Joy the Baker: What to Make for Holiday Guests (And How to Save a Cake Fail)


Here at the store we have several amateur chefs, among them Niki Coffman, our marketing director, who has recently discovered a passion for baking (much to everyone’s delight). She turned us on to Homemade Decadence, a cookbook with a cover so appealing it makes you wonder why all cakes don’t wear pretzels.

The author, Joy Wilson, is a self-taught-turned-professional baker and blogger whose popular website launched the Joy the Baker Cookbook in 2012 and now a dessert-focused followup. Parnassus Books looks forward to hosting Wilson this Saturday, December 13, at 1 p.m. for a dessert reception and book signing in the shop. Meanwhile, we posed a few questions in hopes of getting some advice for this busy entertaining season.

Q: What do you bake using pantry staples when you find out someone’s coming over later and you don’t have time to go to the store?

JW: I always have buttermilk on hand, so I usually make some sort of buttermilk skillet cake topped with whatever fruit or chocolate I have on hand. Brew up a pot of coffee and the house smells delicious. Perfect for unexpected guests.

joythebakerQ:  OK, we’re going to get some buttermilk. Next: Let’s say the pickiest person on earth is coming over for a holiday dinner — what’s a no-fail dessert?

JW: Picky dessert eaters always confuse me a bit, but even those with strict preferences can’t resist a simple batch of fudge brownies. No one can resist fudge brownies.

Q:  No one with any sense, anyway. OK, what’s something you’d make to package up and give as a gift to neighbors?

JW: I save all of my leftover vanilla bean pods through the year and make big batches of homemade vanilla extract. All it takes is bourbon and vanilla bean pods to make a beautifully fragrant and delicious extract! Incidentally this bourbon-vanilla extract is also good for sipping straight from the bottle or splashing into late night coffee.

Q:  Oh, that sounds amazing — not difficult but unusual and remarkable. What do you bake when you want to make a big impression on a plate?

JW: When it’s time to pull out all the stops I make a three layer chocolate cake covered in peanut butter frosting and pretzels. Sweet, salty, and so impressive we also made it the cover of my Homemade Decadence! (Download the recipe FREE here.)

Q:  What do you do when you’ve baked something and it goes wrong — you get it out of the oven and it’s burned, or it falls apart, or it’s just generally a disaster?

JW:  Sometimes things go all the way wrong. It happens to the best of us. I try to flip my perspective when things go bad in the kitchen. Can I call this tart “rustic”? Can I call this pie “well done”? If the answer is no, can I cover (and glue together) this whole mess with frosting? Sometimes the answer is no… and so we drink bourbon and try again (or go to a bakery and get out the credit card).

Q:  For those who are intimidated by baking but want to get some practice, where’s a good place to start?

JW: I think chocolate chip cookies are a great place to start. It’s a simple recipe that requires creaming butter and sugar, which is an important task to learn in baking. Chocolate chip cookie dough needs some rest time in the refrigerator — at least an hour. This will ensure that your cookies will bake up nice and plump. Patience and plump cookies, two baking virtues.

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See you Saturday! Don’t live in Nashville or can’t make it? You can still get the book! 

and her first book, too —

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BONUS! When she’s not baking or blogging, Wilson is reading. An avid book lover, she recently posted her reading list for the holiday break: