by Alicia Lieu
I’m interviewing Caroline Miller on her blog, Let’s Bake Our Feelings, where she’s baking her way through the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook and has posted an article on making Witch’s Hats. I also have two fun and festive recipes from Lea Leong Ringler that you will want to make for Halloween.
Alicia: How did you get the idea for Let’s Bake Our Feelings? What is your culinary background? I’m sure your husband must be very supportive of this endeavor.
Caroline: Honestly, I was going through a difficult time in my career and I needed a therapeutic project. My mother had gotten my husband and me the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook last Christmas and we kept shying away from it because it required equipment, expertise and commitment that we didn’t have in ready supply. I completely copied Julie and Julia but with baking. I needed a win. I needed to put myself out there and accomplish something I could taste, all the puns intended! Something that would cost me very little should I fail. As an artist I am accustomed to, but still not comfortable with, failure. And as an artist, every time I don’t get something I was hoping for, I have to remind myself that those failures are separate from me as a person. That they send me along a path toward being a better artist. All of this is true, but still difficult. You know what is less difficult and easy to understand? When I burn something, I messed up, and there are no repercussions or judgments about me as a person. I just burned something . . . oops.
I have very little in the way of cooking experience. I learned to cook in college because it was cheaper than buying all of my meals. Also my husband and his family cook a lot. In fact, my husband is definitely the master chef in our household and I am the master eater. I love all food. On my side of the family, my mother will be the first to tell you that she doesn’t cook much, but she has an aptitude for baking. She actually baked my wedding cake herself. She had never baked a cake like that before, but she decided she was going to do it herself, and she did! It looked just like a birch tree because my husband and I got married in a barn, like the interfaith hippies we are.
My mother is one of those people doggedly determined to get things done, and always manages to figure things out. She is one of the smartest people I know. I figured, if she can bake a wedding cake for 170 people, I can make some ,macarons . . . hopefully. And yes, my husband, roommates, and coworkers are all very happy about this project. Jesse has even taken on the role of head photographer, leaving me to just worry about the baking. My roommates have been very forgiving about me commandeering the kitchen all the time, and friends have helped in many of the recipes. It’s actually been a great way to connect with them. Everyone loves baking.
Alicia: What has been your favorite blog post so far? And your favorite recipe?
Caroline: My favorite blog post so far has been the Chocolate Chunk and Chip Cookie. I love the recipe but, more than that, I love that it perfectly encapsulates what I wanted this blog to be all about: emotional honesty and empowerment. It was one of those days, and I was so tired of being upset and defeated. I remember the moment, amidst sighs and sobs when I angrily demanded: “Jesse, go get the camera and take a picture, I’m gonna bake some s****.” It was sad angry baking, but luckily it took enough concentration to get me emotionally where I needed to be—out of my rut. And then I had cookies, so . . . win!
I think my favorite recipe so far has been lemon macarons! That post is not up yet, because there is a series of macarons and I want to do a blog post on that encapsulates all of them, so look forward to that. Macaroons are like the baking pièce de résistance. They are notoriously tricky, very popular in NYC and have fun fillings. Macarons are one of those things for which instructions only go so far, you have to eventually have a feel for them. There are a lot of secrets that people swear by, and as an adventurous baker of these little dreams you have to choose your own macaron credo and make it work. I actually recently made a huge batch of raspberry ones that all cracked, and then ran into a macaron baker at an event I was catering. When I begged his expertise between picking up people’s empty champagne glasses, he told me that the secret was to pipe them onto a pan, then let them sit for 30 minutes so that they could develop a film that was no longer sticky to the touch that would not crack while or after being baked. That was not in my instructions!
Alicia: The Double Chocolate Chip and Chunk where you’re holding the recipe book and crying is one of my favorite posts, as well. You’re not crying by the time you have your finished product! Why do you think dessert and/or baking is so therapeutic? Besides the fact that chocolate boosts seratonin in the body!
Caroline: I think that it is the mixture of art and science that works wonders. I love the structure that baking affords. There is lots of measuring and timing and it leaves the mind with little space to worry about other things, not to mention that baking requires all of your senses.
• Taste: Self-explanatory
• Sight: Anyone who has watched Top Chef knows that presentation counts. For example, even though my husband swears that my witches’ hats are his favorites, I know that I didn’t fully accomplish my goal because they don’t look like witches’ hats. The visual is off and so I will definitely be doubling back to create some more convince magical haberdashery.
• Touch: For baking you need your hands. They tell you when dough is the right consistency and if the flour needs to be sifted for a finer mixture.
• Hearing: You must often listen for how bread crackles or how hard the mixer is fighting.
• Smell: I know that when I get of a good whiff of whatever is in the oven, that means it’s almost done.
It’s also really satisfying to create something that everyone around you is so excited about. I have bought a lot of friends with baked goods.
Alicia: Me included! I suppose I should ask how frequently you visit Bouchon Bakery? It is rather conveniently located at Columbus Circle. It was my “affordable luxury” from the time I moved to New York and it was especially nice when the Borders was still there. What do you like to order from Bouchon?
Caroline: Full disclosure: I have never actually been to Bouchon Bakery. I know, I know. Now I’m thinking maybe I should save it for when I am halfway or all of the way through the book. Maybe I will give them a macaron as a thank-you for all the inspiration they have provided for this project.
Alicia: That is very surprising to me but I’m not surprised that you may give them your homemade macarons. What other recipes are you looking forward to making and why?
Caroline: I am really excited for bread! Bread is its whole own world. There are cultures and yeasts and special things that I’ve never even heard of. There are bakers who’s whole job is just bread, because bread is its own rabbit hole. I also love the idea of having fresh home-baked bread in my apartment all the time.
I’m thinking that I will not be waking up at four am in solidarity, though. My household can wait for lunch bread: no breakfast bread is worth four am.
Alicia: But you have that new espresso maker! Never mind, yeah, you’re right. Nothing is worth four a.m. What will you do when you’re finished baking and blogging your way through the book?
Caroline: I think this blog may honestly take me years. It has been months and due to schedules and the sheer volume of this book, I’m still in the first chapter. That being said, I don’t know. I was thinking I could take on another cookbook or maybe branch out and explore building things or whatever my heart desires.
On the other hand, let’s be honest: my next blog will be about exercise so I can marshal all of my resources and lose all of the weight I am sure to gain during this project . . .
Alicia: I should let our readers know that you are an extremely talented lyric soprano available for hire.
Caroline:Yes, but if possible do it in a, she’s working, I swear, kind of way. I don’t want it to come off as desperate as I sometimes feel!
Alicia: Thanks for sharing your blog and experience with us. You are definitely a working soprano and a very gifted musician! You can read the latest post on Witch’s Hats in time for Halloween!
Recipes by Lea Leong Ringler of Cookin’ With Whatcha Got
Yummy Mummy Jalapeño Poppers
*Adapted from thehopelesshousewife.com‘s recipe*
10 jalapeño peppers
8 oz cream cheese
8 oz grated white cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
4T chopped chives or scallions
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 can crescent rolls
Sliced black olives
Milk to brush pastry
Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare a baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray. Slice the peppers in half, keeping the stem in tact and deveining and seeding each pepper to minimize the heat. In a small bowl, mix cream cheese, cheese, chives or scallions, salt and pepper. Fill each jalapeno half with cheese mixture. Unrolling the crescent roll dough, keep in rectangles by pressing the diagonal seam together. Use a pizza cutter to cut ¼-inch strips lengthwise. Wrap the stuffed peppers with pastry strips, leaving a gap about 1/4 of the way from the top to leave room for “eyes.” With each pepper on the baking sheet, brush pastry with milk. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until light golden brown. Slice black olives into little squares, to create eyes to press into each open space on the mummy. Let cool 5-10 minutes and they are ready to eat and so cute!
Deconstructed Caramel Apple
3-4 Granny Smith apples
4oz white chocolate (chips or bar)
1 cup total toppings of your choice (chopped nuts, pretzels, Oreos, mini chocolate chips, etc)
4oz caramel sauce
Cut apples in ¼-inch wedges and arrange on a platter. Melt the white chocolate in the microwave in 30-second intervals until completely melted. Drizzle on top of apples so that each one is touched. Sprinkle on your toppings. End with drizzling the warm caramel sauce over the top.
You can use this link to purchase the Bouchon Bakery cookbook: