If I have any regrets about last week’s interview with Rose Levy Beranbaum it’s that I didn’t engage her more on the subject of Continental pastry-making and the relationship of American baking to it. I wish I’d delved a little deeper, since she had some surprisingly strong feelings on the matter. One thing that’s stayed with me all week was Beranbaum’s story about a publisher’s refusal to even consider the Pastry Bible for publication in Europe because, as he said, “the French would laugh” at her approach to pastry.
Why did this fellow think the French would laugh? Clearly, because of Beranbaum’s non-traditional, explorational approach to techniques and materials. Though the decision itself might be best characterized as ignorant, his assessment was certainly spot-on. For of all the things one might say about say about Rose Levy Beranbaum it’s that there are no sacred cows in her kitchen. This is a woman who is constantly questioning, examining and re-examining the technical underpinnings of every formula and method. That’s what makes her books — including Rose’s Heavenly Cakes — such a treasure trove of information for the serious baker.
The problem is that innovation — particularly Beranbaum’s brand of constant, unrelenting innovation — is not the first thing that leaps to mind when one considers European baking. Thus Beranbaum’s apparent love-hate relationship with the Continent. One story that stuck out because of its relevance to recent joepastry.com history regarded her visit to the Sacher kitchens to witness the making of Sacher Torte. “There was this huge build-up to it like it was this big deal that I was going to be allowed in there to see it,’ Beranbaum said. “And the whole thing turned out to be such a huge…nothing.”
Hilarious…at least to me (sorry Gerhard). But then what else would you expect from a woman who runs a 24-hour-a-day baking and pastry R&D department out of her own kitchen? How logical that her attitude would be why must these people be so mired in tradition when there are so many new and exciting things waiting to be incorporated into the world of baking?
I have to marvel at how classically, beautifully American that sentiment is. And it just so happens that it’s a theme I’m constantly returning to here on joepastry.com. I have always maintained and I still maintain that New World bakers are the most prolific and experimental in the world (though in fairness the Japanese now belong in that category). This week I’ve realized, as if it wasn’t completely obvious to begin with, that Rose Levy Berenbaum is an embodiment of this audacious, independent, optimistic spirit. Long may she — and it — live.