Open Sesame: Meet Claire Saffitz
We were delighted to interview everyone's favorite baker, author, recipe developer and YouTube super star, Claire Saffitz! Claire's new book, Dessert Person, is destined to be a classic. So many sweet treats to make over the holidays and beyond! Grab a copy of her book here.
Q: What are some of the tunes in your kitchen playlist?
I love listening to classic rock in the kitchen, like Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, or Bruce Springsteen. It's nostalgic for me and I can mindlessly sing or hum along, which puts me in a happy headspace.
Q: What’s the last thing you ate that brought you joy?
I had a craving for French onion soup, I think because the weather has turned darker and colder recently, which means soup season. I made a beef broth from oxtails and used that as the base (most of the meat went into another soup I made, but I included a little bit with the onions, which made it extra rich). I also added some sherry to the recipe, which was something my mom used to do, and it just makes it taste "right" to me. The final soup was just so delicious, so flavorful, and so incredibly comforting.
Q: What's an ingredient that you love that you think people underestimate?
I think people underestimate vanilla. Somehow "vanilla" because a synonym for "boring" or "bland" or "pedestrian," but I think it's anything but. I should say, though, that I am talking about good, real vanilla, not the imitation stuff. The seeds from a juicy vanilla bean add such otherworldly flavor that can transform a very simple dessert like a custard into an extraordinary dessert. More often I think vanilla should be the star flavor, not a supporting ingredient.
Q: Who are your culinary heroes?
I have many! I grew up watching Julia Child, who became -for me as for so many- a paragon of the passionate and knowledgeable cook. Julia Child was opinionated and unafraid to share exactly what she thought, but she was not a snob. I have always admired her combination of joy and rigor in the kitchen, and I try to emulate that. In addition to Julia, and for similar reasons, I deeply admire Claudia Fleming, the famed New York pastry chef. She is warm and generous and just has unsurpassed skill and taste levels.
Q: Favorite Sunday night dinner?
Pasta is pretty much the number one thing I want to eat 100% of the time, so for me it's hard to beat a bowl of bucatini pomodoro. I love bucatini as a pasta shape, particularly the way it holds onto tomato sauce. My husband is a former chef and has a particular talent around pasta dishes. His pomodoro is simple, quick, and yet better than pretty much anything I've eaten at a restaurant. It's just the most satisfying dish.
Q: Favorite food travel destination?
There are so many places I have yet to visit, but among the destinations I've already visited, Paris has to be the favorite. That's where I attended culinary school and my time there was particularly food-focused. I didn't actually eat at many restaurants, so more often than not I made meals out of the finest foodstuffs that France has to offer: bread, charcuterie, and cheese. And of course- the pastry! My favorite thing to do was peruse the markets and ogle at the gorgeous displays of French produce.
Q: What seasonal fruit or vegetable do you count down the days for?
Come late June, I have my head on a swivel at the farmers market for sour cherries. The window is short, and they are my favorite fruit to use in baking. I also have similar excitement around Italian plums in late summer and quince in the fall. They're all magical fruits, and I find that the baking process enhances their flavors and textures.
Q: What's a “foodie” related book, podcast, or movie you love?
I love learning about culinary history, and I often think about this episode of the podcast Gastropod from a few years ago. It's a fascinating study of the history and science around citrus fruit, plus it manages to include a bit of drama.
Q: Which restaurant are you missing the most during this pandemic?
I desperately miss a Vietnamese takeout and counter spot in my neighborhood called Saiguette. The food is always a perfect riot of flavor and texture, always hitting optimal notes of sweet, sour, fatty, and crunchy. I can't express how delicious the food is. It has been closed through all of Covid, and I pray for its return. I check the website twice a week for updates. I dream about their banh mi.
Q: What kitchen smell is most nostalgic for you?
This is easy! One of my earliest kitchen memories is my dad sautéing sliced garlic in olive oil to make linguini and clams. I must have been 4 years old, and even then I remember thinking that there is no better smell in the world. I still stand by that today! That smell will always be nostalgic for me.