Frosting takes the cake in Ann Arbor blogger Bernice Baran’s new book about sugary delights
Are you a frosting person or a cake person?
Throughout Frosted, Baran nods to her heritage with the recipe for Diplomat Cream from her mother and Hungarian Dobos Torte. Each recipe offers a paragraph about why Baran chose it, how it became part of her repertoire, what is unique about it, or which occasion calls for the treat. With one (or more!) kinds of frosting or sauce, plus the cake or other base, for each recipe, each dessert has many ingredients and steps that appear very worth it from the mouthwatering photographs.
Baran keeps a website to document her baking and sends out an email newsletter. Pulp interviewed her about how she became a baker, what writing Frosted involved, and what inspires her.
Q: Your author bio says that you’re self-taught. Tell us about how you came to be a baker in the Ann Arbor area.
A: I’ve always had a huge sweet tooth and my mom was a baker so I always had some interest in baking. After college, I was working as a nurse, which was three 12 hour shifts a week. On my days off, I didn’t really have much to do so I would bake stuff to take in to work the next day. Soon after that I started a blog and began posting my own recipes. From there I quickly realized this could be a new career and I pursued food photography and started baking with intention, teaching myself everything with the help of a dear friend, Google.
Q: Why frosting?
A: The truth is, I really had a difficult time liking frostings. They’re either too sweet or too buttery and I feel like this is a common complaint of other people, too. I decided to try out all the different types of frostings and learned how to adapt them to be more suitable to my palate and customizable to other people.
Q: How did you go about choosing which recipes to include in the book?
A: This was hard. My style of baking is generally pretty indulgent so that’s the common trend, but I did try to include a nice variety of flavors, textures, and difficulty. I don’t really develop recipes with flavors that I’m not into because they don’t inspire me, so you won’t find many things like lavender, matcha, etc. recipes.
Q: What’s your process for testing recipes? What do you do with all the baked goods?
A: Early on I did A LOT of research. I studied what every ingredient does in a recipe and wrote out my recipes to provide me with my ideal taste, texture, and look. I did a lot of recipe testing for these “base” recipes so many of them were not very good and ended up getting tossed out. Now I have a base recipe for most types of desserts so most of them turn out good enough to serve so I take them to family, friends, and church events.
Q: Do you have any baking traditions or rituals? I’m thinking of making certain recipes for particular occasions or seasons. I’m also thinking of things that you do while baking.
A: Now that I have two kids, I usually don’t get to bake until they’re down for bed so nothing special there. Because I’m always developing new recipes, once I’m “done” with that recipe, I rarely make it again. I love to always just serve up new things and cross my fingers that it’s good.
Q: You’re also a photographer. Did you take the photographs for the book? If so, what did that involve?
A: I did photograph Frosted myself. I studied natural light photography for about two years before writing the book and then realized I wasn’t going to have enough time to photograph all of the recipes that quickly, so 1/4 into the photos for the book I bought an artificial light and learned out to use that in about two days. It made everything way easier and quick!
Q: How did you learn to photograph your cakes? How did you develop your style?
A: I think developing a style is more of an ongoing journey than a final destination, it’s something I feel like I’m always working on. For the book specifically, like I said, I was short on time so I stuck with simple and safe colors and light. The one thing to always keep in mind when photographing food is to always think, “What makes this irresistible”? Is it the texture of the cupcakes, the silkiness of the frosting, the crunch on that cookie, etc. I’m always just trying to capture the feeling that the dessert gives when you eat it.
Q: Some frostings feel very approachable, while others sound more complex, like the meringues with raw egg whites. What’s your top advice for someone who wants to try their hand at a new kind of frosting?
A: Always read the recipe through at least once before attempting. If it’s your first time making it, don’t try to cut corners. Once you get to know them, there are ways to speed things up, customize them yourself, but always just follow the recipe precisely until you’re confident. I also ALWAYS recommend a digital food scale for baking; it is way more accurate and will leave you with less dishes!
Q: Where do you get inspiration for your recipes? Do you have favorite books or other blogs?
A: Honestly, my biggest inspiration comes from what I’m craving. When something good pops into my head I write it down on my Master List, and when I’m ready to bake it, I think of different ways to make it more unique or irresistible. I also try to make my recipes as accessible as possible, I don’t like using funny ingredients.
Q: With this book published, what are you mixing up next?
A: Well, my second baby was next! But honestly, right now I’m just taking it a little easier, trying to just keep up with maintaining the blog and getting through the holidays. I’d love to somehow put together my notes from when I studied all the common baking ingredients and come out with some form of education on all things cakes.
Martha Stuit is a former reporter and current librarian.