Behind the Scenes of Yossy Arefi's New Cookbook (+ Preserved Lemon Ice Cream)

March 15, 2016

When we learned that Yossy Arefi—sharer of desserts we'd gladly devote a weekend to making, voice behind Apt. 2B Baking Co.—was writing a book centered on seasonal fruit desserts (out March 22!), we were not surprised.

Yes, Yossy's ice cream cakes are multi-storied, her babkas laced with halvah, and her kouign amman flaky. But it's her fruit desserts—the upside-down cakes, the trifles, the pies, and the hand pies—that always leave us gaping.

And when we learned that she had not only written the book, but was also the primary (and often sole) baker, stylist, and photographer, we were also not surprised (Yossy is, after all, talented at all three skills)—but we were baffled. A typical cookbook shoot requires a team: a food stylist to cook the recipes, a prop stylist to set the scenes for the photo, a photographer to master the lighting and capture the image, and a whole slew of assistants.

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But for Yossy's book? She did it all.

Watch the trailer for Sweeter off the Vine below, then read on to find out the biggest challenges and surprises of working on the book—plus, the recipe she's still toying with.

What was the biggest failure?

Oof, there were a couple of photos that I really had a hard time nailing. Either the props were wrong, or the food looked funky, or I just couldn’t find the right angle. I reshot a couple of recipes many, many times. I won’t tell you which ones though because you might not notice... (ha!). I also tried to make a tahini and date custard tart so many times that utterly failed in every iteration. I haven’t given up! I am still trying to make that tart happen.

The biggest surprise?

Other than the fact that I actually finished? One of my favorite recipes in the whole book is the Preserved Lemon Ice Cream from the Winter chapter. It is kind of a strange choice for a favorite in a fruit dessert book, but it hits so many flavor notes: sweet, salty, creamy, sour, fruity. It is definitely one of those recipes that is more than the sum of its parts.

What was the biggest challenge?

I thought I was an organized person, but writing and photographing this book was the biggest organizational challenge of my life. I worked mostly independently on the recipe shoots, with some dish help here and there, so a lot of planning was necessary to maximize efficiency.

I tried to shoot 4 to 6 recipes a day. The night before the shoot days, I chose and labeled all of the props and surfaces with their corresponding recipe titles. I also prepped as many ingredients as possible so I could just put finishing touches together day-of. Things like pie crust, tart shells and fillings, ice cream, and some cakes and cookies could all be made ahead and just scooped or assembled on the day of the shoot. And when I did want to bake and shoot things, like cobblers and crisps, straight from the oven, I mis’ed ingredients the night before.

On shoot days (and recipe testing days, to be honest) my usual clean-as-you-go cooking style went straight out the window. I hustled through the cooking and shooting to take advantage of daylight and made a huge mess in the process. At the end of the day, I’d put on my headphones and listen to podcasts while I cleaned up that day’s insane pile of dishes. I listened to a lot of podcasts that year.

What is your approach to food styling?

My philosophy to styling is to let things be as they are—less is more. Whether that’s a juicy galette on parchment or ice cream just starting to melt. My favorite food photos are simple and inviting.

When it came time to shoot the recipe photos, I worked in season as much as possible so I could have the most delicious looking (and best variety) of produce.

My goal was to make everything look luscious, approachable, and a little messy when it made sense. I wanted the food to look inviting and real. One of the reasons I love fruit desserts so much is because they are naturally colorful and luscious, and showing those qualities was my number one goal.

I sourced simple, earthy handmade pottery from Clare Catillaz of Clamlab, whose work I adore. I make pottery as a hobby and was able to use a lot of my own pieces as well. I also borrowed some things from Mud Australia and raided my friend Rachel’s silverware drawer to fill in the gaps in my prop collection. I even made a few of my own surfaces using faux finishing tutorials I found on YouTube. It was a real DIY affair.

Did you get any art direction or were you figuring everything out on your own?

I checked in with the art director and designer from Ten Speed Press periodically throughout the process to discuss the general vibe of the book, and cover options when the time came, but for the most part, they were really trusting and gave me free reign with the photography. I think we were on the same page from the beginning, which made that part feel really smooth.

For my own organization, I printed out the recipe photos as I finished them and hung my favorite shot of each dish up on my dining room wall. This helped me visualize the overall feeling of the photography, ensured that it felt cohesive, and helped me realize when I needed to reshoot something, which happened on a few occasions.

The book is full of market and field photography in addition to the recipes—where did you shoot those photos?

I was able to shoot a lot of photos at the Union Square Greenmarket and my favorite orchards upstate. I also wanted to shoot my parent’s backyard chickens and garden in Seattle because their love of gardening inspires what I do and how I cook so much. I planned a trip west at the end of summer when I would be able to capture the biggest variety of berries, stone fruit, grapes, and melons. Then, I called up my friend Camille Storch down in Oregon, and asked if she had time to tour me around her part of the world, and meet some of her farming pals at Gathering Together Farm, the USDA Clonal Germplasm Repository, and Oven and Earth, Camille’s parent’s farm.

When I couldn’t find stem-and-leaf citrus in NYC, the very kind Julia Gartland and Shae Irving sent me boxes full from California.

Shooting the field photos was so fun and relaxing that I went a little overboard. The team at Ten Speed ended up adding some pages to the book, just to include more photography. I think we ended up using almost 120 photos of food and the field!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Better Than Mom's
    Better Than Mom's
  • thalia ho
    thalia ho
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


Better T. May 2, 2016
Honestly, Who Needs Chocolate??
This book is a work of art, with serious thought and thoughtfulness put in to it... I will strive to make every single recipe because they're all that good.
thalia H. March 16, 2016
can't wait for the cookbook!