Stella Parks, aka "The BraveTart" – knows more about the cake than most people know. She has a background in the CIA and an experience in the restaurant industry, but it's her attention to detail and her infectious enthusiasm for American desserts that make her recipes not only technically superb, but quite cheerful. And although cooking and eating sweets is a real dream job, you can not live alone in the cake. That's why we were delighted to talk to Stella about her favorite savory dishes, the horror of chocolate strawberries and why she should taste it. test the entire cookie.
Location: Lexington, Kentucky
Current concert: Editor-in-chief at Serious Eats, author of cookbooks, pastry magician
A word that describes how you eat: Deliberately
I have trouble imagining eating anything other than cakes and pastries. Do you eat cakes for breakfast?
It's incredible. You know, strangely, I'm not a breakfast. When I wake up, I'm still kind of postponed dinner and not quite ready for a meal. So I'm a little tea and coffee in the morning, until I'm finally hungry.
How do you repair your coffee?
I usually drink black coffee. If I drink an espresso – which is usually the case only when I'm in New York for work, and I'm not at home and I can not do my own business – I'll have a coffee milk or something with milk, just because the espresso seems to sharpen my stomach and have some dairy or non-dairy helps to soften the blow. This can also round off the edges of a bad espresso if I do not stay near a good coffee. We mainly drink tea at home, so coffee is my kind of drink "when I travel and I have no one else to take care of me".
Are you a kind of person a meal a day?
Yeah, I'm a little bit of someone who dines. Dinner is my romance of the day. I eat regularly when I'm at Serious Eats – it's a bit necessary for office culture if I want to be accepted and accepted because they are really serious about lunch. But at home, which is the biggest part of my life, when I'm in Kentucky, lunch is not something I usually do at this time of day. I cook so much and I test so many different things. Having several small bites of various items that are loaded with sugar really destroys your appetite. So, I tend not to be hungry, although my husband also works at home. Therefore, he's getting to eat for himself, because he's a normal human being who eats regularly, he could make an omelette or do something that tends to feel really awesome, and it attracts me sometimes. And then I'm the kind of terrible human being who crawls more and more slowly towards him until I'm on his elbow, and he says, "Oh! Would you like to taste that? ", So that I can be congratulated if something feels noticeably salty.If I try to taste tests between six different batches of thin and crispy chocolate chip cookies in Tate's style, I can get really difficult if you have a mouthful of pepperoni pizza in the middle, because the bites of the biscuits you take after will look softer in contrast to the salty taste you just ate, it really makes you angry. balancing things this year by incorporating more unsweetened pastries into my repertoire.I just made a 100% whole wheat bread and it was really nice.
I think people think that as a culinary writer, you have total control over what you eat and your meal schedule, and the opposite is happening.
Yeah that's it. And that in itself can be a little stressful. Two weeks ago, just before my last trip to New York, I was testing chocolate chip cookies with Leaven, those fat, thick, monster cookies; Tate-style chocolate chip cookies, which are the thin and crispy kind; and homemade pancake mix. And I'm coming nice to want to die, because all these things are so nice, and so carby, and there is nothing you can do to fix it. Everything in my diet is very filthy and I am not a model of good health. You are like, "I have to make another batch to see what it is, and I also need to eat that to see what it is. And even when you're done with something, you say "okay, I think I've got it, we're done," you still have to do it one more time and eat one whole . Because if you create a perfectly seasoned cookie for a bite, but you've never eaten the entire cookie, this cookie may actually be way Too sweet, unless you know how the bites pile up together. Same thing with a pumpkin pie. You can not say "I only taste a spoonful of stuffing" as this may sound perfectly seasoned, but by the time you get to the end of an entire slice, you're like, "Oh my God, there is too much ginger. "So you have to eat an entire one, but if you try to eat it the same day you test a recipe, you'll be even sicker, so you have to somehow get it. It's very damn well, and everything in my diet is very filthy and I'm not a model of good health.
What do you usually have when you finally go to dinner?
Lately, we've had a real kick with Japanese food, partly because of the time of year – it's a bit like Japan's Le Crueset. You only cook in a heavy clay pot, so it's a slower method of heating than stainless steel. It's a bit similar to cooking in a thick Dutch oven, even though it's a very different material. It's all these stews and simmered dishes and a little more hearty cuisine. In the evening, it's quite heavy with vegetables because when I got there, I had a lot of stuff like scones, pancakes, cookies, cakes, and so on. I'm like "I do not even want pasta or bread." I usually just want tons of green vegetables, tons of vegetables and just an infinite amount of salt. I am generally a little weak on my dairy needs. I mean I like cheese a lot, but if you test a lot of dairy-based desserts at the end of the day, you say "do I want more dairy products in my body?" tofu, especially very good tofu.
What kind of tofu do you get? Do you have a favorite brand?
I do it! I am the worst. I do not have a soymilk maker, but I make my own soymilk, then I have nigari to turn it into tofu, and I have a little tin of tofu, and then I'll filter it and make tofu in a ramekin or something.
Do you find relaxing tasty food or just something you need to do to feed yourself?
It's more something I have to do to feed myself. I do not find it stressful; I find all the cooking projects relaxing. I like doing things a lot with my hands. I do not have the intuitive impression of cooking the same way, which is really ironic, because it makes me really want to follow the rules of a recipe, because I do not quite understand what to expect . But the kitchen is so free to mind, you know? Even with Daniel Gritzer, Culinary Director at Serious Eats, if I ask "how many grams do you think a big clove of garlic is?" He says, "Oh my God, Stella, stop. Take a clove of garlic. I'm like, "I know, but it's those tiny garlic heads in the winter, and they're really small and I'm not really sure what a garlic clove is supposed to be like." like … "I want to know! I do not have that level of intuition to draw from the kitchen.
You mentioned that you like to incorporate a ton of salt at dinner. How many types of salt do you have?
I am not a basket of superb salt. I have my crystal diamond for all my cooking. I have maldon for my table salt. I bought some sea salt that we had bought on vacation to be able to season the dishes on the road. So, I always have what I'm fine-tuning. It's not salt in itself, but I have a good bottle of Japanese soy sauce. It is an important form of sodium.
Besides this elegant soy sauce, do you have a condiment or seasoning that you put everything in?
The answer is crispy homemade chili. I'm panicked obsessed with this. I got it on a stolen bite from my husband's omelette today.
In your book, BraveTart, you have a lot of recipes for things that people usually buy pre-packaged, like Girl Scout cookies and Oreos. Are there pre-packaged bakery products that you buy?
There are some things that I buy for love, like Pocky sticks. These are the ones that are difficult to do properly. But bakery products? No, it's not like I'm going to turn down someone at someone's house. But generally, if I'm going to have one, I probably want to do it.
What about savory? Are there ready-to-eat frozen foods at Trader Joe's or snacks that you really like?
I have never been inside a Joe Trader's. I approached and looked out the windows and, as far as I know, it's a lot of things that other people have done, so I'm good! I can do everything! I know they have frozen dumplings or anything, but we have so many nice restaurants here in Lexington that, if I really want to eat meatballs, I'd rather support a local company. They do not cost much in a store reserved for mothers. But it's more of a philosophical approach to food; If you have to spend every moment of your day thinking about food, you tend to develop strange rules about it.
Can we see inside your refrigerator?
Yes. It's usually full of bakery projects, but since I've just returned, it's a little sterile.
Do you have a go-to order?
My formative dining experience is the Eveready Diner in Hyde Park, New York, which means my dinners order is made up of disco fries, which is kind of like a mess of chili cheese and gravy.
If it's not a fried disco, what's your favorite fried style?
I like classic french fries, although I have a place of choice in my heart for waffle fries. I really like a good fried waffles, so good texture. At Emmy Squared in Brooklyn, they have okonomi fries. So it's waffle fries with bonito chips and Kewpie mayonnaise. It's really ridiculous and excellent. Here in Lexington, a good friend of mine has a restaurant that is very close to our house and there is not a ton that is really close to home, so it's our place to eat and its fries are fantastic. It's a bit like my platonic ideal of fries, just a classic hand-cut red potato situation of normal length – nothing very long, normal size. They are perfect.
Do you have a snack at the cinema?
I am a bit of a popcorn girl. I want all the fake butter. I want all that.
Do you have popcorn at home?
I do not do it as often as I would like, because that's usually what I do not need in my life, that is extra carbohydrates. But I have a deep and constant love of popcorn. It is a food so pure and delicious. I love several varieties of popcorn and I do not appreciate them as much as I want them. I usually do it in refined coconut oil, then I salt up the crap and that's about it all. I want to put clarified butter on it, but not usually because I have too much fat in the day. I am on the butter.
Do you have a "sad meal" or "an impossible meal"?
That's why, recently, someone has tweeted this: what is my sad dessert or what do I cook when I'm sad? For me, these are two different questions. If I'm sad and I'm going to cook something, it's a more elaborate or complex project because I want to be distracted. I'm not one to say, "I'm just going to sit with my sadness and really feel it and get out of it," I'm like "Let me go." I can not even think about it. If I was sad and had dinner at the restaurant, I would probably order a poutine at my friend's restaurant and I would only have a bunch of juice and fries, maybe a hamburger or something like that . But if I'm sad at home and want to distract myself from it with a meal, I'll probably do something more elaborate, like lasagna, or something that will devour me in all my life.
How do you eat with all the trips?
I will usually have something like a banana and a coffee at the airport. I do not like to eat when I am restless, and when I am at the airport, I am usually restless, so I am kind of closed to the internally. The food does not calm me that way. I think about it too much. I will say "it's bad" or "it's badly seasoned". It is not satisfying that this part of your brain offers a critique. It reminds me of my only perfect food product, which of course is Biscoff biscuits. They are perfect. I would not change anything. I therefore tend to choose something that is more like what God has created, so I can not argue. It's just a banana. That's what it is. Plus, I do not want anything to touch hands – you know that banana has a zest to hold it – because I'm so paranoid about getting sick just by gently tapping the armrest of my seat. plane and taking somebody else 's germs, and give me a flu or something else. But also! It reminds me of my only perfect food product, which of course is Biscoff biscuits. They are perfect. I would not change anything.
If you could only choose one source of salt, one source of fat and one source of acid, what would you choose for each category?
I think I would choose Diamond Crystal kosher salt. I'm sure I would choose cheap unsalted American butter for my fat. A source of acid, huh? This is a difficult case. I like all forms of acidic things. Oh my God. Do I choose professionally or personally?
I will let you do both, because I am very kind.
A benevolent goddess! D & # 39; agreement. Ok, this is a brand new ventilation. So that's all. Crystal Crystal Crystal Crystal Salt and cheap unsalted American butter are my salt and fat, professionally. My professional acid would probably be lemon juice. I would definitely have my Maldon salt, and my fat would probably be elegant olive oil. It would be in my salad, it would be to soak things, make slices of bread and cook with. And my acid would probably be a very good cider vinegar. I did not really know that there was a good apple cider vinegar. I thought it was kind of "that's it", but Michael Harlan Terkell, who wrote the book Acid travel– He did some publications for us at Serious Eats, and he put me in touch with – I think the brand calls it O-Med – apple cider vinegar, and that's even better. dazzled. It's so perfect and delicious. It's really good in a vinaigrette and it's really good with roast chicken and it's great everywhere.
I want to talk about how much you hate cooking under vacuum.
I understand why you hate it in your work. It seems like it could be completely useless.
It's not necessarily. It's a bit difficult because I have this fragmented psyche in pastry. So there is a part of me that has spent years working in a restaurant, and I can quite see the charm of vacuum under many circumstances. At the Table Three Ten restaurant, where I worked, and it's here that Food & Wine has named me as the best new pastry chef in the United States, where my entire career has been built. I literally had a pot and a burner for 100% all the tasks I had to perform in the kitchen. For me, the advantage of cooking under vacuum is to allow you to do things you could not have done otherwise. This is useful. If you are like "I have to poach a bunch of pears under vacuum", it's perfect! Do it! Go! Or, if I have to infuse cream and herbs, it's a great way to warm things up and hold them without using a stove. It certainly has its applications. You can temper the chocolate with if necessary. There are totally valid and good ways to use it. I like it a lot from the point of view of a restaurant, but from the point of view of a home cook – I mean maybe if you have a little kitchen and you do not have a kitchen. do not have many burners. Allison Roman has regularly posted photos of her incredibly small kitchen and tiny four-burner stove, but she still has a four-burner stove and a four-burner stove. If you have a extremely You will probably have two burners in the small kitchen of the house, but most home cooks have a stove and, boy, you can do so much on the stove. So, for me, the advantage of emptiness is to allow you to do things you could not do otherwise. So, if you do not have the resources to break pears, sous-vide is perfect for that. Or if you do not have a reliable oven and you really want to simply put your creme sous vide, be my guest. I also appreciate the evaporation that occurs in a lot of recipes. I would prefer to make my crème brûlée, but I know that everyone does not agree with that.
With tempered chocolate, do you think it's an easier or perhaps less scary way to do it because you have exact control over the temperature?
I think it really depends on what you want to do with chocolate, because the viscosity is very different. You get a chocolate that is going to be very thick, so it can be a little more difficult to soak. But under vacuum is a very good way to melt chocolate while ensuring that it never exceeds its threshold. You know, that's why you can not just throw chocolate in the microwave. You will overheat and it will go crazy. With the vacuum, you can throw it at a very low temperature, like 80? 90? – and melt the chocolate without ever losing its coolness in the first place. Then you can use it to cut out leaves and create a garnish for dessert, or to cover a cookie, or for other objects that you physically handle rather than soaking something. That's all I need to work.
So, do not you think it's a good method for soaking strawberries?
If you like chocolate strawberries, I think it would be good. I think people do not worry at all about a thicker layer of chocolate. I can not make chocolate strawberries, so I can not talk about it personally. It's like a phobia. It's the texture of a juicy and wet strawberry and the texture of a creamy and crispy chocolate. It bothers me deeply to have both in the mouth at the same time. It's absolutely horrible for me. The strawberry is so cold and the chocolate does not melt in the mouth. Everything is waxy, and then you have that mass of waxy fat that melts slowly on your tongue with the cold juicy juice of the strawberry that circles in circles. Not in it.
I mean, when you say it like that, I do not know anymore that I'm in it.
[Laughs] I'm sorry that my horror completely derailed our conversation. If you want to dip truffles or something for which you want a very fine and delicate shell, I have the feeling that my vacuum results have not been sufficiently fluid. And it is very possible that there are solutions to this problem. I never had circumstances that motivated me enough to explore the ways.
What is the thing you want all bakers at home to know?
What I would like everyone to understand is that not all universal flours are the same. This is not a regulated term. Some all-purpose flours are made from 100% white and chlorinated white wheat flour, which has a completely different behavior than other brands, which can be made from 100% hard wheat flour and is totally untreated. . And then there are flours that are a mixture of white and red wheat, and they are everywhere on the map. Some are high in protein, some in starch, and vice versa. The best that any baker can do is to find a brand he likes and stick to it, and tell you what brand it is, for courtesy. So I always try to specify in my recipes the type of flour that I use. And I think some people get a little salty. They say, "Well, if you make a recipe that only works with one type of flour, you're not a very good baker." all Bakers prepare a recipe that works only with one type of flour, unless the latter also tests their recipe with several brands of flour – honestly, I do not think most recipe designers invest this kind of time. So, the best that any baker can do is find a brand he likes and stick to it, and tell you what brand it is, courtesy. People do not understand that, and they just say, "I prepared myself with this flour and it does not work. This recipe is bad. Well, this flour contains comparatively much less starch, or contains a lot more protein, or is much richer in starch, and it will affect everything. So, if you have persistent problems with their cookies that do not spread enough, or their cake having too coarse structure – or some kind of structure similar to corn bread – try a different flour.
This is one of the reasons why I do not envy your work at all. There is so much chemistry that many people are not aware. You are dealing with so many factors with flour alone, then you go to the butter, and it's a whole set of factors …
For sure. Each ingredient! Every ingredient is that kind of – is it a thick or light cream? Is it homogenized or not homogenized? There is an incredible array of interacting variables, and even if you can control all the variables, including the type of pan and plate and the baking dish, as well as all the material, that's another variable. huge. Serious Eats is partly responsible for this. We love to focus on science and can to be controlled, and the variables we can identify and name and explore. But in the end, cooking involves a lot of skill. People say, "I followed the recipe until the T, I measured it to the gram, I used all the brands you recommended, and it was still a failure. "It still requires practice and experience. Cooking is so tied to special occasions. People want to do something good for someone else – make them a birthday cake or cookies for the office – and they strive to do everything that the company says. recipe, and I can understand how frustrating it would be to really feel you were making an extra effort and then the results are mediocre. That sucks. It's like knitting your first scarf. It will take some tests to fully understand the movement, get a good rhythm and get these smooth and regular loops. I'm sure I would know the word, if I were a knitter. Cooking is like a lab experiment or a lab procedure, right? Scientists will do an experiment, which will then have to be reproducible. And someone else in the lab somewhere else must be able to confirm that the thing can be done. And it's a little crazy to think that there is someone who says "Yes, it's confirmed." This can quite be done. This does not mean that you are good or that you will do it right away.This interview has been modified for clarity and brevity.