Fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, just slightly undercooked, so as to allow for that gooey element that soothes the belly and the psyche, whoopie pies, moist cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, cinnamon buns on a Sunday morning….I could go on and on. I love sweets and I can’t deny that. I have been lavishing in sugar since a babe, and I always leave room for dessert. Now here’s my horror. I was diagnosed with multiple food allergies (including dairy, egg, sugar!, and wheat) and may or may not (but have been living like I do) have Celiac disease. Imagine my horror. A life subjected to bland, off-white flavors and a bowl of strawberries for my birthday? That defeated sinking in my stomach, and my heart (no joke) when I had to pass the sweets, no, this cannot be.
Over the years I can assure you, fair reader, that I have dodged that near-sighted way of thinking and, together with my chef husband and dessert extraordinaire of a father, have enjoyed many of a hot summer’s day lapping up a concoction of sweet flavors to satisfy my cravings. However, it is a chore to come up with substitutions (and though some find it fascinating to gather flavors and exact measurements I am deficient in this gifting).
But I live by prayer and have come to see a huge one answered when this delightful morsel landed on my doorstep last year. I unwrapped it anxiously, and there it was: shiny and smiling at me, Babycakes Covers the Classics, by the one and only Erin McKenna. My amazement has not diminished one teaspoon since that day as I continue to run to the warm and enticing pages again and again, like a childhood memory of waiting for those Whoopies to cool on the rack, I go back.
Imagine my thrill when I got the word that I would be interviewing the woman who gave me hope again, the one who revealed that I would not be living in exile any longer…the creator of this confections craze. Now I hand the licking spoon to you, I know you want your share of the taste too. I hope you enjoy, and rest assured, we can’t see the drool you’ll soon be swabbing away, so have at it, take a (big, sloppy) bite.
After she picked up the phone I couldn’t help but spill it (little professional containment here), “First, I just want to say that you’ve saved my life. I have suffered for four years [without all the goodness that others enjoy so lavishly! I call that suffering, in a sense] and because of you this year I will have my first birthday cake in four years.” To which she was very appreciative for the gushing compliment, “Ahhhhhh, that’s so cool!” I was like a kid in the Willy Wonka Factory (and I was gonna follow her wherever she led) on this call so be prepared. Feel free to indulge as well.
Sky Sanchez-Fischer: What allergy prompted you to enjoy all the forbidden foods?
Erin McKenna: Well, it really started out at as a hobby at home because I have such a big sweet tooth; just going without desserts wasn’t an option for me. I started playing with alternative flours and different ingredients to substitute for dairy and wheat; I am really sensitive to sugar as well. I just started testing things out and then maybe a year later I had the idea for the bakery and I know people who suffer from multiple allergies so I thought it would be a good idea… just make a place where they could go and just feel normal, just a regular neighborhood bakery where they wouldn’t have to worry about anything. I wanted to create that freedom for people that had these restrictions.
SSF: Are there any foods that you miss and are currently working on recreating?
EM: Something I have in my mind that I want to recreate is bagels. But I don’t want to put anything on the market unless it’s incredibly good, because there’s enough subpar stuff out there.
SSF: Whose goods inspire you?
EM: I feel very inspired by different chefs like Julia Child. She was just so very much herself and was really one of a kind in every way and also some local chefs like Mark Wagner, basically Mario Batali’s right-hand man. He’s very inventive and mad-scientish. Just doesn’t have boundaries with baking.
SSF: In your new fabulous cookbook, Babycakes Covers the Classics, what is your favorite recipe?
EM: Plain donut with the cinnamon sugar!
SSF: What has your journey in the bakery, writing and creating taught you?
EM: If you can imagine it you can do it. It doesn’t mean that it will be easy getting there but you can get to that goal. You know, it started that way with the bakery with me, and then that came to fruition and then recipes and the expansion and you know, it’s kind of a boring classic but it’s true ‘if you can think it and imagine it and visualize it, it can be yours. Work hard and stay focused.
SSF: What was the most difficult part of writing the book?
EM: I have to say not fighting with my husband [smile in her voice] while writing it because he wrote it with me. I did all the recipes but he helped with the introduction and all of the chapter intros and he’s like a very uptight editor type of guy and you know, I’m more of a free-spirit so we were kind of at each others necks. Trying to stay calm in the whole process was probably the biggest challenge. My strategy is just not to be there when he’s working on it. [I took that as advice and stuck it in my cap for future use].
SSF: You’ve got your blog, cookbooks, bakery…where do you see yourself in five years?
EM: Yeah, hopefully in the next five years…I see myself just collaborating with a lot of artists, different walks of life and expanding the world of Babycakes in as many ways as I can imagine. I have three locations, one in New York, one in LA and one in downtown Disney in Orlando…It’s kind of like having dogs, when you see the cute puppies…awww, just one more!
Well, we will take any location she can spoon up…and I got myself a mighty fancy treat dishing with Erin McKenna. She was full of delight and gave this novice an ample dose of inspiration. Thank you Babycakes!
Sky Sanchez is a native Sacramentan. She writes, blogs, substitute teaches and tutors and is always on the lookout for one more job to add to her bursting at the seams schedule. When she is not at her computer or flipping through writer magazines, she is on all fours summoning her unicorn abilities for her three and a half year old or plugging in one half of the ear buds from her thirteen year old son’s iPOD, usually followed by “Ya, I like that, but turn it down.” She shares a partnership, both in business and by law, with her best friend and biggest fan and proofreader.
She writes for the Sacramento Book Review and the San Francisco Book Review, and contributes to Sacramento Talent Magazine and Stories on Stage blog. She also scribbles out her own blogs at epicureanpc.wordpress.com and skysf.wordpress.com.