Pastry chef, cookbook author and food blogger David Lebovitz’s new book is Ready for Dessert: My Best Recipes (Ten Speed). The book is a “greatest hits” of sorts, with updated versions of 150 previously published recipes, plus 10 brand new ones. In this interview, Lebovitz talks about how his recipes have evolved, what he tries to accomplish when writing head notes, and why he’s fine with giving away recipes free online.
PW: How did this book come about?
DL: Originally it was supposed to be my first two books [Room for Dessert,1999; and Ripe for Dessert,2003] reprinted as one, and my editor said I should add some new recipes. I thought I’d cut and paste recipes [from those previous books]. But I hadn’t made a lot of them in 12 years, and as I made them again, I started thinking, “Oh, what if I did it this way?” Food changes over time. People are now using salted butter in baking, there’s bean to bar chocolates, there’s cupcakes. So I ended up redoing every single recipe.
PW: How did you select these 150 recipes?
DL: I looked at the ones that I thought were the most popular, that I’ve gotten the most feedback from. Of course the Fresh Ginger Cake and the Chocolate Pavé had to go in. I also wanted to put some interesting things in there like the Champagne Gelée. It’s like my ice cream book [The Perfect Scoop,2007]—there are a few curveball recipes that I don’t expect everybody to make or like, but on the other hand, it’s nice to have a few things in there that might pique people’s interest.
PW: The head notes in your cookbooks are always funny and interesting. What’s the thinking behind them?
DL : The usual approach to writing a head note is to say, “This goes well with tea in the afternoon, or my kids like these cookies because they’re really delicious.” But I remember things in head notes because I read cookbooks like books. They can make you realize where the recipe is from. Head notes should also tell you things to look out for, like when you fold in the egg whites, don’t be alarmed if the mixture deflates a little. Yet a lot of people like to read about how great the cookies go with tea. You can put people off if you say, “I tried to flush this ice cream down the toilet.” Is that going to turn people off or is that funny? I write that way on my Web site, and people read it, so they must like it. That’s the good thing about having a Web site: you get immediate feedback.
PW: Are the recipes in Ready for Dessert available on your site?
DL: I would say maybe 10 of them are.
PW: What are your thoughts on giving recipes away free online? Some authors won't do it.
DL: It took me awhile to figure that out. When I started the Web site in 1999, I was like, “I shouldn’t be giving away too many recipes because I want people to buy the book.” But then I realized people were trying my recipes online, and my book sales were going up, so it’s great. Food is meant to be shared and bakers are kind of giving people. You want to give away recipes because they’re just recipes. You hope people buy the book because they read my site for free, it doesn’t cost anything.
This story originally appeared in Cooking the Books, PW's e-newsletter for cookbooks.