“The Baking Sheet” newsletter: baking, writing, LEARNING

cake-judging

A beginner baker in a world full of experts. That’s how I felt starting my first day working for “The Baking Sheet,” our print newsletter, last January. Little did I know I would spend most of my year getting up close and personal with all things cake.

This job has been a chance to combine my writing degree with my love and appreciation for all things baking. Sometimes I can’t help but believe in luck. As luck would have it, I found out Baking Sheet editor Susan Reid was looking for an intern. As luck would have it, she was more interested in writing ability than baking skills. And again, as luck would have it, she’s a skilled instructor. A win-win-win situation.

Susan is finishing the Cinnamon Roll Cake that will be in the upcoming Spring issue.

My first assignment, a premonition of things to come, was to assist in baking cakes for judging. These cakes came from state fair winners from all over the country and the winner of our judging would receive an all-expenses paid trip to King Arthur. A delicious assignment, wouldn’t you agree? This Raspberry Lemon Cake was last years winner.

Another hurdle to jump was recipe writing. Being able to not only bake up something magnificent, but to translate what I did so that someone else can get the same results. Coming from a household baking background, I truly appreciate a well-written recipe that I can follow exactly. Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that not all recipes are created equal.

This was our first pass at the George Washington Cake that ran in the Holiday 2012 issue… before!

I think that’s the great thing about The Baking Sheet. Yes, the editor is a first-class baker and can make astounding baked goods practically from memory. But most of our readers are regular people like myself, learning as they go. They’re not shy about pointing out when things in a recipe don’t make sense. It’s a nice balance.

 

May and June were a blur of (you guessed it) cakes, buttercream, and more buttercream. We were in the process of preparing for filming our Cake Essentials DVD. My task was to make sure as much stuff as possible was baked and whipped up in advance, so the shoot would flow smoothly. We’re talking over 30 different types of cakes (in multiples) and vats and vats of buttercream.

Prior to this time, I had never made any frosting but the super-simple American version. I tend to err on the timid side and certainly never would have made this on my own. There’s nothing like whipping up a recipe dozens and dozens (and dozens) of times to really hone one’s buttercream skills. Needless to say, I can basically make this in my sleep now.
http://www.kingarthurflour.com/blog/2011/01/04/the-beautiful-side-of-baking-blissful-buttercream/

I’d have to say the best part was assisting in filming the cheesecake portion of the DVD. Stepping in front of a camera is a huge step for a timid, shy person, but you might as well go big when facing your fears! A terrific perk of my job is unlimited access to all things cream cheese. I looove cream cheese. Anytime you see a recipe in The Baking Sheet with a creamy, dreamy, cheesy focus, know that I was lobbying for it to make the cut. A nice reward for all the hard work was filling my freezer with those delectable cakes after the shoot was over, my favorite being the NY Cheesecake. Yum!

 

Not to say I spent the entire year waist deep in sweet confections (although it certainly felt like it). I was given the opportunity to help out at one of our Traveling Baking Demos, spreading the love for all things baking way down in North Carolina. We decided to skip out on lunch one day and take a leisurely drive up in the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was beautiful.

Once a month since September, I’ve traveled with Susan to New York City to assist her while she teaches seasonally themed baking at the Viking Test Kitchens as well as some segments filmed for Mike Colameco’s TV series.

An almost welcome break from baking occurred when our King Arthur test kitchen was receiving an expansion and renovation. As close as I have become with my fellow bakers as they have passed along to me their almost unlimited knowledge and skill, it was time for some elbow room. It was a nice chance to focus on honing my writing skills and to have some real desk time. As you can see… things were getting pretty crowded.

Walls came down, offices were overthrown, and the test kitchen was almost doubled in size (you’re actually looking at the new section of the kitchen where Sue Gray and Frank Tegethoff are now located). Happiness all around.

 

One of my largest projects was taking all of the Baking Sheet issues, from 1990 through present (we’re talking well over 125), categorizing each individual recipe, and formatting them in a massive index which will be used in our upcoming Baking Sheet app. Overwhelming, yes, but I felt like the luckiest girl to be able to trace King Arthur’s baking evolution from the beginning on. More often than I should admit, I got sucked in by the writing and completely forgot my intended task!

My lessons in the test kitchen weren’t all focusing on baking, either. The Baking Sheet likes to feature savory, meal-like items along with dessert for a more well-rounded feel. We made the Domatokeftedes (Greek Tomato Fritters) in the Summer 2012 issue and these babies have been haunting Susan and I ever since. They are overwhelmingly good paired with the Homemade Roasted Garlic Mayonnaise recipe that it is featured with and for some reason the issue on my desk keeps popping open to that page. If you don’t have this issue, you need to go online and get it!

Looking back, I’d be crazy not to admit that my baking skills have improved by a mile. Practice makes perfect, after all. I’m conquering my fear of long recipes full of ingredients and steps. Anything is possible as long as you’ve read and understood the recipe, and you have all of the ingredients on hand. If you ever have any hesitation, you can always do as I do and get hold of the Baker’s Hotline!

This past year has literally flown right by. I was given more opportunities to grow and learn than I have ever thought possible. It’s kind of funny that my job has come full circle and I was once again given the task of baking up the fair contest cake winners. This time with a much more trained and objective palate.

Appropriately beginning and ending this blog (and past year) with cake, the winner of this year’s fair cake contest is called Masquerade Cake (the yummy rectangular chocolate cake on the right). It will be featured in the Spring issue of The Baking Sheet. True to its name, it’s got a hidden secret ingredient that I wasn’t expecting to enjoy as much as I did. If you aren’t yet a subscriber, please become one and learn along with me! It’s a delicious ride.

comments

  1. bgwilson

    A Baking Sheet app? I am in heaven! ‘Can’t wait!
    It’s such a thrill to start back from the beginning when PJ and Brinna Sands first started writing The Baking Sheet and see how the writing and the recipes have evolved! I’m sure you’ll love it :) ~Gwen

    Reply
  2. Budgie

    Balance the baking skills with better writing skills. Need to stop overusing ‘all things [something]’ in your writing – it occurs often enough to get annoying. Watch the split infinitives. “Haunting Susan and I” is wrong: it should be “haunting Susan and me.” “I was given more opportunities to grow and learn than I have ever thought possible” should read “than I HAD ever thought possible.” Grammar needs work, as well as style, to be up to the writing standards of KA.
    Thanks for the honest feedback- Betsy

    Budgie, I was the one who edited Gwen’s copy, so please heap all that blame on me! As a veteran writer/copywriter, I see and understand both sides of the picture: strict adherence to a traditional “correct” writing style, or loosening up a bit as the younger generations, with their own style, come along. I pick and choose what I change, and what I leave; perhaps I should have changed the things you mentioned (certainly the incorrect use of the word “I”), but I made a lot of on-the-fly decisions, and the piece as you see it is where I came out. As the years go by, who’s to say what’s correct anymore? Even my long-time pillars of rectitude, The New York Times and New Yorker magazine, now regularly include what once would have been termed poor grammar; and what I’d still call misuse of words (it’s and its, their and they’re). So who’s the authority anymore? All I’m saying is, the rules may be changing; and since (sometimes painful) change signals growth, I hope we’re flexible enough to not only let change happen, but to encourage it. PJH

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  3. Cathy

    You are very lucky! I make wedding cakes (as a side job) and I just love this blog, and your blog on how to make Italian Buttercream. I will have to try that one for sure!
    You should post some of your cake pictures on our Facebook page. Betsy@KAF

    Reply
  4. kguillaum1

    Congratulations Gwen…..pride from your uncle Skip and me.
    Critique; some people are natural proofreaders and I’m sure the criticism was not with malice but like PJH said, times are a chang’n and this is supposed to be a friendly publication, not stiff and formal. Little grammatical << glitches mean little or nothing, it's the content and the comfort that draws in the fans.

    Kudos to you all :+)
    Thank you Kat! Hope you and Uncle Skip are enjoying the warmer weather in Alaska. Miss you both. ~Gwen

    Reply
  5. carla

    Gwen,

    I can certainly agree with Budgie’s comments with regards to many writing projects; however, KAF and each of its writers have to present a written product to an audience with a varied reading and comprehension level. Grammar and punctuation is not always the most important feature of any written piece. Besides, when I read a blog post, I’m reading it for entertainment and to learn something…not to critique the writing style.

    I’m perfectly agreeable with your writing style as long as you don’t ever use IDK, LOL, ROTFL, etc! :) Some lines should never be crossed! :) Thank you, Gwen, for an enjoyable blog post!

    Thanks, Carla. I’m not QUITE that young! I have to Google the meaning to most of those abbreviations whenever they pop up on my phone. Hopefully it’s a fad that dies out soon. :) ~Gwen

    Um, Gwen, it’s all relative – from my vantage point of remembering at least some of the 1950s, 20-something does seem THAT young! ;) PJH

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  6. Cindy Leigh

    Ohhhh….. I was lucky enough to meet PJ and MJ a few years ago and get a tour of the test kitchen. It was a glorious array of ingredients and equipment! Now I want to see what you’ve done- more pics, please!!

    Aren’t they great? Hopefully you will be able to visit us again sometime.-Jon

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  7. Cindy Leigh

    PJ, you are a paragon of diplomacy! (AND a great baker/writer)

    I think the expectation for writing style in a blog post is somewhat different than what we’d expect in a masters thesis or a business communication.

    I happen to agree with you, but to each their own!-Jon

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  8. Anneripp

    Oh, what a fun job you have!

    I used to teach English and all those writing skills and the grammar and punctuation that go with it. Frankly, I’m glad to be free of quite so much stuffiness in the little free-lance writing I do now for small publications (and I still value my editors, being a lousy one myself). Gwen, this is a fun, lighthearted post; exactly what I was looking for when I clicked. Like Star Trek, you should never fear a split infinitive in your informal writing; “. . . to boldly go . . . ” where your pen takes you can be an adventure.

    There is one thing I noticed in a caption, and I do hope you can confirm that it’s true. “Susan is finishing the Cinnamon Roll Cake that will be in the upcoming Spring issue.” Will there really be a Susan-made Cinnamon Roll Cake in each copy? And, if so, how did you fit it in? :-)

    Reply
  9. M.J.

    PJH: Responsibility without excuses would be in order.

    OK, I’m not shy – I take full responsibility for any errors in this blog post. Full stop. PJH

    Reply
  10. Teresa F.

    Gwen, Thanks for this neat post with a peek into the life of a KA intern! You are the envy of many! It’s great to hear the emphasis in writing skills over cooking/baking skills. Cooking/baking skills are not useful, if they cannot be communicated to a wide audience. Since KA is the go to for home bakers, I very much appreciate the well written recipes and also the helpful hotline staff.
    Thanks so much Teresa! Everyday there are new things to learn here at KAF. It’s just as fabulous as you can imagine it being ;) ~Gwen

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  11. Belynda

    Gwen, you did a great job on your article! It reads like a conversation between friends and I really enjoyed it. Please don’t change your style in order to appease someone who’s only contribution is to be critical of your hard work. I’m not here to read Hemingway; I’m here to improve my baking skills and learn from someone else’s mistakes. ;) Can’t wait for the new issue of the Baking Sheet to arrive in my mailbox!
    You and I are in the same boat Belynda. Whether it’s baking or writing, I’m making mistakes and learning from them almost every day (mine is just in a MUCH more public setting). I can’t wait for you to get the newest Baking Sheet! The Early Spring issue should be arriving in your mailbox any day now :) ~Gwen

    Reply
  12. marcin

    This was a great story. I enjoyed it enormously. The most important task for all of us is to encourage our young people. KAF always pays perfect attention to that job. I know many young people who are interested to learn about baking because and only because of this wonderful blog. It doesn’t try to impress; it tries to teach. And it succeeds where most other writers fail. That is the English language put to its best purpose. It’s unfortunate that so few people have the ability to connect with their audience to teach them how to do something like baking. What to say? What not to say? What’s needed? What’s overwhelming? I can’t imagine thinking through these posts the way that the writers here do. I seriously think this is a calling they have responded to. I don’t think anyone else knows how to communicate in modern language how to bake. They say too much or too little. The insignificant is illustrated because it is a beautiful picture. The KAF blog writers seem to know the pictures we need to see, the explanations we need to have. Most of all, I love the attitude here on this blog: Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Walk beside me and be my friend. ‘Nuff said.
    Thanks Marcin! It’s an absolute honor to bake and write alongside PJ, Amy, MJ, Susan, and the other King Arthur bloggers. :) ~Gwen

    Reply
  13. jms2

    I agree with Budgie. The expression of a language is as important to human communication as the language itself. Writing is a basic life skill as is baking. The rules of grammar are the same to written communication as cooking skills are to a recipe. I am always disappointed when editors/teachers/parents allow writers, in the name of evolution to slide past a basic rule of language so sharply that they both appear to be ignorant.

    Thanks, I appreciate hearing from you. We each enjoy our own viewpoint, and can agree to disagree agreeably! PJH

    Reply
  14. jms2

    Thanks for listening PJ. I love KAF and read each issue of The Baking Sheet from cover to cover multiple times. I appreciate everyone’s hard work. joan

    Thanks, Joan – I’ll make sure our Baking Sheet crew sees this. And thanks for speaking up – PJH

    Reply
  15. Dex

    Just one last grammar comment…

    The omission of the “not only/but also” sentence construction is one of my biggest pet peeves! Please remember this when editing! :P

    So noted, Dex – thanks! PJH

    Reply
  16. nlshugars

    Any idea on the time frame for the app? Also, when does the Early Spring issue mail? I’ve had issues with my copy arriving and it would be helpful to have a time frame to look for it…thanks!

    Our plan for the app is to have it available around late March. We’re hoping to give our current subscribers (like yourself) a free trial run for a couple of issues to try it out and see how they like it! As for your Early Spring paper issue, they started shipping them early this week. It should be arriving in your mailbox shortly. :) ~Gwen

    Reply

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