Monday June 25, 2012
In October, I took a mini vacation to New York which wound up doubling as a 700 mile doughnut run for Ed Levine. Since I’d started writing for Serious Eats, Ed and I had exchanged a few friendly emails; so when he heard about my trip, he asked me to make room for a box of Spalding's doughnuts in my carry on. How could I say no?
On the appointed day, I woke up early, waited in a line that snaked out the door, and secured a half dozen spectacularly irregular doughnuts. For the next several hours, I defended them from “suspicious” TSA officials, nosy flight attendants, airline passengers desperate to find the source of the deliciously yeasty smell, a curious cabbie and (most dangerous of all) my own doughnut longings.
Spalding’s doughnut ring photo via my pal Kenji Lopez-Alt of Serious Eats
We’d scheduled the exchange to go down at 10am at Locanda Verde. I arrived a little early and as I waited, it occurred to me I had no idea what Ed looked like. I’d read his diatribes on bagels and other iconic New York City foods, listened to him contemplate pizza with Terry Gross and even talked with him on the phone. But I hadn’t actually ever seen him. I pulled up his Serious Eats bio. It showed a tiny photo, made tinier on my phone, of what seemed to be a nice looking guy with salt and pepper hair and a mouthful of food.
Good enough. Between those visual cues and the constraints of time and locale I doubted I’d have any trouble spotting him. Especially considering that at exactly 10 o’clock, a good looking guy with salt and pepper hair walked into the restaurant, looking around expectantly. He seemed a little familiar.
“Hi, you must be Ed!” I enthused as I crossed the distance between us, hand extended.
He narrowed his eyes at me, pursed his lips in a half formed frown. He’d almost raised his hand, perhaps reflexively to shake mine, but stopped as the hostess swept in with a laugh, “Oh, this isn’t Mr. Levine!” and mercifully led Not Ed off to a booth in the corner, leaving me alone in my mortification.
The burning embarrassment in my cheeks hadn’t even begun to cool when another dapper, silver haired fellow strode in. This one walked right up to me and said, “You must be BraveTart!”
The hostess returned and led us to a table…nestled in the same corner as Not Ed. Not just in the same corner, but on the same narrow, cushioned bench. I sat elbow to elbow with Ed’s doppelganger, avoiding eye contact and fearful of an awkward acknowledgement of my previous gaff.
Soon I’d forgotten all about it. Over breakfast, Actual Ed and I talked about Pop-Tarts and BraveTart and the Serious Eats book launch. But at the heart of the conversation was Ed’s burning conviction that I had to write a cookbook. Yeah.
Despite the struggle I’ve had coming to terms with my identity as a pastry chef, I never experienced that sort of insecurity about writing. I’ve always dreamed of writing a book, it’s just that in that dream I’d write a nerdtastic sci-fi epic about quantum computing crystals rather than sugar crystals.
But when someone like Ed Levine says you should think about writing a cookbook, you think about it. So we talked about what a hypothetical BraveTart book would look like and kept circling around the concept of “culinary time travel.” The idea that certain sweets can take us back to our childhood with a single bite. But why? How did these desserts come to occupy such a significant role in American culture? Why do chocolate chip cookies resonate from coast to coast while nanaimo bars remain a strictly regional treat?
Like the best brownies, the concept of the book was only half baked. Even so, Ed wanted me to meet his wife Vicky, a literary agent, to see if we could come up with a solid concept. Suddenly things seemed less hypothetical.
Beside me, Not Ed folded up his newspaper and squeezed between our two tables to leave. As soon as he’d rounded the corner, Ed’s eyes lit up and and he flicked his hand out in a gesture like ta-da!
“Can you believe that?”
“What?” I glanced to the small table beside me, wondering if the guy had walked out on his tab.
“That was Jon Stewart!” said Ed.
In my mind, The Daily Show style graphics scrolled by while a red alert klaxon blared.
“Oh really?” I said with a forced calm. “I didn’t recognize him.”
So that was the day I met Jon Stewart, Ed Levine and Vicky Bijur, then decided to write a book. (In an unrelated incident later that afternoon, Ruth Reichl would catch me off guard while I spun around in Francis Lam’s office chair; it was a helluva day.)
A few signatures later, Vicky became my agent and the unbelievably difficult job of merely preparing to write a book began. When I signed with her, I’d never heard of a book proposal. I thought you wrote a book and then blahblahblah it magically wound up on book shelves. Hahahahahahahaha, right. Seven months later I finished writing the proposal, which clocked in at thirty eight pages. Please don’t do the pages/month breakdown. It’s heartbreaking.
I’ve kept all of this to myself over the last several months because it’s all been so slow-paced and ambiguous. But last week, things got real. Norton vice president Maria Guarnaschelli, editor of such obscure books as The Cake Bible, The Splendid Table and The Joy of Cooking, bought my proposal.
My first book, Sweet Truth: the Secret History of Iconic American Desserts is slated to hit shelves autumn 2014 and all I have to do is write it. BRB.
sweet potato doughnuts
77 comments and counting
Jun 25, 2012 · 4:43 PM
· Rosco · www.sideshowphoto.com
Jun 25, 2012 · 4:52 PM
So so so excited for you, Miss Stella!!
· Carol Sacks · inmediasrecipe.com
Jun 25, 2012 · 5:03 PM
I am just discovering you and your amazingness, and am totally in love! Hell yes, you should write a cookbook!!! Can’t wait to buy it! Oh, and also, LMAO about the Jon Stewart bit!
· Iris · www.know-your-greatness.com
Jun 25, 2012 · 5:39 PM
Jon Stewart would love this story you know? But I love that you’re doing a cookbook; now that’s a story I will read!
Congratulations. Well Deserved.
· Barb · www.creative-culinary.com
Jun 25, 2012 · 5:48 PM
Everyone deserves a day like this and I’m so glad the day and the news happened to/for YOU! Ohmigosh!! Yay, yay and more YAY!!
Congratulations and may this be just the beginning. XOXO
· Michelle Jaffee · www.sweetandsimple.com
Jun 25, 2012 · 5:56 PM
@Rosco, thanks, my friend.
@Carol, thanks for keeping this secret with me, since that night in New York!
@Iris, haha, oh man, I was so embarrassed. On so many different levels…
@Barb, thank you so much!
@Michelle, it was definitely an unforgettable day by all accounts. Thanks for sharing in the excitement with me!
Jun 25, 2012 · 6:05 PM
Wow, what wonderful news! Congratulations and good luck!
· Calantha · www.piecurious.ca
Jun 25, 2012 · 6:40 PM
Yay! It will be nice to see what recipes you include and the stories you tell. Even if I am not interested in a recipe, I am always interested in the stories you pair with them.
· Aly · fudgingahead.wordpress.com
Jun 25, 2012 · 6:52 PM
That explains the old-timey recipe stuff!! I’m gonna read your book SO. HARD. Unf.
· Anna · verysmallanna.com
Jun 25, 2012 · 7:00 PM
I’m sure Jon Stewart would have stolen all of the Spalding’s from you had he known who you were.
· Ryan · www.ryanfrith.net
Jun 25, 2012 · 7:18 PM
@Calantha, thanks, I’ve got a feeling I’ll need it!
@Aly, I love that you think that way. It’s definitely my goal to tell stories worth reading even if you don’t feel like getting the kitchen dirty.
@Anna, hahaha. Yup. There will be lots more old timey stuff to come. I’m looking forward to blogging the “rejects;” the one that don’t make the cut for the book, but that are still super interesting and tasty.
@Ryan, must. protect. Spalding’s.
@Jenny, if I can include the break-up-cake, I will.
@Kathryn, thanks for the enthusiasm!!!!
Jun 25, 2012 · 8:06 PM
· Michelle · gourmandistan.com/
Jun 25, 2012 · 8:12 PM
Insane excited for you! I love that Norton bought your proposal. Congrats all the way around! I do hope your book tour has you coming out here to San Francisco…
· Irvin @ Eat the Love · www.eatthelove.com
Jun 25, 2012 · 8:46 PM
· Yuri - chef Pandita · Chefpandita.com
Jun 25, 2012 · 8:48 PM
Congratulations love! How magnificent!
· wenderly · www.wenderly.com
Jun 25, 2012 · 8:52 PM
@Michelle, seriously, me neither. I’m ready to time travel to 2014.
@Irvin, I’ll definitely be in SF this October in any event!
@Ben, I hope to complete my nerdy opus someday. The story’s been in my head since I was 14, it just lives with me and I try and eck it out a bit at a time. I’ve got hundreds of pages of that business. And, would you believe, I’ve never had persimmon pudding?!
@wenderly, I’m going to need a lot more coffee.
Jun 25, 2012 · 9:44 PM
Never? But you are in Kentucky! I suppose it might not be as big there as in southern Indiana, but a community cookbook of my grandmother’s (from s. Indiana) had no less than 5 different recipes for it.
Personally, I love it both hot (more pudding like) and room temperature (bar form), but I must admit that my experiences are greatly influenced by the nostalgia of growing up eating it.
Jun 25, 2012 · 10:10 PM
Stella this is such awesome news. I have been reading your blog for a long time now, and I earnestly think you are such an engaging storyteller. Your writing is so entertaining, and everything you teach us to make is all sorts of whimsical and magical. You could probably write about anything and make it awesome. But, a cookbook written by you would be a tome of delicious awesomeness.
Jun 25, 2012 · 10:10 PM
That’s one of the best celeb stories I’ve heard… Last time I was in NYC, I brushed shoulders with Heidi Klum completely unaware until my friend pointed it out. I always miss these things!
Also. Congrats! Your recipes have never steered me wrong. It’s gonna be amazing, can’t wait to pick up a copy
· amrita · www.thesweetart.com
Jun 25, 2012 · 10:16 PM
Exciting!! I’m so happy for you
· Melissa · nytefalle.com/blog
Jun 25, 2012 · 10:36 PM
@mics, one step at a time!
@Ben, I know certain parts of Kentucky are definitely persimmon territory, but with my family it just wasn’t a thing I guess. Alas!!
@Auntie, visiting Whit in LA I ran into Halle Barry and had absolutely no idea, Whit was laughing at me so hard.
@Waldo, that means so much, thank you for that. I will do my best!
@amrita, thank you dear! Yeah, my celebrity radar is pretty non existent.
@Melissa, I’m a little giddy myself. Thank you!
Jun 26, 2012 · 1:14 AM
A great story, some good news AND doughnuts? Forget books, I smell a movie ; ) Congrats, Stella!
· Neha · www.bluebaydesserts.com
Jun 26, 2012 · 1:30 AM
WOW! Congratulations! I love your writing style…I read every post here even though, due to multiple food allergies, lots of your recipes are off-limits to me. (But a surprising proportion are not!) Anyway, I would buy your book too. And I also love that you missed Jon Stewart. That is so me. I don’t even recognize people I know sometimes, much less celebrities.
Jun 26, 2012 · 1:47 AM
· Marcela · thecelebrationgirl.com
Jun 26, 2012 · 3:01 AM
you know, the way you set up and payed off this story leaves me in no doubt about how awesome your book will end up being.
It just kept building up to a great ending and you put the Jon Stewart reveal in just the right place and you made me feel excited and a little bit mortified right along with you.
And your recipes are always great. I had a first (and probably only) success with this year’s subpar batch of strawberries with your reduction recipe – until now anything I made just tasted vaguely “red”. So thanks a lot and congrats once more!
Jun 26, 2012 · 7:19 AM
It was just a matter of time you become a household name. Congrats on the book deal and perhaps a Spaulding doughnut when you come back to NYC?
· Ken┃hungry rabbit · hungryrabbitnyc.com
Jun 26, 2012 · 8:29 AM
How wonderful!!! Congratulations to a very deserving and hard-working woman!
· Kasha the FarmGirl · www.thefarmgirlcooks.wordpress.com
Jun 26, 2012 · 8:58 AM
What a funny incident, and an enjoyable read! I often think the world needs another cookbook like it needs another diet fad. But though cookbooks abound, there aren’t any yet written in your voice. I will buy it just for the pleasure of reading your writing. Not to mention it will certainly contain great recipes, which is always a nice plus in a cookbook! Good luck with all the hard work ahead of you!
· Astrid · www.lacerise.blogspot.com
Jun 26, 2012 · 9:11 AM
Stella, baby!!!!!!!!! Congrats!!!! It will be superb. Witty. Intelligent. Delicious. Nostalgic. Enlightening. Entertaining. Fabulous. No pressure
Remember there is always room to work in a plasma core breach story so the nerdtastic element is sure to be there. Looking forward to your book!!!!
· Chocolate Chilli Mango (Viviane Buzzi) · chocolatechillimango.com/
Jun 26, 2012 · 9:12 AM
I had hopes of keeping up with all of these comments, but you sweethearts ambushed me in my sleep and now I’m running out the door to work. But thank you for sharing in my excitement (and embarrassment). Now begins the longest wait in the world…
Jun 26, 2012 · 9:14 AM
I absolutely can’t wait, Stella. Your writing is so witty and well informed. You deserve this!
· Rebecca · www.adustingosugar.com
Jun 26, 2012 · 9:32 AM
Congratulations! You are already a great writer, and a fine pastry chef. The combination will be stunning in print. Brava, Brave Tartress!
· Catherine Pond · www.FarmwifeatMidlife.blogspot.com
Jun 26, 2012 · 9:56 AM
So exciting! I can’t wait for the launch of your book. Well deserved. You write so beautifully. But Stella, you can’t leave us hanging, did Ed love his donuts?
· saltandserenity · www.saltandserenity
Jun 26, 2012 · 10:00 AM
Stella!!! I CAN NOT wait for your book! I woke up thinking about your carrot cake this morning (wondering how to turn it into pancakes) and was thinking how much I appreciate your wisdom and infallible recipes. I know the road will be long but I am so excited to feast on the fruit of your labor!
· Rachel · www.odetogoodness.com
Jun 26, 2012 · 10:35 AM
How exciting! Congratulations and I’m so looking forward to reading it (a little early, I know
· Bonnie · bakecookeatmove.blogspot.com
Jun 26, 2012 · 11:46 AM
That’s REALLY Great news! I can hardly wait, since I enjoy reading your blog so much, I can just imagine how awesome your book will be By the way, loved the “Not Ed/Jon Stewart” story…just keep doing what you do.
· SamCyn · samcynsedibledelights.com
Jun 26, 2012 · 1:35 PM
Congratulations! What a major accomplished to get picked up by a publisher!
I love that you called Jon Stewart Ed! I didn’t know what he looked like either until a recent episode of Food Network Star and I was very eager to finally put a face with the name.
· Danielle · www.danielledeskins.blogspot.com
Jun 26, 2012 · 1:36 PM
That is amazing news Stella, congratulations! Although I must say, not surprising news, given the quality of your recipes and your fabulous posts Best wishes and happy writing and baking, I look forward to pre-ordering your cookbook! Cheers, Jacque-Lynne
Jun 26, 2012 · 1:43 PM
How exciting – for us as well as for you. Can’t wait until 2014. Snickerdoodles will be in it, right, along with wonderful tales of your search for perfection in that sweet and many others? Hope so.
· MotherWouldKnow · motherwouldknow.com
Jun 26, 2012 · 4:22 PM
Wow, that is amazing! Congratulations, can’t wait to read it
· Andrea · saltcitybaker.blogspot.com
Jun 26, 2012 · 5:07 PM
CONGRATULATIONS! Wow, that’s amazing news. Your book actually merges my two loves: food and history. The problem with combining them, generally, is that the result tends to be dry. I’m confident though, that with your wit and writing talent, you won’t have that problem. Case in point, this hilarious blog post. I laughed out loud reading it on the bus. To be fair, I doubt that I’d recognize John Stewart either. At any rate, I’m so excited for you!
Jun 26, 2012 · 6:04 PM
Reading this just made my day better. Congratulations and I will be so excited to get my hands on your book!
· Miss @ Miss in the Kitchen · www.missinthekitchen.com
Jun 26, 2012 · 6:21 PM
How exciting. I can’t wait to see it unfold and hit shelves. I hope it makes it to Australia
· Luscious Delights Blog · www.lusciousdelights.blogspot.com.au
Jun 27, 2012 · 9:26 AM
I am so overwhelmed by the number of comments here!! I’d reply to everyone, but then my reply would be longer than the blog post. But seriously, thank you all so much. xoxo
Jun 27, 2012 · 9:30 PM
OMG SORRY EVERYONE BUT CAPS LOCK IS NECESSARY FOR THIS AWESOME NEWS.
New favourite book alert! Congrats Stella – I have been waiting for this for AGES.
· isabel · rollingpinsandneedles.wordpress.com
Jun 28, 2012 · 5:10 PM
@Everyone, okay, coming home after work and checking here for new comments is my new favorite pick-me-up. Thank you!!! I officially knocked out my first recipe for the book today, one down 99 to go!
Jun 29, 2012 · 8:56 PM
@Shanti, thank you, thank you! You’ll definitely see some classic BraveTart content, but it will have a ton of new material too. Even the old recipes will be updated and improved. It’s gonna be a crazy fifteen months!
Jul 10, 2012 · 8:17 PM
I have been making cc cookies for 31 years. and am going to be adventuresome and try the nutmeg. The one thing with the mixing is try using your hands to mix the cookies instead of a mixer. I just add all my ingredients in the bowl and get to work. My cc cookies were really fluffy when I used the mixer. Thanks for all the great hints. Didn’t know about the different kinds of butter.
Jul 11, 2012 · 10:15 AM
@Rue, well, the publisher bought international rights, so maybe so! I’ll post more when I know for sure.
@Buttered Toast, thank you thank you! I appreciate it.
@Janene, I am sure working the dough by hand gives a great results, minimal air! And thanks for going out on a limb with the nutmeg, haha. Happy baking!
Jul 27, 2012 · 11:38 AM
I’m excited to read your book! Can’t wait!
· Laura · buildingbuttercream.blogspot.com
Feb 27, 2013 · 11:57 PM
Hi Michelle! Thank you so much! It’s perfectly fine just too look, haha. Hang tight with me, I’m only half way through writing the book so far, ahhh!
Apr 26, 2013 · 9:22 AM
Hey Megan! Gosh, I know, I’m still pinching myself! At this point I’m about halfway through and it still doesn’t seem real yet. I think it won’t hit me until I’ve actually turned in the manuscript.