Cake

I’ve Been Baking Cakes at Food52 for 10 Years. This One Might Be My Favorite.

Reflecting on my fondest memories, a decade later.

August 26, 2019

Food52 is 10 years old! To celebrate a decade of all things kitchen and home, we’re rolling out our top recipes, tips, and stories for another victory lap, along with some of our very favorite memories over the years. Go on, take ‘em in!


I was floored when the email landed in my inbox a few weeks ago asking me to develop a new cake recipe to celebrate Food52’s 10th birthday. Had it really been 10 years since I first clicked on the magical URL (more on that later), and fell seriously in love with the recipes, ideas, and conversations that were happening in this little corner of the internet?

The cake came to me immediately, of course, but not before some serious reflection on the past 10 years. From my perspective, this included a lot of midday coffee runs, buttery hands, heaps of dirty dishes, and so much sugar.

Here are 10 of my favorite memories from my years working with Food52.

1. How I First Heard About Food52

I remember it like it was yesterday: I was a recent pastry school grad in an entry-level job, writing and editing recipes in the basement of one of the largest culinary libraries in the world. I had just started a blog called The Apartment Kitchen, which set out to share recipes with my very limited collection of kitchen equipment (one plate, one mixing bowl, one fork, one spoon). I had studied with the professionals, but my goal was always to bring that knowledge back to people at home. Home cooks, like my mom and grandma, were responsible for my love of food and cooking—and I always knew that would be my focus someday, too.

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“Thank you and hope you stay with Food52 another 10 years.”
— Bea
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My boss sent me an email with a link saying, “This new website focused on home cooks is giving prizes if you submit recipes to their contests—you should check it out!” I clicked for the first time; it was August 2009. To say I was hooked is an understatement. Amanda and Merrill (and their team) had started a site celebrating home cooking. And just like that, I was a part of it—and so was anyone who wanted to participate! Food52 was a true community of people who loved to cook and bake at home. And while the site has grown and changed so much since then, I’ve been lucky to have witnessed the journey: first as a user, then as a test kitchen employee, now as a contributing writer and recipe developer.

2. My First Day in the Food52 Kitchen

When I moved to New York, one of my first emails was to Food52. I had already been an active user for several years and dreamed of lending a helping hand in the kitchen. My lucky day came in 2013, when they needed help on one of their first photoshoots for the (then) new shop. I walked in the door in the morning carrying a batch of drop biscuits to familiar faces, one of which looked a bit panicked. My stomach dropped, because I was already so nervous.

“I forgot to tell you, all we’re making today are cakes and pies—is that ok with you?”

And oh boy, was it ever. Maybe it was fate—they couldn’t have possibly known that baking was my specialty, or that I had stayed up till midnight the night before re-reading an old culinary textbook in case they asked me to cook a perfectly medium-rare steak or something. But luckily, that day the winds swayed in my favor, and I’ve been making tons and tons of cakes and pies in the Food52 offices ever since.

3. 12 Roast Chickens, No Oven

Working with Food52 always kept me on my toes. After a few months of working in the test kitchen, I arrived on my regularly scheduled shoot day to find a pile of roast chicken recipes on my work bench, plus a big sign on the oven notifying me that it was broken. Back then, we had a classically N.Y.C.-small office that boasted an even tinier kitchen with one oven. How we managed to churn endless items out all day long still baffles me: We’d start at 8 a.m. and cook and bake and do dishes until somehow our to-do list magically got done. But 12 chicken recipes and no oven was surely the biggest challenge we’d faced to date. Luckily, a neighbor on the 16th floor of our building offered us their oven, which meant Alison and I were running chickens up and down the stairs all day long to make the shoot happen. Naturally, we made it happen (and even had time for a photo opp).

4. The Heritage Turkey in July

Working in food media inevitably means sometimes being woefully out of season. In my career, I’ve had to hunt down apricots in January, rhubarb in November, and (perhaps most memorably) a heritage turkey in July for Food52’s Thanksgiving shoot back in 2014. While it’s relatively easy to find a frozen turkey in New York City year round, finding a fresh, free-range, heritage breed wasn’t so easy. The search took dozens of phone calls, finally landing me on the line with a farmer three hours away in the upper part of the Hudson Valley. I explained my request to him and felt such relief when he told me he could help. When I asked how soon he could deliver the bird, he said, “Well, let’s see—if I go out and kill Larry today, then pluck him tomorrow ... I could probably get him to you later this week.”

RIP, Larry. You were a good bird.

5. Brimley the Office Dog

My pup Brimley has been coming to the Food52 offices for as long as I have and, arguably, has made a much bigger impression. Lots of dogs have been welcomed there, but in my completely 100-percent biased opinion? Brimley is special. You can find him in shop photos, how-to videos, or doing laps around the desks, searching for someone to pet him (sometimes, his constant attention-seeking was so bad, I had to tie him up near me in the kitchen). You know that feeling when you walk into a room and everyone gets really excited to see you? They cheer, hug you, and praise nearly every move you make—and just can’t seem to get enough? Yea, I don’t either—but Brimley in the Food52 office sure does.

Brimley. Photo by James Ransom

6. The 1st Holiday Pop-Up

Back when my now-husband, Derek, was manning the Food52 test kitchen, we were given a particularly ambitious task one fateful holiday season. Food52 rented a storefront for their first pop-up shop, and it had a small kitchen in the back. The idea was that Derek and I would be little kitchen elves, constantly baking cookies to ensure that there were delicious samples scattered all around the store at all times. We also cooked all the food for the celebratory opening party, as well as all the classes that took place throughout the week. I have never baked so many cookies in my life, and it led to two very slap-happy cooks in the kitchen. We were there baking before dawn, and cleaning up long after the last folks cleared out. I still remember Derek squeezing my hand on the last night as we walked to the car, saying, “If we can handle that many cookies, then we can handle anything.” (Be still, my butter-loving heart.)

7. The Tasting Swarm

So often when I’m baking, there are only a few folks around to taste it. But, like so many people who love to cook, my favorite part of the process is watching others enjoy it! Which is why tastings at Food52 have long held a very special place in my heart. For several years now, I come into the office to shoot several of my articles all in one day. This means: one full day of baking so many things.

First, we shoot all the process shots—so the office starts to fill with the aromas of chocolate, caramelizing crusts, and simmering fruit. It’s late afternoon by the time we snag the beauty shots and I can finally put my dishes on the giveaway table. I usually see one set of eyes watching me as I walk over. I set it down, and then walk back to the studio area. Sometimes, that moment before I turn around is all it takes for there to be a crowd of people around the table, snapping pics and piling the goods onto their plates. For a baker who loves feeding people, that tasting table swarm is the happiest place on earth, every time.

8. 3 A.M. Wedding Cakes

One of my other favorite memories was needing to make three wedding cakes for the launch of the shop’s wedding registry in 2016. The event began late morning, so to get everything built and ready in time, I came into the office in the middle of the night! I made three mini wedding cakes that were to sit around the office—while I baked the cakes the day before, I made the frosting and assembled them on-site. I finally washed my last dish an hour before the event was to begin, giving me just enough time to run home and change. (Hilariously, I was on my way to my best friend’s wedding, where I was a bridesmaid!)

9. Remembering Everyday Happiness

In 2015, Ali Slagle got the office to start writing what she called “happy lists," handwritten lists of things that made the writer happy. I wrote my own #happylist not long after, and have continued this tradition within my own life ever since. This little experience, tucked into so many fun and funny times I’ve had at Food52 deserves its own quiet moment. Food52 has always given me (and other contributors) the space to write about what’s important to them.

In 2014, shop editor Bryce Longton asked me to write a letter for her Kitchen Letter series, and it became a love letter—the first time I’d written about my (then) burgeoning romance with the man who I would ultimately marry. The encouragement of my editors over the years is also how I was able to finally write about the passing of my beloved Grandma Jeanne, and even begin the grieving process after the unexpected loss of a close friend. I’m grateful for these snippets of real life (my own, and so many others) tucked away in this site’s archives.

10. So. Much. Cake.

The aforementioned wedding cakes were just one instance of crazy cake making I’ve done in the Food52 office over the years. There were the many, many cakes from 2016’s Fall Cookbook Cake Parade. Or the humongous cake I carved to celebrate reaching 1 million followers on Instagram. Or who could forget the flag cake that I made at least 15 times over the years? And that’s not even including the crazy gingerbread brownstone or the three-tiered Thanksgiving pie!

Over years of emails from Food52 staffers, I’ve had a lot of over-the-top requests hit my inbox. So I wasn’t at all surprised when they asked me to develop a new recipe for their 10th birthday this year. My Ultimate Chocolate Cake recipe is perfect for the occasion: beautiful, over the top, and crazy delicious.

What are your favorite Food52 memories? Please share them with us in the comments below.

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I always carry three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's pie. My first cookbook, The Fearless Baker, is out on October 24, 2017.

11 Comments

Bea September 17, 2019
I so love Food52. It's always the first.place I go to. About the cake....I would love to send you my recipe for you to try! I had a piece that had been in the fridge for over 2 weeks and it was just as delicious and moist as the first day I put it in there. I will try yours too. Thank you and hope you stay with Food52 another 10 years.
 
Teegivens September 19, 2019
Could you share your recipe I would love to try yours as well. TIA
 
claudia R. September 15, 2019
I absolutely loved your article. You are inspiring to someoone like me that loves to bake and cook but couldn't afford culinary school. Im a self taught and still learning baker/ cook. I hope to accomplish half of what you have. You are awesome!
 
smithseat September 12, 2019
Wow, this cake looks amazing! Could you please tell me if this can be made one day in advance and if so should it be served cold or at room temperature. Thank you!
 
Andrea B. September 9, 2019
The confidence when you slice that cake in half! Makes me realize I am too tentative...so nervous about making them uneven.
 
Aleyeh September 8, 2019
OMGOSH! I will try this for my brother’s birthday. It seems like a lot of work, but will be worth the effort. Fab job of explaining process, and the tips.

Congratulations Food52 on your 10th Anniversary!
 
Robert B. August 29, 2019
14:10 "Oooh-ohhh, YASS......ganache." Loved the video for your enthusiasm and explanation of what you were doing & why.
 
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Erin M. August 30, 2019
Thank you! That has always been one of my favorite food moments!!!
 
Fred R. August 26, 2019
Good for Food52...Happy Birthday.
 
Briana August 26, 2019
I really loved watching this video! I am an avid amateur baker and love learning about the science behind all of this. Also your cake is gorgeous and I can't wait to make it! Where did you get your "butter" ring?
 
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Erin M. August 30, 2019
Thank you! It’s from SNASH jewelry!