Yossy Arefi Knows Why Baking Freaks You Out
The Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. Yossy Arefi is a food writer, stylist, and photographer — yes, she does it all. Longtime fans know her as the creator of the blog Apt. 2B Baking Co.; she’s also the author of the pastry-focused cookbook Sweeter Off the Vine. She joined us for our educational series at the Union Square Greenmarket to make fresh caramel; we discussed how she avoided $50,000 in culinary-school loans and why baking can feel so intimidating.
In Seattle, where I grew up, there are wild blackberries that grow everywhere. And every summer my mom and I would go and pick pounds and pounds and pounds of blackberries together, and then we would make pie and jam. Both of my parents cooked Iranian food, and they always gardened. Cooking is an important part of our family culture.
As a result, I always had food-related jobs. In high school, I would help my friends' parents cater their parties. I would make the cheese trays! Then I got a job at a fancy grocery store when I was in college. When I moved to New York I had this idea in my mind that I wanted to go to culinary school and study pastry. But it cost $50,000, and I just couldn't stomach the idea of taking out all that money in loans, so I decided to approach it from a different direction.
But it cost $50,000, and I just couldn't stomach the idea of taking out all that money in loans
I ended up getting a job as a reservationist at a restaurant that had a bakery attached. I was really terrible at being a reservationist, but someone in the bakery was leaving. I approached my boss and I said, "Listen, you know, I'm really interested in baking.” I would frequently bring things in from home that I had baked. He gave me a job in the kitchen, and I spent early mornings baking scones and cookies and decorating cakes.
When I was working at the restaurant, I started a blog. Through the blog, I got a book deal. I got to write this supercool book about fruit desserts, which I love. And then I also got to photograph it and style it.
When I was working at the restaurant, I started a blog. Through the blog, I got a book deal.
At the end of it, I had this really beautiful book. It came out over three years ago now, and it’s just thrilling to me that people are still finding it and I'm still getting tagged on Instagram in photos of people discovering the book. Books get published twice a year, and a lot of times they are forgotten really quickly.
When I'm in New York, I love to go to the Greenmarket — especially the Union Square Greenmarket, which has been shaped by all of the restaurants in New York. You can find esoteric varieties of apples and cool berries and a million kinds of bitter greens. We can get all of this stuff in the middle of this huge city.
I think that people can be really fearful of baking because it's the kind of thing where you don’t know if you've messed up until the very end. Like, when you take the cake out of the oven and it sinks. But, once you get comfortable with recipes, baking can be just as improvisational as cooking. Every time I make an apple pie I use a different spice blend or a different type of sugar to season it.
I think that people can be really fearful of baking because it's the kind of thing where you don’t know if you've messed up until the very end.
When you’re baking with fruit there's kind of a mystery factor because the quality is a variable. My biggest tip for baking with fruit is to bake with produce that’s in season and to always taste before you bake, so you know if you’re starting with a really sweet peach. If you take a bite of an apple and it's soft and mushy, it's probably not great for pie.
At the Greenmarket, I made caramel sauce with apples in Saucy — it's a great back-pocket recipe. It’s fast, and you can keep a jar in your refrigerator all the time. If you're having people over for dinner, you can just buy nice ice cream from the store and warm up your caramel sauce. You can also drizzle it on top of a pie or a cake or a fruit crisp, or you can dip fresh apple slices in it for a snack.
The idea of doing another book is super appealing to me right now. When I was blogging, a lot of it was hands-on. I'm the kind of person that needs to do something in order to learn it. I love exploration time.