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Sift and Whisk
Today we’re chatting about baking and for me the best part of any dinner, dessert.
Maria is a self-taught baker and dessert maker whose love of baking and sweet things shine through on her blog and in her photography.
I am so pumped to have Maria Siriano from Sift and Whisk here on the show.
On Starting Her Blog:
I used to work in textbook publishing and I actually started off as an intern, literally the day after I graduated college. So I was doing that for about a year and a half and they brought me on from intern to being a temp. The company went on a hiring freeze right before I was about to interview for a permanent job so that kind of sucked. I then was able to go freelance doing publishing stuff.
So I was at home doing textbook editing and I was baking all time because it’s stress relief for me.
In Ohio, which is where I live, we have cottage bakery laws so you can have a home-based bakery, sell stuff at farmers’ markets and that’s what I started doing. I did that for a year and half while I was editing.
Because I was selling stuff I had a website that I created for my bakery and I was doing a blog. So I would put some recipes on there of the stuff that I didn’t sell because I really only sold cookies and occasionally cupcakes but I really enjoyed the blog process and the photography process more than actually going to farmers’ markets and selling.
I was making the same thing every single day which didn’t really appeal to me. So I was like I want to experiment and try new stuff and take more pictures. I was really into photography in high school so then I kind of gradually shut down the home-based bakery and picked up full-time with the blogging.
It has been a little over two years now, it was two years in November and I love it. It is the best job anybody could ask for. Now that’s what I do entirely.
I want to share things with people.
I find that I get a lot more joy out of sharing with a broader audience than I do in a really niche market of just my hometown. So it’s a great way for me to connect with people.
On The Process of Blogging and What Comes Most Naturally:
I still don’t think that it comes naturally to me and whenever somebody compliments me on any of those things I’m like OK what do you want.
But it takes a lot of work and I can see improvement in myself. I’m still trying to improve everything I do because I have my own style of writing. I am an English major. I was really good at writing essays about literature, but I’m not a fiction type person and I always say I’m just such a narcissist and that’s why I can do a blog because I can just write about myself all day.
It’s like journaling. For me it is really cathartic, and I like to have a sense of humor about it and I hope that people appreciate that sense of humor. I hope that I don’t offend anybody ever. I am always worried about that.
Then the photography, I am obsessed with looking at other people’s photography. I always feel like I am almost there, and then somedays I’m just like this is just crap. I still struggle with it, and feeling like it’s good, but if somebody else looks at it and thinks it’s good, I’m over the moon.
But basically my blog is exactly how I talk but with less cursing because I try to keep it clean because maybe a fourteen year old will want a cookie recipe, and then I’ll feel really bad if their parents are like, “Oh, stop cursing.”
On Her Connection to Baking:
In my family growing up, we almost never cooked homemade meals. We did a lot of the frozen. We were like Stouffers‘ people. We did the lasagna. My mom made a couple different meals that she would do like homemade meatloaf, but homemade is in quotations because she would do the Hungry Man or whatever that is in the can.
Both my parents worked, and she was going to college when I was a kid so it was all very take out and boxed food and all that. Whereas my husband grew up in house where they cooked dinner every single night, they rarely went out to eat. So when we moved in together, I was like, “Oh my gosh, he is cooking me dinner every night. This is the best thing that has ever happened to me.” But it took some getting used to. Because we never cooked in my family.
The one thing that we did was bake. For a while we did a lot of boxed mix stuff like cakes like that. We weren’t really fancy about it or precise about it, but we did a lot of cookies, which is my first from scratch baking experience. We did molasses cookies which is a recipe I did on my blog and is still one of my favorite recipes because it is my family’s recipe.
I always want to learn how to cook so what I started doing a couple months ago up until the Holiday craziness set in, I was saying “I am cooking dinner every Wednesday night because I need to learn to cook.”
For awhile right after I got laid off at my publishing job, my parents were trying to kick me back some money so they were like, “Hey, come cook for us. Make freezer meals and we will pay you.” So I would cook everything for them and freeze it, and they’d give me a hundred bucks a week or something and I was like, “Thanks mom and dad.”
Everything I make always turns out really good if I follow the recipe but I can’t do what my husband does which is open the fridge and be like, “Oh, I will just throw all this stuff together and we have dinner.” I can’t do it.
On Baking Being More of a Science Than Cooking:
Whenever people are like I want to get into more baking, I am always like buy a scale. That is my number one advice is buy a kitchen scale. It’ll set you back 30 bucks and it’ll change everything.
My husband has had relative success baking with his kind of free-form method. There are certain things I think that you can do if you like dessert and want to make dessert but don’t want to do all the complicated stuff, and it gets a little what I call “semi-homemade with Sandra Lee.”
You can go to the store and you can buy pre-made pound cake. You can dice that and put some strawberries in it and some whipped cream and that’s really easy. You can just pour sugar or whatever and just toss everything together and that’s really easy to do. You don’t have to do a lot of measuring and things like that.
Even pie, if you don’t make your own crust, the filling you can guesstimate and if it’s not thick enough you add a little more corn starch or you bake it a little longer and it’s not so daunting, but there are certain things that I would stay away from.
Cookies can flop miserably if they aren’t very accurate and cakes, so I think that it just depends upon how desperately you want something.
On Things Not Going as Planned in the Kitchen:
I did a black forest pie for my husband and I got the wrong type of liqueur for the filling and I just ran all over town. I actually literally have the bowl of the first filling sitting on my counter top just sitting out right now because I’m like, “Maybe I can put this on French toast tomorrow morning.” I don’t know what to do with it.
There was one time I made, a couple years ago, and this didn’t even make it to the blog because I was so over it, but it was a lemon zucchini bread. It tasted like rubber. I don’t know what happened. It was so disgusting. I made two of them because I am always really hopeful that it’s going to turn out. Instead of paring back a recipe, I just go all in. So I had two of these loaves of rubber, and I just threw them in the trashcan because I will rage eat the bad stuff. I eat it because I am like, “I hate you so much.” I don’t understand it but that’s what I do.
I had that with macaroons. I made those literally ten times before I finally got one that was blog-worthy.
I was like, “I will go to the bakery down the street.” We have a really good French bakery down the street and they make amazing ones. I’m like, “Why do we even bother.”
On Getting an Idea to The Blog:
What I usually do is I start off with a seasonal ingredient and I do a lot research on that. If there is nothing seasonal then I go with chocolate, caramel, peanut butter, things like that, but I try to stick to seasonal because I am a big fruit person, and I know people are always like, “Make more chocolate.” And I’m like, “No.”
So I start off with finding something seasonal that I want to work with and then I have the book called The Flavor Bible. I will go through there and there’s a list of complementary ingredients and flavors and I will go through there and kind of get inspired by that.
Then I will just think of all the formats and I try to flesh out the categories equally so like pies, cakes, cookies, whatever, but I will say I tend to skew toward pie. I like pie. I will end up with so many pies and tarts that I am like, “Oh my gosh, I have to tone it down,” but I love making them. And then summer, ice cream, I’ll just do ice cream until my ears bleed.
And honestly, a lot of what I do is built off other people’s work because that is what’s great about making recipes is you can. A lot of the testing is done by other people for you so you can find a base or find something similar. Like the roasted plum, I knew somebody had done a roasted peach ice cream, so I said, “Okay, if she did it like this and used this method for peaches, I can do the same thing with plums,” and kind of build from there.
I always try my best to list my source because I’m not a genius. I can’t just make up scientific baking things in my mind.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
So this is embarrassing but I don’t have cable so I don’t watch a ton, but what I do have is some Alton Brown, Good Eats.
We actually have them downloaded and when we travel, we will put episodes on our iPad and watch those because they’re fantastic and full of science.
What are some food blogs or websites that we have to know about?
I have a thousand in my feed. I am a huge fan of Serious Eats because again they do a lot of science so I love listening to all of that, reading all that.
Blogs, I love Bakers Royale, her photography is just ridiculous and I’m jealous. Also Half Baked Harvest, and my friend Sarah who does the Sugar Hit and my friend Elizabeth who does Sugar Hero.
Elizabeth does candy and she’s amazing because I cannot do candy to save my life.
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram or Twitter that make you happy?
Bonnie Tsang. I think she is the one that has the little daughter, and she is so cute and every time, she just posts really fun and brightly colored things. Every time I see a picture, it just makes my heart happy.
What is something all home cooks should have in their pantry?
All home cooks should have chocolate.
I can’t tell you how much you can make with chocolate but if you don’t have it, it kind of stinks.
So the great thing about chocolate is if you have it, you can just eat it. If you don’t want to just eat chocolate, you can make all kinds of stuff with it like pudding, whip that up really fast, or just add it to any other thing and it makes it better.
Name one ingredient you cannot live without?
Butter. It is very simple for me. I go through so much butter it is not even funny. Every time I do a vegan recipe, I am like, “Where is the butter?”
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
Oh my god, everything. I collect cookbooks so I just love everything. My favorite cookbook is the Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook because it is just such a great reference. If you want to riff on something, they’ve got such a great base recipes.
I also really love, this isn’t baking but, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution book. We cook a lot out of there, and since I’m not very good at cooking, it is really easy for me to follow. It’s got a revolutionary way of making rice that is just fantastic and lots of Indian food which I love.
I love all of the Baked cookbooks, Baked Bakery in New York. I get all of them as soon as they come out.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
This is really embarrassing, from West Side Story, the song, I want to live in America.
I am a big proponent of singing show tunes while I’m baking, it has such an up beat, it’s just very upbeat so it really gets me going and on track, and the solid beat of it makes me do everything in a timely fashion.
Keep Posted on Maria:
I’m best at updating Facebook. I’m terrible at Twitter, so yeah definitely follow me on Facebook because you will always see the new recipes. Any other things that are a little bit personal, and maybe kind of funny, is on Twitter, but I’m not regular about it.