Zingerman’s “Celebrate Every Day” cookbook offers recipes that correspond with the seasons and holidays
Picking just one recipe to make first from Zingerman’s Bakehouse Celebrate Every Day: A Year’s Worth of Favorite Recipes for Festive Occasions, Big and Small is a difficult decision.
Would it be something savory, like “The Works Grilled Cheese Sandwich” and “Tomato De-Vine Soup?”
Or would it be something sweet, such as the “Maize and Blue Cobbler” or “Not-Just-Chocolate Babka?”
The 75-plus recipes to choose from emphasize the seasons and holidays so there is a dish or dessert for every time of year.
The inspiration for the book stems not only from the seasons but also from COVID-19. For authors Amy Emberling, Lindsay-Jean Hard, Lee Vedder, and Corynn Coscia, the seasons include not only the big things but also the little things. One reason for this approach was that the pandemic changed many people’s outlooks and the ways they spend time. Despite the modifications to day-to-day life, food remained central—and even grew in importance—when the world stayed at home in 2020. As Emberling writes in the book’s introduction:
People wanted to connect and wanted to celebrate. They continued to have the desire to enjoy food and have the special foods they preferred for small gatherings, personal events, and holidays. Even if people were celebrating alone, they wanted to celebrate and they wanted to have the particular foods that had become traditions for them. Communing with food was still important—perhaps even more important since so little of our normal routines were available to us.
This depiction is easy to relate to because food was a constant during the pandemic and continues to be now.
University of Michigan professor of anthropology Mike McGovern reinforces this theme of celebration in the book’s foreword: “We use food to celebrate and to mourn; to nurture both physically and emotionally; and to give charity as well as to earn ‘our daily bread.’”
The way the seasons show up is that each section in Celebrate Every Day corresponds with a season, and each of the authors takes a turn at writing a preface to the recipes within a section. Spring brings unpredictable weather, describes Hard, as well as “Pavlovas,” “Oh So A-peel-ing Banana Bread,” and “Buttermilk Celebration Cake.” Next, summer offers the bounty of the garden, says Coscia, along with “Blueberry Buckle,” “Cosmic Cakes,” and “Black-Eyed Pea and Sweet Potato Salad.” According to Vedder, “the captivating sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the fall season” lead to “Sugar Crisp Muffins,” “Bacon Pimento Cheese,” and “Kickin’ Butternut Soup.” Then, winter ushers in colder weather and numerous holidays, as highlighted by Emberling, with foods such as “Nanaimo Bars,” “Cheddar Herb Scones,” and “Gabor’s Hungarian Bean Soup.” When relevant, the recipes mention related holidays and special days throughout the year: New Year’s Day, the Super Bowl, Pi Day, Passover, the Kentucky Derby, Juneteenth, birthdays, Yom Kippur, Friendsgiving, and more.
The authors collaborated in creating Celebrate Every Day by taking on assorted roles. Emberling conceived the idea for the book and served as the professional baker on the writing team. Hard organized and drafted the recipes, as well as “kept us on track,” according to colleagues. Vedder fulfilled the role of editor. Coscia managed the recipe testing process, both internally and externally, and assisted the photographer, E.E. Berger. Also, Hard wrote headnotes, and both Coscia and Vedder composed sidebars.
I interviewed Emberling, Hard, Vedder, and Coscia about Celebrate Every Day.
Q: What makes Celebrate Every Day distinct from Zingerman’s earlier cookbook, Zingerman’s Bakehouse?
Emberling: Our first book was launched for our 25th anniversary. It told our history to that point, explained our mission, our organizational practices, and features our most popular recipes. It was a celebration of our work to that point and an explanation of who we are. Celebrate Every Day is a very different book, much lighter, since the first book did the heavy lifting. It was born from the pandemic. We were open the entire time and saw how people persevered and celebrated the little and big moments in their lives with our food. We decided we’d like to honor that and wrote a book organized by the seasons of the year and the many days and events within them that can be celebrated by baking something special.
Q: How did you work together as a team to write this cookbook?
Emberling: This was one of the best parts of writing this book! We are four quite different people with different interests and skills. Together we made writing a book much easier. We agreed on a process of decision-making and a system to do the recipe creation and writing, defined the roles needed to achieve it, and agreed on who would do what as well as timelines. Then we did it! We were clear on what decisions we wanted to make together and who would be the tiebreaker if we couldn’t reach consensus. All things considered, it went quite smoothly.
Q: In the introduction to the book, Amy Emberling writes that the pandemic was the impetus for Celebrate Every Day: “The persevering human spirit and desire to celebrate events and carry on traditions inspired us. We decided to write another book, one that was light and joyful—qualities that we have found to be in short supply these past few years.” How did you go about infusing light and joy into the pages of Celebrate Every Day?
Hard: It’s pretty easy to infuse a project with joy when you’re really excited about it, and all four of us were very excited about this cookbook. The underlying themes of the book are community and connectedness, two especially joy-inducing topics to focus on while working on a project during the pandemic. Plus, while the Bakehouse is serious about a number of things—using high-quality ingredients, featuring freshly milled flours, incorporating local ingredients, and focusing on traditional recipes and techniques, to name a few—we’re always doing our best to share our enthusiasm for topics that matter a lot to us in a fun—or, as we say, “zingy”—way.
Another huge part of filling the pages with celebratory energy is thanks to photographer E.E. Berger and food stylist Mollie Hayward. Their work brought the dishes to life; the photography throughout the book is fun, colorful, and joyful.
Q: The foreword by Mike McGovern, professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, states that “this book will remind us of the many ways that fresh food binds us to one another.” In what ways did your understanding of food’s role in our lives shift as you wrote this book?
Coscia: I became more cognizant of how food connects us long before we’re sitting at a table sharing it with the people in our lives. The recipes we use each have a history that connects us to those before us—and those before them—and the ingredients we source have been grown or prepared by people, with a lot of care, sometimes near, sometimes worlds away. Food is the unending thread that connects us all in time and space.
Q: Each of the introductions to the four sections pertains to a season and transports the reader into that time of year, from the variable weather of the spring to summers in northern Michigan, crisp autumn air, and snowy winter weather that is ideal for staying inside and baking. How did you divvy up and compose these pieces?
Vedder: Once we had settled on the book’s celebratory theme and began pairing holidays and special occasions with the recipes we wanted to feature, we cast a wide organizational net for the book’s content. Initially, we simply organized the book monthly by calendar year, with no chapters, which had been done before and frankly didn’t speak to us. So we began to think about the book’s content more thematically, and since there were four of us writing the book, it just made perfect sense to give it a seasonal spin in four chapters, allowing each of us to contribute a personal story or reflection on a season we felt passionate about in own unique voice. So that’s what we did and the book’s organizational structure just fell into place.
Q: What were your criteria for the recipes in Celebrate Every Day?
Hard: Once we settled on our theme—highlighting celebratory recipes throughout the year—we worked together to create a list of holidays, pairing them with recipes that felt like natural fits.
We wanted a focus on recipes made at the Bakehouse or at BAKE!, our hands-on cooking and baking school. We emphasized holidays —and their corresponding recipes—that matter to us—like ones that highlight our focus on traditional foods—for instance, our many Jewish and Hungarian recipes and those that are important in our community, like tailgating on football Saturdays.
Beyond that, we were looking for a somewhat balanced split between breads, pastries, cakes, and savory items. We favored recipes with interesting stories and those that feature Michigan ingredients and freshly milled whole grains like Rhubarb Cheesecake Bars and Whole-Wheat Funky Chunky Cookies. We also opted for mostly very approachable recipes—though we left in a few that are more of a project for the adventurous! And, of course, recipes had to work just as well at a smaller scale in home kitchens as they do at a larger scale in ours.
Q: Celebrate Every Day thanks the Bakehouse and home recipe testers for their efforts. What is the process for testing the recipes? What kind of feedback do you ask for from your testers, and how does that change the recipe and its inclusion in the book?
Coscia: Because most of the recipes in the book are ones we use at the Bakehouse, they first had to be scaled down and then tested by an in-house baker or cook. We had a team of 36 professionals from within the Bakehouse, already somewhat familiar with the recipes. We started with approximately 90 recipes, and each was tested two or three times—a couple even four times! At this stage, we were mainly concerned with how the scaled-down recipes turned out. We assessed each finished product for taste, texture, and appearance and then tweaked recipes, if needed, to incorporate feedback from the testers. In the next round, we employed a team of 16 home testers who sourced their own ingredients and used all of their own equipment. This round was particularly informative because all of the controls were removed, and we found out how the recipes behaved “in the wild.” Upon completion, we received photos of the finished product and their feedback via a form we created. It asked questions like whether they had trouble finding any of the ingredients, if they thought the recipe was written in clear language, if they found the bake/cook times to be accurate, and how they thought the finished product looked and tasted.
Q: Are there any recipes that you wish had made it into the book?
Hard: I think we’d all agree that the right mix of recipes made it into the book. There were about a dozen recipes that were cut after making it to various stages of consideration—some in very early stages, after scaling them down for home kitchen; others later on, after a round of testing or two. And, though they were cut for different reasons, in every case, they just weren’t up to the standards we’d set for ourselves and this book.
Q: What cookbooks provided inspiration to this book? Or, what other cookbooks are you reading and recommending?
Hard: While they are very different books, the Bakehouse’s first cookbook, Zingerman’s Bakehouse, certainly helped inspire and inform the direction of this one. We wanted Celebrate Every Day to be a nice complement to the original and include recipes that guests were disappointed about not seeing the first time around, like Gingerbread Coffee Cake, while being a unique, standalone follow-up.
Emberling: I really love the books by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook, Zahav and Israeli Soul. Although they’re thematic, they still feel eclectic and personal. I can also tell that they’re based on real restaurant recipes because of the methods they suggest and the scale of the recipes. This encouraged me to write our recipes in a similar way, sharing how a bakery creates these foods, and to share our funny mix of recipes from a French King Cake to Crispy Rice Treats.
Q: What is next for your team? Could there be another cookbook down the line?
Emberling: Our first book came out after 25 years! We took our time to learn our craft before we shared our knowledge. This book came out six years later. Right now we’re going to get back to our core work of expanding our baking skills and knowledge. If we do our work well, we may have something to share in the future.
Martha Stuit is a former reporter and current librarian.