Photo: Charm City Cakes; EatingWell collage
Celebrity pastry chef Duff Goldman is known for his mind-blowing cake creations at Charm City Cakes and his other bakeries which span the nation. Nowadays, you can catch him co-hosting Kids Baking Championship with Valerie Bertinelli on Food Network.
Goldman is the leading expert on getting kids interested in baking and experimenting with recipes galore. His new cookbook, Super Good Cookies for Kids, teaches kids (and their adults) basic kitchen safety, how to write their own recipes and, of course, a ton of super-good cookie recipes.
With the holiday season here, the kiddos in your life—whether they're yours or someone else's!—will surely ask to do some baking. But let's face it, kids and kitchens don't always mix. Goldman knows how to make their time in the kitchen safe, fun and creative. So, he sat down with EatingWell to share his knowledge and to remind us how joyful baking can be at all ages.
EatingWell: People are doing a lot of baking right now, are there recipes that you always bake at the holidays?
Goldman: Yes, so there's polvorones, like a Mexican wedding cookie or Russian tea cake, whatever you want to call those. I make those every year. They're kind of a big hit, and people would be mad if I didn't.
EatingWell: Are there any recipes that you make around the holidays that were passed down through your family?
Goldman: My great-grandmother was a baker, and my mom is a really good cook. We're all Jews so there's a lot of food happening. I was really the first one to really embrace pastries. My great-grandma was excellent at [making] rugelach, strudel, things like that. But as far as really taking a deep dive into baking, I think I'm the first one.
For holidays, it's brisket, right? There's a brisket at every holiday, and it doesn't matter which one. There's Christmas brisket, Thanksgiving brisket. Did you break your leg? I'll make you a brisket!
EatingWell: Are there any recipes that you make a lot and that you hope to make with your daughter?
Goldman: My Texas chili is pretty great. And we made it together when she was 3 days old. We got home from the hospital, and my wife was upstairs resting. I put her in her car seat and had her up on the kitchen counter right next to the stove. It's a good thing my wife was sleeping, she might have yelled at me if she saw that.
EatingWell: Baking with kids can be messy and stressful. What tips do you have for adults to make it more fun?
Goldman: You've got to manage expectations. Just realize it's gonna be a mess, so don't worry about it! You know, there's gonna be flour all over the floor. So don't be like, "Oh my God, we gotta get the flour!" Just relax. It's fine. Clean it up. No big deal.
I think especially if you're not a baker and if you don't do it all the time, then remember that you're learning together. When you're learning and sort of going through this, like, "OK, what does this mean?" [then] you're learning this together, and the kids respond to that.
The other thing to remember is don't just do everything and have them watch. Kids don't want to do that. They want to do stuff! You know, teach them about knives. [Say] "Look, this is a tool that's sharp and it could hurt you. But if you use it right, you're gonna chop this butter." Things like that.
But I think the biggest thing when you're cooking with kids and baking with kids is really just getting them involved and letting them make decisions. When they make decisions, they tend to be a lot more attentive. That's something I've had to learn through not only just being a dad. Charm City Cakes is one of my bakeries, and then I have another place called Duff's Cake Mix where you come in and you decorate your own cake. We bake it and we give you all the stuff that you get to decorate it with right there. And so a lot of times I'm in there, and I like hanging out with all the kids that are decorating cakes. Because I like kids and cake. And I have to stop myself [from saying], "Oh, let me show you how to make a dinosaur." You know, let them make the dinosaur. You know what I mean? Just let them do it. It's not going to be perfect, but that's great! They're still gonna do it and, to them, it's gonna be magic because they made it.
EatingWell: Do you have some tips for easy yet impressive ways to decorate cookies for the holidays?
Goldman: There's tons and tons and tons of really cool-looking candy out there. So you can do sugar cookies and put fun candies on there. Get creative with chocolate bars like Snickers and stuff. Chop those up, put them in there. One thing I love to do is whip up some brownie batter and then chop up a bunch of candy and put it in there and bake it all up. Like, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Three Musketeers and Baby Ruths and things like that.
EatingWell: What sorts of recipes do you recommend that people start with when they're not comfortable baking?
Goldman: Yeah, like drop cookies, right? Drop cookies are great, and everybody loves chocolate chip cookies. Fresh chocolate chip cookies are awesome. Fudge cookies or peanut butter cookies, those are great. You know, peanut butter cookies are awesome. There's lots of little things when you make peanut butter cookies. You drop them in the plate of granulated sugar so when you bake them they get that little crunchy edge. You know, teach kids how to do that. That's a fun step to do.
Gingerbread Pine Cones
This recipe, adapted from Duff Goldman's Super Good Cookies for Kids, is a solid gingerbread cookie recipe. You can use a pine cone cookie press or cut out the dough using traditional cookie cutters.
EatingWell: Have you had a baking fail or mistake recently that you had a good learning experience from?
Goldman: When I was writing Super Good Cookies for Kids, I just couldn't get the macarons right. It took all day, and it put us way behind schedule. I was like, "I need to figure this out. Like, I can't put a bum recipe in here." I wanted to make sure the recipes work. So that took a long time. I don't make them that often. It was like, "Alright, I gotta figure this out. Because if I'm the expert, I gotta know what I'm talking about."
EatingWell: Once you finally figured them out, was there a moment like, "Oh duh, this is what I'm doing wrong"?
Goldman: Yeah, it was just letting them cure in the air. You know, let them get a nice crust on the outside.
EatingWell: What do you always have on hand to satisfy your sweet tooth?
Goldman: My freezer is full of cookie dough. There's always cookie dough in there. The problem is I have a full pastry pantry. So I have like 10 pounds of really nice milk chocolate, 10 pounds of really nice white chocolate. So sometimes I go in the pantry, and I stick my hand in the Cambro [a brand of food-storage containers popular with chefs] full of chocolate, and I get a handful. But mostly my sweets are like raisins. I eat a lot of raisins, I eat a lot of prunes. I love dried fruit. I'm a Jew; we like dried fruit and salted fish and canned meat. We just like stuff like that. I love prunes and my daughter loves prunes [too]. They're amazing!
EatingWell: Do you have a favorite winter fruit to bake with?
Goldman: I don't know … I guess maybe persimmons. A lot of my neighbors have persimmon trees. I'll wake up and there's just like grocery bags of persimmons on my front doorstep. Because they're like, "That guy's a chef. He knows what to do with all these!" So they gather all the persimmons and bring them over. So usually what I do is I take everybody's persimmons, I make huge batches of persimmon jam and I hand them out. I give back their persimmons in Ball jars.
EatingWell: You've co-hosted Kids Baking Championship with Valerie Bertinelli for a decade. What's your favorite thing about working with her?
Goldman: Getting to hear stories about Van Halen because I love Van Halen. Also Val's so good at television. She's been doing it since she was a kid. She's a pro at television, and I'm a cake decorator. I'm not good at TV. I'm good at TV in the sense that I'm myself and I'm honest. I'm the same guy when I go upstairs and hang out with my wife. I'm not trying to be somebody else. But like really just paying attention and watching Val and how she interacts with the cameras, how she interacts with the kids, how she interacts with me. She's taught me so much about how to not even be better at television, but more just how to make everybody else's life easier around you, by just being a pro and doing your job. She's amazing. But really, it's the Van Halen stories that I love!
EatingWell: So if you were to bake something for Valerie, what would you bake her?
Goldman: Oh, I would probably make those little frosted lemon cookies. Because she loves lemon. She does. She really does love it. And those are great cookies; they're not too sour, not too sweet. That, or I'd do pizza. Val's got a really great pizza oven at her house and every time I go over, I always bring some dough and fixings and I make pizza, because I don't know if it gets used all that often. But it gets used when I'm there!
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.