Seton Rossini is tiny. This wouldn’t be remarkable except for that she is also a baker and also because she is the author of the recently released Sweet Envy, a cookbook for average bakers who want to look like experts–which means that she has tasted and tasted and tasted again each of the recipes she included in the book.
She says she was blessed with great jeans and a love for running. I say blessed and damn lucky to have skill as a baker because how lovely would it be to make desserts like this and then eat them all the time without any apparent repercussions.
Seton is a native Annapolitan who recently returned to the area from New York City, where she was an Associate Design Director for Food & Wine Magazine (dream job, I know….she’s gorgeous, she bakes, she worked for Food and Wine, she went to NYC when I left it. I would hate her except for that she is perfectly delightful and humble and obviously talented and therefore interesting).
She wrote and designed a new cookbook aptly named “Sweet Envy”, which was released in October and is sold in local bookstores. Sweet Envy is an extension of her blog, Pixel-Whisk. Her blog, unlike this one, is well organized, easy to maneuver and visually stunning.
The next two months are especially notable for many occasions that will call for hostess gifts and elegant desserts, so I was excited last week to speak with Seton about her journey from art student to baker and author.
Here is what we talked about. As a bonus, Seton gave me a few recipes for ya’ll.
FFF: Where did you get your love for baking?
SR: Well, I have a monstrous sweet tooth, so does my husband. Dessert is always first. In fact, last week I made something for dinner and we didn’t like it so much, so we made apple fritters instead. We dusted them with powdered sugar and they were so much better!
I have always been baking, ever since I was a kid. My mom was really wonderful in that she let me take over the kitchen to make whatever I wanted. I became the family baker. She had five kids. She was too busy making dinner to make dessert.
SR: I am completely self-taught. I read books and watched cooking shows and learned on my own from many, many mistakes. Baking is all about trial and error. So you experiment and you fail and you don’t make that mistake that again. You have to really want to learn something and to have a passion for it to fail as many times as I did and still keep trying.
I was prepared for pastry school when I got the job at Food & Wine. In fact, I was working at Kiehl’s and dying inside because I knew I wanted to bake and all my friends told me I should bake. So I registered for pastry school and right before it was supposed to start I got the job at F & W. But I became The Baker for my office and my baking really took off during my time at F & W.
FFF: Tell me about living and working in New York and wanting to be a baker.
SR: I was always baking, even in college at Parsons. In my dorm room I would be baking pies and cooking every day. While I was at F & W people started to become especially interested in my cakes. I would bring in pies or cookies or cakes that I made at night, after work. Eventually people began asking me for special orders and my baking career took off at the same time as my marketing design work.I use a lot of the same techniques in pastry as I did being trained as an artist. I paint with buttercream and a paint brush. My design sensibility plays into my work and my art as well– my sense of composition and color, my ideals as a designer–its just with baking I am working with sugar.
Spoiler: read the introduction to Sweet Envy to see how that statement above is so Seton: humble, not really a revelatory remark on her incredible talent, not representative of her many achievements so far. For example, she was asked to design the street windows for Macy’s. With cakes. Just a little side job….
FFF: You had a successful career at Food & Wine, and a growing reputation as a baker in New York. You must have been ridiculously busy. How did the blog come about?
SR: After my son was born, I started working three days a week at the office and 2 days each week on my blog. The blog was a place for me to imagine and develop recipes and to share How To’s with readers. In fact, what I love about my blog is that it really did lead to my book. I am a slow blogger, I don’t post often and when I do they are long thoughtful posts.
FFF: Why did you decided to write the book?
SR: I’ve always wanted to write a book. I wanted to be a book cover designer when I was in college. In some aspects it was more fun for me to design the book than to come up with the recipes, write them, test them and make them.
Initially, I wanted to make a book of desserts that are easy for people who aren’t professional bakers to create, but that will be impressive. I wanted to make baking amazing desserts approachable.
FFF: How did you hash out which recipes you would include?SR: I had the requirement that I wanted all the recipes to be impressive, but approachable. I am inspired by art, design, nature and cooking with family. So I included simple recipes inside of those themes that have a big wow factor. I wanted to include recipes that someone like my brother, who isn’t a baker at all, could make and be proud of.
I had the chapters laid out in my mind and I wanted recipes that fit with those themes. For example, I really like boozy desserts, so Bourbon Cherry Pie (its called The Old Fashioned in the book) was so obvious to me. I love desserts that mimic nature and I love adding herbs into desserts, so there is a chapter inspired by nature.
I realize that people don’t have a ton of extra time to spend in the kitchen baking. I wanted my book to help make baking fun and leave home bakers with a really impressive dessert that tastes delicious, and that is really what guided the recipes I chose.
A lot of the book is an extension of Pixel-Whisk where I really break down recipes to teach people how baking can be easy and impressive and delicious.
FFF: The book is so cool. I love the design aesthetic. It’s fun and not at all pretentious or assuming. Same with Pixel-Whisk. What are your favorite recipes?
SR: There are 75 recipes in the book. My favorite is the Mint Chocolate Trifle because it is one of the easiest to make but looks incredibly fancy. When I first had it I was obsessed with how good it was. Now I make it all the time. I also really like the Rocky Road Cookies. They are the simplest cookie recipe I have ever made, and I make them all the time, at least once or twice a week.
Feel free to share...