Gingerbread Competition at Mohonk Mountain House 2017

When I think of something being constructed out of gingerbread, I always think of a  house. Although Rose took house building to the extreme with her made to scale Nôtre Dame Cathedral, in Rose’s Christmas Cookies, with 10 pages of architectural drawings. So when Nina Smiley asked if we would like to judge a gingerbread competition at the magical Mohonk Mountain House, of course we said yes!

Rose and Mohonk Mountain House built from 1869-1910 by the Smileys

Rose and Mohonk Mountain House built from 1869-1910 by the Smileys

This was their second year for holding the competition, which had 3 divisions: for juniors (ages 10-17), adults (ages 18 and over), and their employees, with over 60 entries. Some guidelines were: that the entry had to be on a base up to 2 feet square, less than 2 feet high, and edible for all exposed surfaces. A key guideline was that gingerbread had to be exposed for 50% or more of the surfaces.  What we discovered, as we walk around the rows of entries, was that this was way beyond ginerbread houses--it was a competition of highly artistic and imaginative gingerbread displays.


We were surprised and delighted by the imagination and ways in which the competitors used gingerbread, in both cookie and bread forms and beyond. Besides us, there were several judges including chefs, Mohonk’s own talented pastry chef, the mayor of Kingston, and others.

 Rose called my attention to one of the most displays by Vanessa Greeley, who had worked for years in the finance world before making a career change to run her own specialty cake decorating business. She stopped by our book signing table and Rose asked her how she came up with the amalgamation of gingerbread and chocolate, which was the composition for Mr. and Mrs. Moose. She explained that her goal was to give adequate structural support while maintaining delicious melt in the mouth quality. Clearly her analytic approach from her prior occupation came into play. We gave her high marks, for its uniqueness and precision.


The winning gingerbread display was Flower Tower, which was sculptor Matt Maley’s first ever dive into making a gingerbread constructed display. Along with his prize from Mohonk House, Rose gave him an autographed Pie & Pastry Bible.



Other works of art by their title in the order below.

WInter is Coming-3rd place, Lighthouse-Viewers' Choice, Bah! Humbug-2nd place, Night before Christmas

My Author Portraits by Matthew Septimus


January, 2010, the Fashion Institute of Technology featured me in their first bi-annual magazine to feature graduates who ended up with a career in the food world. They assigned photographer Matthew Septimus to do the portrait. I told FIT that I had many press photos so there was no need to waste everyone's time with yet another one, but they insisted that Matthew was so gifted it would be worth doing it. And boy was I glad they did. He shot this candid photo which I have been using ever since because it was the only one that managed to capture the mischievous side of my personality! In parting, Matthew said that it was his hope that someday we would work together. Seven years later, I chose Matthew to become the photographer for our upcoming Rose's Baking Basics. He has driven all the way from Brooklyn, NYC to Hope, New Jersey for 21 days of step-by-step photo shoots, usually three days a week. And he took this new portrait for the upcoming book. When we were enjoying our end of the day espresso and desserts, Woody tried to take a photo of Matthew and me together but Matthew, ever humble, resisted. If you'd like to see a sampling of his exceptional work you can view his site. And here is my favorite photos of him and his son Ezra.

My Dream Baking Kitchen


It has been my long-time dream to have a kitchen designed exclusively for baking. Having spent several decades working in my New York City living room turned kitchen, the moment arrived when we made the move full time to our weekend house in the Kittattiny Mountains of Hope, in northwestern NJ. And finally the time had come to start the rennovation of our unfinished basement into a kitchen that would house all my massive amount of baking equipment.


We made the move a year ago June, and stored all the equipment in the garage during the three-month construction. Unfortunately the summer of 2013 was exceptionally humid which meant that by the time I could unpack all the boxes there was much de-rusting to do. Woody took one part of his summer vacation in June to help with the massive move, and the rest in September when he did wonders to unpack and organize all the equipment. Our goal was to have the kitchen in working order in time for the photo shoot for The Baking Bible in November. Woody made the move from Minnesota in October and in November we were able to complete 99% of the cookies, some of the cakes, and also some of the breads to bring to upstate NY where we were to spend three solid weeks with an amazingly wonderful production team taking the photographs. As many of my friends have expressed an interest in seeing the results of the baking kitchen, we've put together some photos and a brief description of the choices that were made. Much of the equipment is treasured items I've collected and used for years but the cabinets, countertops, flooring, and most of the major appliances are new. I'm glad I had to wait all these years to have my dream kitchen as it gave me experience and time to evaluate how I work and what I need to do my best work. And now that I have been living and working in it for an entire year I have to say I haven't a single regret. It works! Many kudos to our contractor Chris Smigel and his terrific team.





This is one of my favorite parts of the kitchen. I love the huge soapstone sink with Dornbrach Tara Ultra Profi high rising flexible hose faucet, the KitchenAId dishwasher that has numerous useful settings and silent operation, the Cuisinart icecream maker, the Vitamix, other juicers, and food processors. The soapstone sink and countertops were masterfully installed by The Phillipsburg Marble Company.



Having a wire shelf at a level above my head, frees up counter space and speeds drying.






I love my new Kitchen Aid refrigerator/freezer. To the right is the 7 foot by 3 foot marble-topped baking center on wheels that my cabinet maker father made for me many years ago. I'm so happy to have a heater/air conditioner. I rarely need to turn on the heater but I've always wanted an air conditioner for the area where I bake because I often feel that baking is more about chilling than heating but it ceratinly is about temperature control! The Herbert Miller clock is the one designed by my great Uncle Nat of Movado museum watch fame. I searched far and wide for really strong magnetic knife holders. These are 32 inch long knife bars by Global.



The beautiful oak cabinets from Fieldstone were purchased from a great local cabinet company, Custom Colonial in Blairstown. The Burton portable commercial induction burner is sensational. I love the speed with which it heats mixtures without heating the sides of the pans or the handles.




These shelves are sturdy enough for me to climb on to reach the liqueurs and eau de vies used only for baking. The drawers hold parchment rounds, glass bowls for use in the microwave, and one drawer is devoted to sifters making it unnecessary every to wash them. The Breville "Oven with a Brain" is perfect even. I use it for toasting nuts, baking small batches of cookies, single layer cakes, and even pies. I use the big commercial box of Stretch-Tite, my favorite plastic wrap, all day long. The shelves also hold the stereo and speakers.



In the distance is the dental assistant's stool which gives great lumbar support. This is where I sit to write notes if I'm not sitting on the stairs leading to the upstairs savory kitchen and living room. The flooring tiles are Mannington adura luxury vinyl tile--obsidian granite from the Carpet Gallery in Newton, NJ. I choose them for their durability and ability to camouflage marks. They are also relatively easier on the feet than a harder surface such as marble or granite and easier to maintain than wood.



It's great to have a separate area for bread baking. When I bake in the Wolf oven, which I brought from my New York apartment, the aroma permeates all three stories of the house. On the bread baking counter I have my Akarsrum bread mixer and my Escali Rose Scale. As I rarely use the burners on the Wolf range, I leave only two exposed and covered the remaining four with a piece of marble adding more counter space. Above the Wolf is a massive and powerful KitchenAid hood which serves magnificently to draw the heat of the oven out of the kitchen. Magnetized to it is my favorite Thermoworks Big Loud Timer that I can hear even from upstairs. (My Thermapen thermometers are in both areas of the kitchen and are in constant use.) To the right of the Wolf is a second smaller stainless steel sink with Dornbrach Eno faucet, which pulls forward for easy cleaning of the sink. I set a plastic chopping board on top of half of it for extra counter space as I don't generally use the sink except to wash my hands or draw water. Above the sink is one of my favorite indulgences: the Innovia electric paper towel dispenser. To the right of the sink is my folding Brød and Taylor bread proofer which I use so often I never store it!


This 10 foot long storage closet with Metro shelving and long fluorescent light at the top is a dream for storing all manner of baking pans and equipment. Above it is part of my collection of springerle molds.





On the left is my 20 quart Hobart that I use for making wedding cakes. On the long Danish teak table is the Oak pie safe, which Woody made for storing not only pies but larger baked goods. (This is very much needed in a country kitchen!) Above the table is a strong shelf to hold my often used Freeze-Tite and extra wide plastic wrap. I treasure the glass case made by my father in 1945 to serve as my mother's dental model cabinet.



On of the most important parts of the wrapping station is this commercial sealer that I use to store nuts and other ingredients airtight. It was always my dream to have one but in New York it would have had to sit in the middle of the living room!


This is the stairway that divides my two culinary worlds--baking and cooking. And I love them both. In the savory kitchen I am inspired by the views of the countryside and changing light. In the baking kitchen there are no windows. Instead there is near total environmental control which gives me total focus. And for extra inspiration I have my music.

Nature's Thermometer


First the snow, then the rain, then the deep freeze. Here are my beloved rhododendron with icicles beginning to form. Just outside the kitchen window, the leaves tell me how cold it is. When they're closed tight I know it's well below freezing. When they open up I know it's not that bad. But either way, I don't mind grilling outdoors all winter long as, once I get close to the grills, their heat keeps me warm! My excuse for expanding the kitchen several years ago was so that I could put in a hood and fan over the cooktop that would vent to the outside. But then I found that grilling outdoors keeps the kitchen and rest of the house cleaner and free of smoke and the results are better as well. Surprisingly, I found that when the fire place is lit in the living room, if I turn the kitchen fan on it sucks the smoke out of the fire place and all over the house! Still, I have no regrets about having done the renovation. And in the not too distant future there will be a baker's kitchen in the basement. Of course postings to come!

Mariella's Geese Painting

MARIELLA-GEESE.jpgI am totally blown away by the beauty of this painting of the Marsala Farm Geese by my 12 year old niece Mariella Katherine Levy. I am so pleased she gave me permission to share it with you. Suvir and Charlie are in India for the holidays but I sent the photo to their dear friend Sally Longo (tv host of "Dinner at 8") and she asked if Mariella would accept a commission to do a painting for her! This geese painting was inspired by a photo my brother took on his cell phone when visiting the farm.

What to Make for the Holidays


Here's what I just made--a pecan pie shaped in a tart pan (recipe in the Pie and Pastry Bible). And here are a few tips: Keep in mind that if there are any holes in the crust the sticky filling will find its way there, leak below the crust, and stick to the pan's bottom. To avoid holes best not to pierce the bubbles that form during blind baking, after removing the rice or beans to weight it down, but just to gently press down the crust a few times as it bubbles and finally it will set and be flat. Should a hole develop, fill it with a little dab of egg white and return it to the oven for about 30 seconds. And if worse comes to worse and the crust sticks, just serve the pieces--no one will complain. This pie is the very definition of heavenly! Be sure to use the Lyle's golden refiner's syrup which is so much more flavorful than corn syrup in a butterscotchy/tangy way, and preferably light Muscovado sugar (I love the one from India Tree). And be sure to weigh or measure the yolks. For this pie/tart that calls for 4 yolks I needed to use 6 to equal the right amount as they were so small. Without enough egg yolks the filling will not set effectively.] One last word of caution: When heating the filling go by the thermometer rather than looking for signs of thickening. And when baking test at 15 minutes. I find it usually takes 20 but it should just shimmy slightly when moved and begin to puff.

Hector's Rose Reappears Via Jenn

Strawberry Maria.jpg

I was checking out this weeks' heavenly bakers to see each rendition of the cake of the week which was the Many-Splendored Quick Bread and low and behold: look what I found on Knitty Baker Jenn's blog--a stunning rendition of Hector's "rose valentine." I think it is the most perfect design for a heart-shape cake ever which Jenn adapted from a round version: The Strawberry Maria from The Cake Bible.

Hector Does Indeed Have a Big Heart

The day after surgery he completed this version of my Chocolate Apricot Roll with Lacquer Glaze for his paddling friend Toney's birthday. Awesome!HECTOR'S HEART.png i transformed ROSE'S heavenly CAKES: Chocolate Apricot Roll with Lacquer Glaze (page 163), from a roll into a heart. Sponge rolls are an adorable classic of fine pastry, and I love them! but I reshaped this cake into a heart for my paddling friend Toney on her birthday. Toney is a 5-star dear friend to everyone paddling. Toney always teases me that I shall start making her wedding cake, yet also find her a groom! So I designed this large chocolate black heart for Toney's as a symbol of her big heart and wedding fantasy! I baked the cake on the 16x2-inch Wilton heart pan which volume equals to two 11x17x1-inch half sheet pans, so I whipped a 2x batch of biscuit roulade. I know from experience that biscuit cakes bake well at any width. The cake baked flat gorgeous. image.jpeg Then, following the proportions of the original chocolate apricot roll recipe, I filled the cake with a 2x batch of apricot jam filling. I made a 4x batch of ganache so I could frost the heart to perfection. The cake was assembled a week ahead of time, so no syrup was necessary. The generous amount of ganache made up for any lack of syrup, too. To "fill" this thin layer cake, I "julienned" the cake into 1-inch strips, reattaching the strips with apricot filling and ganache. The end results resembles Rose's charlotte pattern. photo 4.jpg

Book Award Celebration at Le Bernadin


Lucky Eric Ripert! His new book is being published this November by my wonderful editor Pam Chirls at Wiley. So Pam invited me to have lunch at Chef Ripert's Le Bernadin to celebrate the IACP book of the year award. And what a celebration it was! We began with a delightful champagne Franken Demoiselle and to accompany it, rillettes of salmon (spread). The individual breads were from Tom Cat and accompanied by a butter so delicious I asked for the brand. Turns out they make their own butter adding fleur de sel. I was tempted to ask what cream they use to make it but thought better of becoming a culinary pest!You can find better photos on their site but here are the ones I took with my cell phone as I didn't have the foresight to bring my camera.









The sommalier Jared FIscher chose brilliantly: a Neumeister 2007 sauvignon blanc "Klausen" which I'm now trying to purchase! And out came a parade of desserts:








Full as we were we plowed through all of the little friandises, the most exquisite of which was the miniature Paris Besse. No photo--I was over the moon. These were some of the best desserts I've ever had in any restaurant. Do check out pastry chef Michael Laiskonis's blog.

Another Great Hector Take

Can you believe this is the tres leches?! Instead of the biscuit layer Hector chose Savoiyardi biscuits arranging them in a very beautiful and conducive to serving manner. And has Hector manages to turn almost every cake and pastry into an exquisite rose, observe how he piped the whipped cream topping!image1.jpg photo 2.jpg photo 3.jpg Hector wisely advises: "Be sure to allow the savoiardis to soak 24 hours, adding more milk sauce 2 or 3 times, and the final milk addition should leave a 1 inch swimming pool of milk sauce on the bottom of the savoiardis". If the savoiardis lack moistenes, it will be chewy and not tender."

A Celebration of Pesto and Spring Garlic


Jana Norstrand came for dinner last night. Little did either of us realize that we'd be celebrating more than the spring garlic pesto: Jana had just been awarded for her work as publicist at our publisher Wiley!This was probably the best pesto I've ever made as all the ingredients were so special. The frozen pesto was from Woody's sister Kim made from basil from her garden in MN. The olive oil was from the just released harvest from Ragusa, Sicily; the Parmesan Reggiano was over 15 years old, and of course the newly harvested crisp fresh garlic and the garlic serpentine-like scapes were terrific decor and great flavor and texture. And in Jana's hand is a glass of Man O'War sauvignon blanc from NZ. I love sb with the grassiness of pesto.

West Coast Book Events Voyage: Part 3 B


Blue Bottle New Roastery Party Cake PhotosWe started the event with cappuccino but Turkish coffee was served with the desserts--a good choice as I consider cappuccino to be a dessert unto itself so Turkish coffee was a better balance to the cakes. Turkish Coffee Blue Bottle Coffee Turkish coffee is one of the most traditional preparations of coffee. Thrice boiled, it has been described by one of our lovely employees as "Black as death, strong as hell and sweet as love". Typically prepared with cardamom and sugar, we've decided to make a delicate experience, meant to be sipped black. Albers Cake (in 3 parts)Caitlin Freeman & Leah Rosenberg Part 1: Original Recipe: Chocolate Tomato Cake Mystery Ganache Chocolate Fondant Part 2: Original Recipe: Classic Carrot Cake Dreamy Creamy Frosting Fondant (The Cake Bible) Part 3: Original Recipe: Woody's Lemon Luxury Cake White Choc Lemon Buttercream Fondant (The Cake Bible) We chose three complete cakes that we wanted to make exactly as Rose directs - every filling, frosting, and cake. We covered them in fondant and stacked them to look like a Josef Albers painting - if it was made of cake! Mondrian Cake Caitlin Freeman & Leah Rosenberg Original Recipe: White Velvet Cake At the SFMOMA we make cakes inspired by the art being shown in the museum. We took Rose's cake, cut it into bits and re-assembled the whole thing in homage to the De Stijl master! Lemon Cloud Cream Nicole Krasinski Original Recipe: Chocolate Apricot Roll Cream Cheese-Stabilized Whipped Cream Nicole was inspired by the Cream Cheese-Stabilized Whipped Cream and originally had planned to make a roulade with the filling, cornmeal cake, and apricot - sort of "Rugelah roulade". Once she made the filling, she decided it would be more interesting & delicious if it was deconstructed and paired with olive oil, nuts and toasted vanilla bean Diebenkorn Trifle Caitlin Freeman & Leah Rosenberg Original Recipe: Saint-Honore Trifle Seeing the Diebenkorn painting, Ocean Park #122 in person, it's absolutely clear that if it were a dessert, it would be a trifle. So, of course we' took Rose's beautiful Saint-Honore Trifle and mixed it up a bit! Genoise cake, lemon mousse, lemon curd and pomegranate gelee. Sticky Toffee Pudding with Stout ice cream & rhubarb Jake Godby, Humphry Slocombe Original Recipe: Sticky Toffee Pudding Jake was inspired by Rose's use of beer and his love for our San Francisco treasure - Magnolia Brewpub. The cakes are soaked in wart syrup (unfermented beer!) and then paired with a Magnolia Imperial Stout ice cream and rhubarb. Rose Geranium and Strawberry Pinch Cake Amy Brown, NOPA Original Recipe: Catalan Pinch Cake Amy Brown took the perfectly perfect Catalan Pinch Cake and paired it with Rose Geranium Crème Anglaise and roasted strawberries. There might not be anything more deliciously springlike! Caramelized Chocolate Cake with raw milk ice cream Daniel Patterson, Coi Original Recipe: Chocolate Ice Cream Cake Daniel did what he does best: deconstruct and make perfect! Coconut Bavarian with Passionfruit Paul Massey Original Recipe: White Gold Passion Genoise Paul Massey's delicious original cake appears in Rose's Heavenly Cakes. That didn't stop him from playing with his own creation! He has re-imagined it with Coconut Bavarian, mango and passionfruit gelee and a passionfruit macaron. Second time's also a charm! Bombay Chocolate Cake Sarah Cox, Dynamo Donuts Original Recipe: German Chocolate Cake Sarah was inspired by the fact that Saffron and Chocolate is her ultimate favorite sweet combo. The German Chocolate cake inspired her to create something in homage of her love of Indian Food. She made the cake just as Rose directed, but took her own liberties with the topping, replacing the pecans with pistachios and adding saffron and lime to the coconut.

West Coast Book Events Voyage: Part 2


Bake Napa Valleyl Bake Napa is a spin off group from Baker's Dozen organized by Annie Baker (yes that's really her name) for those who live in the Napa area. The meeting is hosted by Susie and Ken Pope at their magnificent B & B Cedar Gables Inn. The concept of this group of bakers, both professional and avocational, is to bake from the the guest author's book and to be as true as possible to the recipe. Sharon Beck made a fun video of the event . All the participants did an excellent job and here is a sampling of the photos that Woody took that came out the best:

Cedar Gables Inn


Annie Baker, Rose, Woody, & Susie

Susie Pope's-GM-Cake.JPG

Susie Pope's Grand Marnier Cake


Kevin Pope's Sicilian Pistachio Cake


Sharon Beck's Barcelona Brownie Bars


Jodi Konig's Saint Honoré Trifle


Debbie Yee Hene's Gâteau Breton


Gina Romano's Cradle Cake


The Bakers


Susie's Famous Donuts