NEW YORK — When she’s not picking figs and quinces from the trees in her Brooklyn yard, pastry chef Kate Zuckerman is whipping up sophisticated desserts like raspberry lemon verbena napolean for the refined palettes at Chanterelle in TriBeCa.
And she traces a similar path in her first cookbook, “The Sweet Life,” out now from Bulfinch Press. Alongside recipes for passion fruit glacés and hazelnut cake, Zuckerman, a former anthropology student, offers helpful scientific and horticultural tips on ingredients and how they react with other foods in the baking process. “I enjoy researching topics that are very familiar to people,” she says. “It’s what I like to do with food — talk about things you use every day and sort of dig them up a little.”
Zuckerman started cooking for her two older brothers. “They’re both very tall and have endless appetites, so when they were in high school, I made my way through Maida Heatter’s ‘Great Book of Desserts,’ recipe by recipe.”
The petite mother of two has now moved on to baking for her own children — and sweets are on the menu, despite the current vogue to put children on strict sugar-free diets. “My son loves these malted meringues with gooey milk chocolate, sort of glorified Whoppers,” she says. “He’s really picky and only likes chocolate. But my four-year-old daughter surprises me” in terms of what she’ll try.
The kids aren’t just willing taste testers, they’re also hands-on. “We just made an apple tart this weekend, with brown butter and vanilla bean and fig and apples,” she says. “I usually lay out the apples in beautiful rows, but they wanted to do something, so I just let them. It looked terrible.”
And, of course, Zuckerman is still learning herself. “If I went back to college now, I’d study chemistry,” she says. “I know I have to beat egg whites on the first day that I crack them open to get panna cotta to set….Cooking to me is about doing things over and over again and seeing subtleties. A home cook doesn’t have that opportunity, so you really need to give them an idea of what you’re experiencing as a chef.”
This story first appeared in the November 14, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
One tip she can offer for the layman or -woman: In case of a disaster, like the all-too-common fallen soufflé, there’s nothing to be done but to eat it. “It still tastes good,” she swears. “A lot of people serve fallen soufflé. It’s just like a warm pudding.”