From Wexford to LA, professional chef Gemma Stafford has seen her fortunes rising higher than her frosted cakes
On September 3 the YouTube baking star will launch Bigger Bolder Baking, her brilliant new recipe book to make a better baker of everyone who reads it (even the first-timers).
This approachable, unfussy, easy to prepare and easy to excel at baking book is guaranteed to take the States by storm when it launches.
Born and raised in Wexford, Stafford, 36, attended the School of the Culinary Arts on Cathal Brugha Street in Dublin and later the world-famous Ballymaloe School in West Cork.
Her timing with the publication of the new book is impeccable. Irish cooking and baking is clearly having a moment. Tourists have caught on to the farm to table freshness of Irish cooking and baking and the quality and flavor of our minimally processed dishes are winning plaudits and a host of international awards in a field that was once sniffed at.
In fact, Stafford's own journey from clueless cook to celebrity chef mirrors the nation's. When she and her husband were starting up her now wildly successful YouTube baking page she freely admits she “hadn't a clue” what they were doing.
“I didn't really see United States until eleven years ago, I spent most of my adult life in Ireland,” she tells IrishCentral. “I went to Cathal Brugha Street culinary school and then I studied at Ballymaloe. I did a lot of my professional training in Ireland.”
The lack of pretension and the focus on well made, well presented, delicious baking is characteristic of her no-nonsense approach in Bigger Bolder Baking.
Open any page and you'll find a recipe that will be easy to prepare and deeply satisfying. More to the point, you will be able to make from ingredients you probably already have or can easily find (she even tells you how to make your own buttermilk, cake flour, brown sugar and condensed milk at a pinch).
This is the kind of cookbook that comes from several lifetimes of know-how that have been passed down to you the lucky reader. They include life-saving recipes made from household ingredients you can pull together at the last minute for emergency get-togethers. It's honest to God baking without cheats. But living in California now does she miss the simplicity and flavor of Irish baking?
“Yeah, absolutely. I make a lot of my own bread. In Ireland, we are fortunate to be such a small country where it is all farm to table, and as much as we complain about the rain it makes for happy cows and some of the best dairy products I've ever tasted. So we, we are very fortunate with the ingredients that we have to work with.”
If you believe our chefs and bakers are as important to Irish culture as our writers and artists because they help to express who we are, isn't it time the world caught on? Is the narrative about Irish cooking and baking changing?
“Well, when we started Bigger Bolder Baking five years ago we had no fans and no followers. But now it's taken off, I've just written my first cookbook and I'm becoming more known around the world. There is definitely more support from Ireland each time I go home too. The last time I was there I collected my niece from school and I was mobbed by a pile of eight-year-olds and that didn't happen a year ago, it's really funny to see.”
Stafford came to eleven years ago and her homesickness has recently grown stronger. "I miss the people and I absolutely miss the food," she confesses. "I miss the peace of Ireland too. It might be a little bit slower, but there's nothing wrong with that. So definitely my future plans are to start to focus more on Ireland and to do a lot more work from Ireland. My dream to build a brick and mortar store in Ireland and have a food destination there.”
Final question, is there a go to recipe that you look for in a cooking book to decide whether you will buy it or not?
“That's a good question! I would say that the chocolate chip cookie. Our biscuits are different in Ireland. They're crisper. So when I did mine in my book, I made sure that it was like my best ever chocolate chip cookie."
"I wanted the perfect instructions for how to bake it and how to make it come out just right. Because there's a very sweet spot when it comes to making a good American chocolate chip cookie. You need the inside soft and the outside crispy. So that's a staple for sure. I'd use that as a benchmark.”
By her own standards, Stafford has hit it out of the park in her first attempt. Check out Bigger Bolder Baking when it hits the bookstores next week and find out why Irish baking is now world class baking.
Read more: An indulgent chocolate Guinness cake recipe
Bigger Bolder Baking, HMH Press, $30.00.