On Friday night, the air at the Santa Clara Books Inc. shop was heavy with the delectable aroma of fresh-baked cookies as first-time author Irvin Lin spoke about his new cookbook Marbled, Swirled, and Layered.
The 43-year-old San Francisco-based food writer was born in St. Louis. The son of Taiwanese immigrant parents, Lin recalled that his mother cooked traditional Asian fare–stirfrys and such–but as far as desserts, the choice was limited to an orange slice. Or, if there was a potluck, something out of a Duncan Hines box. So his first try at baking in the third grade–Snickerdoodles–was a revelation. Later, as an English Literature major in college, he said he baked every time he had a paper due or an upcoming test. “I called it procrasti-baking,” he said.
He’s been food blogging for the past six years at eatthelove.com, but only a handful of those recipes are in the book. He simplified and streamlined recipes, and wanted to make sure anyone could make them, he said, “I did most of my shopping at Safeway.”
Most of his recipes focus on American classics, but he has a few that pay homage to his cultural heritage, like, his favorite, Ginger éclairs with black sesame pastry cream and five-spice craquelin.
He still blogs at least once a week. (His photos earned him the Best Food Photography award in 2013 from the International Association of Culinary Professionals.) He explained that the name of his blog eatthelove.com came to him from a friend with a strict macrobiotic vegan diet who, when he went back home to Tennessee for the holidays, had few options beyond the traditional soul food he’d grown up with. But he ate the collard greens with bacon and buttermilk biscuits anyway, pointing out, Lin recalled, “When I’m eating the food, I’m eating the love.” It’s why Lin said he was drawn to baking as well. “You bake for those you love,” he said.
The Friday night event drew a crowd from around the Bay Area, including Chara, an engineer from Santa Clara, who said she loves to cook and came out that night to learn more. Her friend Maura, who works as a personal concierge and Uber driver in Los Gatos, confessed that she loves just looking at cookbooks. In the back row, a trio of food industry professionals who knew the author, came for mutual support. Emma from San Jose said she plans to make Lin’s marble bundt cake recipe over the holidays. Sheri from Sunnyvale said she likes to make a ginger bundt cake. Cheryl from San Jose prefers pumpkin pie, though she insists on using fresh pumpkin, which she buys from the weekend farmers’ market.
For Thanksgiving, Lin said he plans on making his butterscotch pumpkin zebra pie and a cranberry apple pie so he can use the apples he received from a friend in Sonoma, who picked them from her own trees. Christmas, Lin said, will be all about cookies–black and white checkerboard, cinnamon swirl and peanut butter and butterscotch cookies–all of which are included in his new book.
Holiday Baking Hacks from Ivin Lin:
- Get a Head Start: Lin advises baking two to three weeks ahead of time. You can freeze already baked cookies, blondies and brownies (after they have completely cooled) in a Ziplock bag. Just thaw a couple of hours before serving and they should taste as good as fresh-baked. Raw cookie dough can also be frozen ahead of time. He recommends you portion out the dough into balls and freeze. You can then bake them as is, without defrosting, by placing them on a cookie sheet and baking for an additional one to two minutes until the cookies are golden brown on the edges.
- Test Your Oven: Lin warns that ovens can be “out of whack” by up to fifty degrees. So use an oven thermometer whenever possible. He also recommends toasting a tray of sliced white bread to see which part of the tray of bread browns faster. Compensate for these “hot spots” by rotating pans in the oven about two-thirds of the way through baking time.
- Give Old Standards a New Spin: Lin says a traditional pumpkin pie is heavy on cinnamon with a dash of nutmeg, ginger, allspice and cloves. Mix it up this season by using whatever blend of spices you want. He suggests including other wintery spices such as cardomom and mace, or unexpected ones such as coriander and black pepper, which can be used in small amounts.