenbaugh in her novel The Language of Flowers), I think there's also a language of flavor. Some of that language is in the scent, taste, and mouthfeel of a flavor. Sometimes it's the chemical properties in the spice or the fruit. A rich, luscious, homemade caramel says "luxury" better than a designer handbag. Cinnamon actually contains properties that help lower blood sugar, so it does sort of hold your hand as you get started in the morning or want to calm down when your flight is delayed at the airport--the power of cinnamon rolls! 

In the book, it is mentioned that people who crave salty desserts have secrets. Um, if I like to sprinkle salt on top of my dessert, does that mean I have secrets?? Yes, you have secrets. That makes you very interesting!

What's next for you? I'm finishing the second novel in the series, The Memory of Lemon. It starts out with a "hillbilly" bride who wants pie, not cake and clashes with her high society mother, Neely's growing relationship with Ben, and her homeless father's struggle with PTSD. Two flavors--citrus and spice--and the stories that emanate from them turn out to have a surprising connection to Neely. Maybe families have signature flavors, too.

About the Author:
Cookbook author Judith Fertig grew up in the Midwest, went to La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine in Paris and The Iowa Writers' Workshop, and now lives in Kansas City. Described by Saveur Magazine as a "heartland cookbook icon," Fertig writes cookbooks that reflect her love of bread, baking, barbecue, and the fabulous foods of the Heartland. Fertig's food and lifestyle writing has appeared in more than a dozen publications, including Bon Appetit, Saveur and The New York Times. The Cake Therapist (June 2, 2015; Berkley), is her fiction debut.

Connect with Judith Fertig online:

BUY THE BOOK: The Cake Therapist


To enter to win a copy of both The Cake Therapist and Bake Happy, all you have to do is this. Leave a comment on this post answering this question:

How is baking therapeutic to you? 

I'll choose a winner one week from today (July 28) at 5pm MST. Due to high shipping costs, I am going to limit this giveaway to US entrants only this time - thank you for understanding!

Batter Chatter: Interview with Robin Koelling of Bittersweet Originals, Part 2

Bittersweet Originals

Sometimes it's fun to revisit your past. Recently, I have been updating the CakeSpy archives--erasing broken links, cleaning up old posts, et cetera, to make it easier for readers to navigate the site (you're welcome). But I have also had a chance to revisit some of my old posts! One in particular was one of my first interviews with a baker, with Robin Koelling of Bittersweet Originals, a special-order cake making business based in Kansas. Well, as it turns out, five years later, she's still making cakes! So I thought it would be fun to do a follow up interview and see what's changed for her business in five years. Here's the original interview; below is the new one.

Bittersweet Originals

It's hard to believe that it's been FIVE YEARS since I interviewed you for the first time for CakeSpy. What are three of the biggest changes that have occurred with your business since we last spoke? Oh wow! So many things have changed!  I never imagined BSO would become what it is now! I'm very fortunate that I'm able to do this full time now, which is amazing! Its just so cool to be able to have a part in the important events and occasions in my client's lives and know that what I'm making for them is helping to make it special and memorable. Its really humbling.  There's just something about seeing the expression on a kiddo's face when they see their birthday cake that is just priceless.
I do 3D cakes, wedding cakes, alot of character and themed cakes in addition to cupcakes and cookies.  I've also started doing twists on some of the "classics" I was familiar with when I was little (like red velvet) and I've started making my own cake stands from cool vintage things my husband and I find.

Valentine cookies

What has surprised you about the progress of your business?  I think the thing that has surprised me the most about the progress of my business is how busy I am! When I first started, a few days notice for a birthday cake was fine. Now people schedule with me 4-6 weeks in advance.  I never imagined anyone would call me and say "I want to book this date before anyone else gets it"!
If you could go back to your five years ago self and offer advice from the future, what would you say? If I could go back 5 years and offer myself adivce from the future one thing I would definitely say is "Take chances!"  I recently came across a quote from someone that said, "Never give up on your dream, because someone else is always willing to hire you to work on theirs.".  That's so true!  I started my business knowing what I wanted to do and why I wanted to do it, but didn't really have the "how" figured out.  And I'm still learning, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.
When we last talked, one of your promotional methods was approaching strangers with marshmallow fondant decorated sugar cookies along with a business card / gift certificate. How has promotion changed for you?
 Promotion now for me is primarily word of mouth, referrals, etc.  My kids' friends all know me as "the mom that makes the cakes"....I don't think some of them even know my name! LOL!


Your most popular cake flavors 5 years ago were white almond sour cream or citrus. Is this still the case, or have new flavor combinations gained popularity? My most popular flavors now are still white almond sour cream, in addition to triple chocolate fudge with peanut butter filling, pink velvet, carrot and a tangy lemon with raspberry or lemon filling. 

Cupcake party

Five years ago, cupcake-wedding cakes were a rising trend. What are some of the rising trends in dessert today, in your opinion? Cupcake wedding cakes are still popular here, but not as much as they were.  I see more brides going back to the traditional tiered cakes here, some very traditionally ornate and others that have that simple elegance.  I think that brides and grooms here are looking at cakes to accompany their wedding cakes that really reflect their personality and interests as opposed to using the traditional sheet cakes as cutting cakes.  Dessert tables have definitely gained in popularity here too, having a variety of cookies, candy, bars, etc. available as well as the cake.
What's the best dessert you've eaten (yours, or made my someone else) recently? I'm still a big cheesecake fan! I think my favorite is one that's made with nutella and carmel :)   I also love ganache....triple chocolate fudge cake with peanut butter filling and chocolate ganache...I'm seriously addicted to that one!

Bittersweet originals

Can you tell me about a cake that stands out in recent memory as being particularly a proud cake moment? A cake that stands out to me as one I'm particularly proud of would have to be the wedding cakes.  There's so much that goes into them, (and so much that could go wrong!) so when everything is finally done, assembled and're able to stand back and say "yeah, I really like this!"  I also like doing kiddo's cakes with all the characters and personality.  Several months ago, I made a Cailou cake that I still think is pretty darn cute. :)

Bittersweet Originals

What's next for Bittersweet Originals?  I'd like to expand to a studio definitely and would like to learn more ornate and difficult techniques like working with Sugarveil and spun sugar.  I'd also like to write a cookbook and do some teaching.

Bittersweet Originals


Check out the Bittersweet Originals website here.

Batter Chatter: Interview with Kristin of Meringue Bake Shop, Orange County

What's a "Whacky Cake"? Read on.In the modern world, it seems like just about every other person has some sort of a baking business, be it their bread and butter or a little something on the side.

Sadly, a lot of businesses like this fizzle out. But Meringue Bake Shop, located in Orange County, CA and run by baker Kristin Ausk and her husband Lyle, is an inspiring exception. While they don't have a retail storefront (yet), they've been going for four years and have a loyal following at farmer's markets in the area; as they put it, "While our name may have 'shop' in it, we are currently a catering business working out of a commercial kitchen in Fullerton. But we have our eyes set on the future and so our name reflects that."

Until that sweet day, let's learn more about what keeps them going strong, shall we? (Hint: it may or may not include buttered and toasted Pop-Tarts):

How has Meringue Bake Shop changed since you established it four years ago? Hmmm. I honestly don't feel like much has changed. I'm sure a lot has, like we are now at farmers markets and are consistently busy instead of having one or two orders a month but I guess it just feels like business as usual. We have received some great press and accolades from industry experts so that has helped us grow. Occasionally someone will come up to me and be excited to meet me and that kinda freaks me out, but in a good way. That certainly wouldn't have happened a few years ago.

Your world-famous PushCakes seem to have inspired some...for lack of a better word...copycats. How do you deal with people who are a little too "inspired" by your business? Ha well.... I am going to be honest and say that it is challenging for me to deal with. And I am trying to learn to let go and just accept that it's a great idea and so of course people are going to want to make it their own. Look at Bakerella! But it does upset me when someone talks about it as if they came up with pushcakes or use the name I invented and tell me they had no idea. Or purposefully go around and try to "steal my thunder" so to speak by following my press around the internet to tout their version. That's just not nice. And I was bummed when I found out someone is publishing a book about the very idea, someone who isn't even in the business and ultimately will get all the credit for it. But I digress! I really owe its wide spread popularity to you, for doing the first official post about PushCakes here on Cakespy!

Shucks! I'm blushing. OK, so...PushCakes were one of the items that brought your business to the public eye in a big way. How big a part of your business are they today? Right now pushcakes are probably 40% of my business. I'd like to get that to at least 75%. I am working on an online storefront so I can spread the pushcake love all over the states. But since I only do this part time, and a lot on my own, it's going to take longer than I'd like. Plus it's just me and my husband baking, creating and assembling these and we've only got 4 hands between us!

Tell me more about your "whacky cake", that lovely thing with a funny name pictured at the top of this post. The whacky cake is based off an idea I saw in a Donna Hay magazine a year or so ago. My friend Sharon from Cupcakes and Cutlery showed me the cake and told me that I just had to make it my own. I found a company in Australia that is making something with a chocolate mold in the shape of a cake that you break open with a hammer. I believe they call them smash cakes. What makes mine different is that underneath that chocolate dome and layer of delicious candy, you'll find our yummy cake and buttercream. So after eating some sugar, you can eat more sugar! Everyone's happy! So far I've just been making them for kids parties but they would great for marriage proposals, gender reveal parties, milestone birthdays or even for graduations. We can put anything inside the cake as long as it's small.

What flavor would your last-meal cake be? It would have to be a slice of Le Bete Noire. It's a cake made at Extraordinary Desserts in San Diego. The cake is comprised of layers of a creamy semi-sweet chocolate mousse, vanilla crème brûlée, chocolate ganache, dark chocolate cakes and moistened with Madagascar vanilla bean syrup.

Pop Tart Vs. Toaster Strudel

Pop-tarts or toaster strudel? DUH! Pop-tarts baby! I eat mine toasted with salted butter and cut into fourths. shhhh

What is, in your opinion, the ideal cake-to-frosting ratio on a cupcake? I personally prefer 1/3 buttercream to 2/3 cake.

Can you name some bakers who truly inspire you? Oh yes. Elisa Strauss, Karen Krasne, Kari Haskell, Carrie Fields, Julie Desmeules, Rosie from Sweetapolita, and you!

If money were no object, what would you love to do next with your business? Open a real shop! One with a case full of cupcakes, cookies, diner cakes, bars and puddings. A pink and white checked floor, tinsel lampshades, turquoise vinyl booths, a cakespy mural in my kitchen, a glitter toilet (yea you heard me!), a space for parties and a retro jukebox playing daft punk, madonna, rodrigo y gabriel, abba, squeeze, and zz top (among others). ;)

For more awesome, visit the Meringue Bake Shop website or find them on Facebook.

Batter Chatter: Interview with Katy Acheson of Mesdames Des Macarons

Mesdames des Macarons. With a name like that, you are probably halfway in love with the Cape Cod-based boutique (custom-order) bakery already, but you'll fall even deeper in love when you discover their sweet treats--macarons in creative colors, flavors, and formulations (consider the Macadeiro, a mashup of a macaron and Brigadeiro!). Want to find out more? Here's an interview with one of the owners, Katy Acheson:

What dessert do you think is overrated? Jell-o is an acceptable lunch dessert when you're in 3rd grade, but it doesn't cut it for an after dinner treat in my book (no matter how much cool whip you put on it).

What's your favorite non-sweet food? Scallops, bacon, filet mignon... scallops and filet mignon wrapped in bacon!

What's your favorite non-macaron sweet treat? Definitely jelly beans.

Don't you hate the question "are macarons the new cupcake"? Where I am, not enough people know what a macaron is to be asking that question yet. I'm sure someday I will grow to hate the question though.

Um...Are macarons the new cupcake? In my house they are. In the rest of America? I think the future is in small, single-serving desserts, in which case both macarons and cupcakes can share the throne.

What is your favorite flavor on your menu? I make a Rose and White Chocolate macaron that I adore. But I think the one flavor I can't control myself around is the Matcha (Green Tea) macaron.

Is it just me or are macarons extremely fussy to make? Very fussy. In particular, the French method of making the batter, although less complicated, is less reliable than the Italian method of boiling sugar to mix with the almond and egg whites. I prefer the texture of the French method, so I put up with making adjustments for things like humidity and the quality of my eggs. Every batch is a new learning experience, and I never stop researching other bakers'efforts to gain a better understanding of these little delights.

What are your favorite famous French macarons? You know, I haven't had that many macarons that weren't made in my own kitchen. I've been to a few places in New York, one place in Philly, and a little shop in York (the old one in England). Paris is still on my must-visit list, but out of the two biggies -- Laduree and Pierre Herme -- I like the look of the Laduree macarons and try to emulate their look in my own product.

If you were faced with only a vending machine for food, what would you choose to snack on? I usually go for Swedish fish or Pop-tarts, kinda gross, but a girl's gotta eat.

If a genie appeared and you could choose any direction or future for your business, what would it be right this instant? What I want right now is a little shop where people passing by can come in and experience something completely new and delicious, and fans of the macaron can rely on a good fix--a place to be supplied with their special events. It's asking a bit much of this one-wish genie too, but can I also have a cute little apron with macarons all over it?

Find Mesdames des Macarons online here, and on Facebook here.