I love getting questions from you people. It reminds me you’re there and you are listening. Some of you reading may be asking yourself, “Wha?! I asked her a question months ago and she never responded.” It’s true. I’m sorry. In the jungle of my inbox I have been known to let a few emails slip through the vines. If one of those emails was from you, I’m so sorry. Please feel free to resend.

There are some questions that I get repeatedly. In which case I figure there is probably more than a couple of you wondering the same thing. So why not answer a few of those questions right here for all to see?

Everything I know about food, parenting and life in general I’ve learned from someone else. One who has been there before me, paved the path, made mistakes, and has learned from said mistakes. The people who have taught me mean more to me than I could ever possibly express. Their vulnerability and willingness to share their talent and secrets with me is a gift I don’t take lightly. I still have much to learn (much) but there is little that makes me happier than being able to inspire others with the gifts God has blessed me with and share the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

So if you have questions please don’t hesitate to ask. I can’t promise I’ll get to them all but I will sure try.

Here’s the first question I’m going to tackle:

“I am interested in becoming a baker and/or chocolatier,
however the only school in my town that offers a Culinary degree has a
schedule from 9 to 4 Monday thru Friday. I’m unfortunately not in the position
yet to quit my current job, so in the meantime I’m hoping to train myself as
much as possible at home and take any community classes I can. Do you have any
books you recommend that will help me learn the science and proper techniques
behind baking and chocolate making? Thank you!”

Good for you. I did the very thing. Studied like crazy at home while working at bakeries and restaurants. My first night working at Spago I quickly realized (or it was sternly pointed out to me) I couldn’t quenelle if it saved my life. At 2 am I stopped by Ralph’s and picked up a gallon of ice cream. I didn’t go to bed until my quenelle’s were perfectly formed scoop after scoop after scoop.

Baking Illustrated is a wonderful book. Brought to you by the people of Cooks Illustrated. In it there are very basic baking recipes from scones to cookies, cakes to crumbles. By their very nature they’ve exhaustively tested each recipe and explain their choices in offering up the recipe they liked the best. Through simply reading through the book you will get a better understanding of common ingredients and how they interact with one another.

I often tell my students in my classes that you have to be prepared to make mistakes. I do it all the time! It’s what you do with those mistakes that makes you a great baker. Understanding your ingredients is crucial. YOU control the ingredients – don’t let them control you.

So to that end I also recommend Understanding Baking, How Baking Works and Baker’s Manual (5th Edition). All of these are great resources in getting a better idea of the chemistry involved in baking. Baking is a science – that’s exciting, not scary. Sticking to a basic ratio (Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking – a must!) you’ll have great success and can insert much creativity from there. But you must first know how it all works.

You can also buy the textbooks that are used in Culinary school.

Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft

The Professional Pastry Chef: Fundamentals of Baking and Pastry, 4th Edition

These are exhaustive books that cover all basic baking recipes. They are great foundational books to understand the classic pastries and the basic ratios of the recipes. Having a solid foundation of classic baking will allow you to be more creative and give your pastries a unique twist.

To whet your creativity, look to the pros. They’ve studied pastry for years and offer an unending source of inspiration and encouragement. Some of my favorites – Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts: Recipes from Citizen Cake So creative and fun.

And of course both books by Sherry Yard are fantastic and I’m not just saying that because I worked with her and helped on the second book. I can attest to her recipes and she offers solid practical tips and advice.The Secrets of Baking: Simple Techniques for Sophisticated Desserts

Desserts by the Yard: From Brooklyn to Beverly Hills: Recipes from the Sweetest Life Ever

Alice Medrich’s recipes are flawless. Classic, simple and most often the best sweets I’ve had.

Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate

She has so many great books. This one is one of my favorites. Of course I adore chocolate.

Speaking of chocolate – that’s really how my passion for pastry began. I started a handmade chocolate business. I had a bit of training while working at The Essential Baking Co. in Seattle but really most of what I learned I read in forums online. Specifically There are thousands of members and many of them are so generous with their time and talent. They put together pictorial tutorials that make learning how to use cocoa butter transfer sheets a breeze – for example. 🙂

My last bit of advice is to do just what you are doing. Ask questions. I’m honored when people ask questions of me. I think I can speak for many in this industry when I say our passion for food pours freely and the more people that we can get excited about cooking and baking the better.

This work is hard and it must be fueled with an immense passion because you will get burned – physically and emotionally. You will be exhausted in every sense of the word. You will forget why you ever fell in love with sugar in the first place but as with all things in life don’t forget to step back to gain perspective. Sometimes you’ll need to put down the whisk and go find the very source of inspiration that started this whole crazy process. When periods of doubt hit and I’m debilitated by my exhaustion I am inspired by others – their books, their food and their passion. I’m refueled and can return once again to the kitchen with more energy and creativity. For that I am so grateful for this generous community. Glean from it, grow from it and when you are able give back to it.


13 Responses to “q&a”

  1. jen

    I’ve been struggling with this same dilemma–to go to culinary school or not to go. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and for reminding me that becoming a great cook does not just happen over night. I just ordered “Ratio” and can’t wait to put it into practice–thanks for the inspiration!

  2. cathy x.

    Friberg is the man! I just had to add that ‘Cookwise’ and ‘Bakewise’ by Shirley O’Corriher are both books that have been given bible status in my house 😛 amazing reference books!

    • Ashley Rodriguez

      Cathy – oh my word! How could I forget Shirley?! I adore those books. In fact, you’ve inspired me to go grab my copy of Bakewise and freshen up. Thanks for those additions.

  3. Laura

    so beautifully put. thanks for the recommended resources….my favorite thing is adding another book to the shelf.


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