Dorie Greenspan on Simple French Sweets and ‘Baking Chez Moi’

Authors, Meet

Dorie Greenspan on Simple French Sweets and Baking Chez Moi

When renowned cookbook author Dorie Greenspan set out to write a book about French pastry, she delved immediately into the magnificent, artistic creations arranged behind the glass cases of Paris’s best patisseries. But along the way, she realized that the simplest desserts are the ones closest to people’s hearts: the homey cakes, rustic galettes and cookies we bring to friends. These treats inspired the recipes in her new book (out October 28th!), Baking Chez Moi: Recipes from My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere.


In Baking Chez Moi, Dorie shares dessert recipes from all over France. There are cakes (Odile’s Fresh Orange Cake, from a friend’s family recipe); tarts (a Cherry Crumb Tart starring Alsace’s abundant fruits); miniature pastries (Lemon Madeleines, baked with tips from famous pastry chefs of Paris); candies (Soft Salted-Butter Caramels starring Brittany’s fleur de sel); and many more bars, cookies, custards and creams. Each one has a story and a place in Dorie’s kitchen, and none are very difficult to make.


Here, Dorie tells us all about Baking Chez Moi, the recipes and stories that inspired her most, and what she bakes most often when she’s at home in Paris. We also share a recipe from the book– try it yourself, and join us next week for a book signing with Dorie (details below)!


Dorie Greenspan on Simple French Sweets and Baking Chez MoiTell us about the evolution of this book. Why did you change your focus from “haute couture” French pastry to home-baked desserts?

The short answer is that I’ve always loved homebaking – it’s my own personal style of baking. But like most people, when I thought of French “pastry” I thought of the fancy sweets in polished pâtisseries. My plan was to study the repertoire of haute pastry, but as I listened to the chefs describing or demonstrating a complicated dessert, I found myself eyeing the simple loaf cakes, plain rounds and rustic tarts. After a couple of these experiences, I knew I had to return to my true love.


What was so funny was that it was only once I’d start down the simple path that I realized that each time I’d talked to a top chef, at some point he’d tell about his mother’s chocolate cake or an egg custard or an unglazed cookie he adored. I had been so focused on the “haute” that I’d ignored his memories of home.


In the end, we all love the same thing: sweets that soothe and satisfy us. It’s why Baking Chez Moi is about what I’ve come to think of as “comfort baking.”


How do the French bake at home? What characterizes the sweets they make themselves? 

The French don’t bake at home the way we Americans do. We’re ambitious homebakers willing to spend a weekend baking something challenging; the French don’t bake at home. At least they don’t bake anything complicated, finicky, tricky or unreliable.


When the French have company coming for dinner, they buy dessert from their favorite pastry shop. When they bake at home, they bake for their families and their dearest friends. And what they bake is simple and homey, no frills or flourishes. Most often the sweets have a tie to memory, tradition or the place the baker grew up. And if it’s a tart, you can be sure it was made with dough from the supermarket. Even the smallest grocery in France stocks all-butter, already-rolled-out dough for sweet and savory tarts.


What were some of the simple French desserts you first fell in love with? 

I’ve always had a soft spot for what the French call “weekend cakes” or “gâteau voyage” and what we call loaf cakes, the sturdy cakes that, as their name explains, will last the weekend, be right for tea or breakfast, through-the-day nibbling, a long car trip or a lazy picnic. I love everything custardy and the French are masters at mousse, crème caramel and pots de crème, a nursery custard that can be made in just about every flavor and flavor combination. Ditto French tarts. Ditto the small cake-pastries, like financiers with their base of ground nuts and egg whites. And I adore French cookies, especially the plainest and, to me most delicious, butter cookies known as sablés. Oh wait, and the spiced Speculoos. And the Croquants, the crunchy cookies that are like biscotti, but not double-baked.


On those early trips to France, I couldn’t get enough of the simplest sweets. I still can’t.


What kind of research did you do for Baking Chez Moi? Who did you talk to, where did you go — what was your process for finding recipes? 

Technically, I worked on Baking Chez Moi for five years, but the truth is that I’ve been working on it in some way for decades, since whenever I’m in France, I’m on the lookout for recipes. However, I did make special trips around France to ferret out recipes – I went to Alsace, the birthplace of some of my favorite pastry chefs and the home of a million great sweets; to Lyon, the belly of France and a wonderful place for chocolate; to Lille, in the north of France, where brown sugar rules; to the south of France, where everything tastes of sunshine; to Brittany, the land of salt, salted butter and caramel; and to every other corner of France. I talked to every baker I met and if I didn’t get a recipe, I almost always got an idea, an inspiration, a tip or a new technique.


I talked to people in cafés, owners and servers in my favorite restaurants (if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have gotten Laetitia’s Canistrelli or Edouard’s wonderful cookies), taxi cab drivers and people standing near me on lines. The only thing the French love more than eating food is talking about food and everyone was happy to chat food with me.


And, of course I talked to all my friends, and so many of them gave me great recipes. But not without my having to beg them. It wasn’t that they weren’t willing to share the recipes, it was that they were always sure they were too simple. It took me almost forever to convince them that simple was what I wanted. And guess what? When I finally got the recipes, it turned out that they were simple. But they were also perfect!


Can you tell us about any special or remarkable recipes you discovered (or from unlikely sources)?

Two of the most surprising recipes in the book are two of the simplest. One is the Moka Dupont. My friend Bernard had been telling me about this recipe for years, since it’s the cake he’s had for his birthday since he was a very small boy. When I finally got the recipe, I was knocked out – it’s an icebox cake made with storebought cookies! Whodda thunk? The other recipe, now one of my favorite nibbles, is Desert Roses, craggy, bumpy, chocolate snacks made with … are you ready? … cornflakes! I think of them as the French equivalent of our Rice Krispies Treats.


The mystery of Cannelés, custardy mini-cakes with a crispy, caramelized shell, was revealed to me my the elegant woman seated next to me at the restaurant Le Six. And the recipe for Slow-Roasted Pineapple came to me while I was having my hair cut.


It makes me so happy that after so many, many years of writing cookbooks, I can always find something new to learn and something that will surprise me.


What are some of the most important baking tips or lessons you’ve learned from French cooks and chefs?

Homecooks and professional chefs are so different and so are the lessons I’ve learned from them. With homebakers it’s all about love – truly. With professionals it’s all about perfection and consistency. And with both them, it’s always about great ingredients and sharing what you’ve baked.


What do you bake at home most often when you’re in France? 

I bake just about every day no matter where I am. But when I’m in France, I bake like a French woman – I’ll make tarts (although I always make my own dough for the crusts) and galettes (open-faced, freeform tarts) and custards, simple loaf cakes and fruit desserts. I bake cookies all the time and everywhere – I love to bring them to friends as gifts. And bake American-style desserts with a French accent. Recipes like the Philadelphia Blueberry-Corn Tart, Strawberry Shortcakes Franco-American Style and the Apple Pielets tickle my friends and give me the chance to give them a taste of the American way with sweets.


Please choose a recipe to share and tell us what you love about it! 

It’s always hard for me to choose a recipe – I love them all! – but one that I turn to over and over again is Laurent’s Slow-Roasted Pineapple. While I make it all through the year, it’s particularly good this time of year and great for the holidays. The bones of the recipe are a ripe pineapple, jam, orange juice, something boozy, like dark rum, cognac or Armagnac (or more oj) and whatever spices you have in the cupboard. Everything gets mixed together and the fruit is roasted and basted in a low oven until it’s almost candied. It’s a knock-out! And the leftover syrupy sauce is great over ice cream, mixed into sparkling water and stirred into a cocktail. I like to serve the pineapple with my Lemon Madeleines, but I admit that that’s gilding an already golden dessert.


Laurent’s Slow-Roasted Spiced Pineapple

Laurent’s Slow-Roasted Spiced Pineapple


Laurent Tavernier isn’t even my hair stylist, but he knows that I love food, and so whenever I’m in the salon for a cut, he takes time to chat with me about what he’s made over the weekend. When he gave me this recipe, I didn’t wait for the weekend to try it. The dessert is simple enough: a slow-roasted ripe pineapple with a thick aromatic sauce. As it roasts, it’s basted with orange juice, booze, jelly and a mix of spices until it is fork-tender and almost confited, or candied. How much juice? “Oh, about this much,” Laurent said, making finger measurements that wavered. How much booze? “About the same amount.” And what kind? “Whatever you’ve got.” And the jelly? “Oh, you know, apple or quince or apricot or, no matter.” (Two tries later, Laurent told me that I should use a whole jar of jelly.) And the spices? “Again, whatever you’ve got—even a hot pepper!”


I’ve given you a real recipe (kind of ), but my inclination is to tell you to take a leaf from Laurent’s book and let inspiration and whatever you’ve got in the cupboard guide you. Having made this so many times with so many combinations, I can now say with confidence what Laurent told me when he first described the dish, “You’ll love it.”


A word on size and servings: In Paris, I make these with the small pineapples known as Victorias. They’re squat and compact and one fruit serves two to four, depending on what else is on the dinner menu and who’s around the table. In the United States, where pineapples are much larger, I figure one for six to eight people, usually eight. If you’d like, you can roast two pineapples at a time—the syrup multiplies easily.


1 ripe pineapple

½ cup (120 ml) freshly squeezed orange juice (from about 2 oranges)

½ cup (120 ml) Cognac, brandy, Scotch, Grand Marnier, bourbon, rum or other liquor (or an equal amount of orange juice)

1 jar (about 12 ounces; 340 grams) apple or quince jelly, apricot jam or orange marmalade

1 moist, fragrant vanilla bean, split lengthwise (optional)

Whole spices, lightly bruised, such as a few each of star anise, cardamom, coriander, pink peppercorns, allspice or cloves (no more than 3); fresh ginger slices; a cinnamon stick (broken); a small hot pepper (just 1 or a piece of 1); and/or black peppercorns (just a few)


Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.


Cut the top and bottom off the pineapple. Stand it upright and, using a sturdy knife, peel it by cutting between the fruit and the skin, following the contours of the pineapple. With the tip of a paring knife, remove the “eyes” (the tough dark spots). Cutting from top to bottom, quarter the pineapple and then cut away the core. Place the pineapple in a baking dish or small roasting pan that holds it snugly while still leaving you enough room to turn and baste the fruit.


Whisk the juice, liquor and jelly, jam, or marmalade together. Don’t worry about fully incorporating the jelly—it will melt in the oven—you just want to break it up. Pour the mixture over the pineapple, toss in the vanilla bean, if you’re using it, and scatter over the spices. Bake the pineapple for about 2 hours, basting and turning it in the syrup every 20 minutes or so, until it is tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife. The fruit should have absorbed enough of the syrup to seem candied. Allow the pineapple to cool until it is comfortably warm or reaches room temperature. Laurent strains the syrup and discards the spices, making the dish more elegant, but I leave them in because I love the way they look speckling the sauce; if you’re going to strain the syrup, do it while it’s hot — it’s easier.


The temperature you serve this at is, like so much of this recipe, up to you—warm or room temperature is best, but chilled is also good.


Excerpted from BAKING CHEZ MOI, (c) 2014 by Dorie Greenspan. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.


Meet Dorie Greenspan


Join us at your local Williams-Sonoma store for a special book signing, baking demonstration and tasting with Dorie Greenspan. She will be signing copies of her new cookbook, Baking Chez Moi: Recipes from My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere


With her groundbreaking bestseller Around My French Table, Dorie Greenspan changed the way we view French food. Now, in Baking Chez Moi, she explores the fascinating world of French desserts, bringing together a charmingly uncomplicated mix of contemporary recipes, including original creations based on traditional and regional specialties, and drawing on seasonal ingredients, market visits, and her travels throughout the country.

Columbus Circle

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 at 6:00pm
10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019
(212) 581-1146

Please visit Eventbrite or call the store to purchase a book and secure your spot.


*Dorie will only be signing copies of Baking Chez Moi purchased at the Williams-Sonoma store where the event is being held. Proof of purchase required.

3 comments about “Dorie Greenspan on Simple French Sweets and ‘Baking Chez Moi’

  1. French Fridays with Dorie: Baking Chez Moi Book Signing

  2. Congratulations to the 2015 James Beard Awards Finalists! | Williams-Sonoma Taste

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *