Rose Levy Beranbaum’s foray into dessert making came when she went off to college and tasted her first home-baked cake. Although she loved the taste, she did not like its texture, so set off to change that, which began a decadent career of adding sweetness to the lives of home bakers everywhere.
“My goal became to create a cake that could have the texture of a box mix, but with the flavor of a scratch cake,” said the Far Rockaway native who grew up on the Upper West Side. “That was my master’s, in fact, I wrote “Does sifting affect the quality of a yellow cake mix?” And I just investigated every aspect of cake baking and when I finally got to test out all my theories, it ultimately became “The Cake Bible.””
“The Cake Bible,” now in its 60th printing, was named Cookbook of the Year from the International Association of Culinary Professionals when it was released in 1988. Generations are still baking using the recipes in that book, which warms her heart. “Somebody had grown up with cakes from “The Cake Bible” and now she inherited her grandmother’s or mother’s book and she’s making them for her children,” she said of a memorable letter she received. Another fan wrote from India to say he had never baked before but started a bakery using the recipes in her book.
The prolific author now has 13 titles, including her newest, “The Cookie Bible,” which hits bookshelves on Oct. 18. She worked on the project with her co-author, Woody Wolston, whom she married in 2021. The pair live on a mountaintop in Hope, New Jersey and bake recipes for their cookbooks in their basement test kitchen.
As for her future plans, she’s currently working on the new edition of “The Cake Bible,” which will be published in 2023 and already started penning a memoir entitled “Ma Vie en Rose.”
What made you want to go into baking?
It goes pretty far back actually because my grandmother used to always try to get me to eat because I wasn’t interested in her food. When people don’t love what they’re doing in cooking, they’re not gonna do a good job. So there were very few things that I would be willing to eat. But one day, she made an apple pie, and people from the old country knew how to make bread, they knew how to make everything because they had to. So I still remember to this day saying to her, “This I will eat.” And she said, “And this I won’t be making again because it’s not worth the effort.”
And then when I went to the University of Vermont and I tasted my first home-baked cake, I thought, “Wow.” And it was so different from the birthday cakes, because of course, everybody goes to kids’ birthday parties and has them.
Both of your grandmothers were in the garment trade, so you actually started at FIT.
One day, my teacher said to me, “You know you really are good with your hands.” And I was very proud, but I knew it, and I said, “Thank you very much” and was patting myself proverbially on the back. And then she continued with, “But you are not super diluper.” And I realized she was teaching there because she also didn’t make it on Seventh Avenue. Super diluper were the kids who could draw without even looking at a picture, they were just that good. So I transferred all my credits to NYU and was working at NYU Medical Center and got free tuition so I took as many credits as I could and in seven years I got not only my BS, but my master’s as well. I always love to say I went from draping fabric to draping fondant.
Tell us about your connection to Julia Child.
I was married at 17 and we couldn’t afford a TV and so I would go with my former husband an hour each direction when he was going to graduate school to go to the girls’ dorm and watch Julia, who just started her program. I would come home and make something I had seen on that show. And I remember once I made the Mile High Cheese Soufflé with a Coulis de Tomates. My husband said, “That was really wonderful, now what’s for dinner?” I just never in a million years thought that not only would I meet Julia, but that she would call me when “The Cake Bible” came out and I was on the “Good Morning America” show and say, “Congratulations Dearie.” And I thought, “(Life) has come a full circle. It’s like a miracle.”
I read that you wrote your first cookbook on an IBM typewriter.
The very first book that I did was “Romantic and Classic Cakes.” That was part of the Great American Cooking School series. It was all single spaced and they had to hire somebody to retype it because no editor would look at a single-spaced manuscript.
You married Woody in June 2021 after you were widowed in 2019.
We got married during that small window between COVID variants. I’ve been married twice before and neither of my two husbands believed in marriage. They just felt why not just live together. So here is the first man who actually wanted to get married and he said, “Well could I at least have a wedding ring?” And I said, “Here, take my Honda keyring.” And it was a perfect fit, so when we got married, we designed a ring that’s like that Honda key ring.
Your wedding cake was the Deep Chocolate Passion. Tell us the story behind it.
Two of our closest friends we wanted to invite were in south India: Miro and Shilpa Uskokovic. He is the pastry chef at Gramercy Tavern and she is now food editor at Bon Appétit. They wrote the intro to “The Cookie Bible” and had baked their way through “The Cake Bible” when they were students at the CIA. They asked what they could do for us and I said kiddingly, “If you were here I’d ask you to bake the cake.” They scheduled the next flight back to the US, but due to the increase in COVID in India, they had to quarantine and by the time they returned they were able to make the cake but not to come to the wedding. They asked what kind of cake I wanted, and I said our favorite wedding cake, The Deep Chocolate Passion. So through their cake they were there in spirit.
What are the keys to being a good baker?
I guess one of the major things is being willing to follow the rules, at least the first time you make something. To be exacting. People described Julia Child as her writing is precise and that could be my middle name, precision. And I think that if people aren’t interested in being precise and using weights instead of measure because if you measure flour two different ways, you’ll get maybe almost double the amount.
What are your most popular recipes?
The Chocolate Oblivion is one of the top favorites. As far as pies and pastry, my Flaky and Tender Cream Cheese Pie Crust. People have been making it for years. I get a lot of feedback, so I have a sense of what people especially love. I think what people love about my recipes, and I’ve been hearing that a lot since I made the announcement about the total revision and new edition of “The Cake Bible,” people are saying that they’re foolproof, that they’re totally reliable.
I saw that Jennifer Garner follows you.
The first time I saw that, I thought, “It can’t be the Jennifer Garner.” And it was. As soon as she started doing her “Pretend Cooking Show,” my Instagram [following] went up immediately 3,000 in one day. She made something from “The Bread Bible,” and she said she made it for her kids’ lunchboxes. It was the Chocolate Bread. So we’ve become friends and we’ve exchanged very intimate, personal things.