As I mentioned before, trying to stay on track with this interview wasn’t easy (I think I need to take a journalism class). But here’s what Rose had to say on the subject of my criticism and the subject of excess.
JP: So let’s focus on what we’re supposed to be talking about today: the criticisms I had about the book.
RLB: Of course. If I were any kind of normal person the first thing I’d want to do is defend myself, right? What’s wrong with me? (Laughs)
JP: So let me offer a summary. There are a lot of toppings and fillings and sauces in Rose’s Heavenly Cakes, more I think than in a typical Rose Levy Beranbaum book. Why?
RLB: I get your whole point, but what really confused me about what you wrote is that when I do interviews I tell people that my goal for writing this book was to present cakes that didn’t need any adornment. (Laughs) Isn’t that ironic?
JP: I’d sure say so, so how did…
RLB: Like the lemon almond cake or the lemon poppyseed cake or even the fruitcake. There are so many cakes in there, the gâteau Breton is one of them, so is the Swedish pear and almond, that have no adornment at all. I could make a list of those.
JP: I’m not disputing that those cakes are in there. But there are quite a few conspicuous examples of cakes that have an awful lot of icing and filling…
RLB: But then there’s whipped cream cake, the spice cake, the banana refrigerator cake, which is wonderful with the buttercream, but you don’t have to have it with buttercream. And the Orange Glow Chiffon Layer Cake, it’s got the most incredible texture by the way, and I serve it with just whipped cream and marmalade on the side.
JP: But the ones that have adornments seem to have a lot. The presentation, the photography, is certainly far more sensuous that I’m used to from a Rose Levy Berenbaum book.
RLB: To that I’d say when you’re doing a book that has pictures and you have the opportunity to do full-page color pictures, you want them to look as inviting and wonderful and luscious as you possibly can. Otherwise you’d just be putting a plain cake there, you know?
JP: Yes I see that. So you set out to make a book about unadorned cakes, and what you’re saying is that this is the way it evolved for purposes of presentation?
RLB: No. But I didn’t want a book of all unadorned cakes, even though those are my favorite cakes, the ones that don’t need anything. But then there are some I thought that lended themselves to something more. I like simplicity, but I also have a sense of visual art. So if something lends itself to visualization, I’ll be inclined in that direction.
JP: Were some of those inclinations exaggerated when the pictures were taken?
RLB: [My food stylist] may have made some things look a little more lavish and added a little bit more for photography’s sake, but not much, and I take full responsibility for that. These are my designs, she was working from my photographs. The adornments are true to the balance of what I like in proportion to the cake. True there are a lot of special touches, like some spun sugar on the Saint-Honoré Trifle, they don’t need to be there, that are optional. People can consider most of these touches as options. But what a wonderful thing it would be, I thought when I set out to do this book, to have a work book and coffee table book all rolled into one, one that can inspire you to greater heights, or one that can be just as good if you leave out some of the special touches.
JP: I think that’s the conclusion I ultimately came to when I was looking at the book, that while in several cases the toppings and fillings were too much for me, that I could always scale them to whatever I wanted.
RLB: That’s right. But I also want to say this: that if there’s going to be a buttercream, and a substantial amount, it’s got to be something you can’t stop eating, otherwise what’s the point, right? (LAUGHS) I don’t want to put it on something just to have it on there. I wouldn’t put it there if I didn’t think it would be delicious.