2/17/14

Interview with cookbook author Warren Brown of Cake Love +Giveaway

Today I’m delighted to be given the chance to ask cookbook author, star of the food network tv show: Sugarush, and bakery owner Warren Brown a few questions about his books, his bakeries, and his life. And more importantly--how he does it all!
Most of you may know Warren from his hit tv show on food network Sugar Rush from 2005-2007. And you may also know him by the infamous bakery CakeLove in Washington, DC that he started after he left his career in practicing law.   It was that bakery that started him on his journey to becoming a cookbook author first book CakeLove, then came United Cakes of America, CakeLove in the Morning, and most recently Pie Love (which is my favorite).
PicMonkey Collage
CakeLove from Scratch, United Cakes of America, CakeLove in the Morning, PieLove

I gave Warren a few extra questions because I'm so fascinated by how much he's done in his life, admired his dedication to taking on so much in his life; leaving a secure career to go off and do another chapter in his life.  
Thank you to Warren for taking the time to answer each and every one of my questions!

Were there one or two defining moments that made you want to leave your career in law to open a bakery?
In the  first three months of my job doing administrative litigation there was a Friday evening I was doing research for a case that one of my superiors asked me to work on. It was after hours, probably around 6/6:30pm. I walked out of my office to use the restroom and couldn’t help but notice how quiet it was. I just thought to myself, I’m ready to work hard, maybe harder than what’s expected of me here. I wanted to work hard and do it building something that I enjoyed.

Was it in fact a love of wanting to open a bakery or something else that led to the bakery?


I did not begin baking cakes with the aspiration to open a bakery for the sake of running a bakery. If there is anything I’ve learned running CakeLove it’s that running a bakery is skill set that is very different than baking cakes from scratch. There’s some overlap, but it’s not complete. I started baking cakes as a way to learn more about culinary arts, specifically baking. I had a lot of experience as a home, amateur cook, but it was all savory foods. I started cooking when I was about 10 or 11 with really, really basic foods, and found myself making meals from scratch in high school. I just loved cooking and eating! Baking was always a mystery to me, so I wanted to learn the ins and outs of baking. Cakes proved to be a fun way to get familiar with butter, sugar, eggs and flour. 

www.cometphoto.com
cherry-chocolate chip cupcakes pg. 104 CakeLove

Your first bakery CakeLove, was it pretty much hands on, work 16 hours days until you got the flow going?  I know it can be hard laying down a “real routine” in bakeries.

Yes, absolutely. I remember the first 9 days really well. We opened on a Saturday at the end of March, a nice time of year in DC.  There was a break in sales on the first day when I took a break and stepped outside. The sun was setting, Rick, one of the bakers was having a smoke, and Fernando, cake decorator, was with us. It felt right. We had a lot of work to do to get the bakery where it needed to be, but the mix felt right and I was confident that it would succeed.  The very next day it rained and sales were down by 60%. I was worried, but knew that two days doesn’t really show me anything.
The rest of the week went smoothly, but I was working every single day practically 14 hours a day. On the 10th day, the second Monday, we closed for a day off. I couldn’t believe how tired I was and felt like I was gonna die. Early on I knew I had to delegate tasks and find staff to work shifts so I wasn’t overwhelmed. 

Speaking of success and failure in bakeries.  Tell us what you think truly makes a bakery succeed in it’s first few months.; besides good, quality product, what else?

I think the element of success for a bakery must be met early on and continually:
1. Be excellent and inspiring to customers
2. Bake great products that taste great and looks great.
3. Keep things running on time and smoothly.


Where did you get the idea for your newest cookbook: PieLove?
Sounds logical to go from cakes to pies, right?

My first love for baking was pies . I wanted to take what I learned about flour, sugar and butter with baking cakes and apply it to pies, specifically how to make really good crusts. 

You were on the Oprah show!
What was it like being on Oprah?  
You had to be nervous?
Did you bring her a cake?  

I was on the episode: What should I do with My Life? Aired first on Jan 27th, 2003. 
It was a great experience that gave me some validation that the risk I took was worthwhile and valuable. The risk payoff was not, and remains, in the financial reward. It’s about the personal and spiritual satisfaction.
One part of the backstory never reported on is how sick I was just before the taping. I was doubled over in pain for a solid 24 hours with the worst food poisoning in my life and had to fly from LA to Chicago for the taping. After a long day of travel and keeping as quiet and still as possible, I felt like I was dying the night before the taping. I don’t think it was just nerves. My stomach and abdominal muscles had been so strained from being sick that they went through hours of cramps the night before the taping. I ate a few bananas, took some pain Tylenol and went to bed. Miraculously I felt fine the next day. In fact, I felt very good and my nerves had been totally cured by the illness. When I got to the studio and was standing upright, I was just thankful for being there and was determined not to hold back or clam up. 
I had mini pound cakes shipped in from my bakery, something like 400 of them.They went over very well!

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All your favorite pie crust recipes done perfectly in PieLove

I remember fondly, and looking forward to your show on Food Network: Sugar Rush.
(Sugar Rush was a show about meeting and hanging with award-winning pastry chefs to discover the secrets behinds their grand masterpieces.  Warren would take home what he learned and try to recreate it in his kitchen, with his own tips & tricks).
There was one episode where you did chocolate burritos!  Oh how I was smitten with you then.   The field trip parts on the show were also a great bonus; traveling around and learning some of the best secrets from pastry chefs as well as seeing their surroundings--where they created their masterpieces.
Do you miss the show?  

Sure, I really enjoyed meeting pastry chefs and seeing what people were doing all around the country. It was a thrill to interview folks and do the work on camera. 
I think I like the work of being a baker, business owner a little more than media host, but they're all great work.

I read somewhere along in my research on you, that one of the best feelings you get when you bake someone a cake, is when they taste it and their delight shows through on their face...
In the article it read:  ”….. at first, Brown took on cake baking as a hobby, teaching himself through cookbooks and an occasional professional class. He watched the faces of dinner guests light up when the cake came out….”
I share this because I know that feeling exactly; it definitely what pushed me into baking.
Truly a great feeling isn’t it?
Makes you want to create more.  Is that what you could call your drive? -- Your will to open a bakery of your own?

I am drawn to baking for lots of reasons. I love to know how people react to my cakes, cookies, pies, or more. Obviously I can’t see all of the reactions to everything that is purchased and in some ways it forced me to tamp down my desire or need to know exactly how my baking impacts others.  I mean, I’m so literal a lot of the time that I feel like I’m an all or nothing guy. If I know I can’t see everyone’s reaction, then I don’t want to build up my hopes and expectations to know anyone’s reaction. Does that make sense? That’s the personal side of me at least – the side that used to draw on knowing how happy my baking makes others. 
Once CakeLove transformed into a business, know the impact and reactions became more of a need that warranted documentation and metrics. Feedback became marching orders to change, adjustments and updates. The wonk in me takes well to that in an effort to build cakes that have a technical structure that balances the customer’s desires with our ingredients, equipment and my baking philosophy. 
I love to create, for myself and my own curiosity and for the benefit of my customers. Some of the things I love do not go over well—like an espresso strength mocha cupcake. People said it tastes too much like coffee. That doesn’t make sense to me and I don’t even drink coffee. I loved it for the taste and the caffeine high. But, not everything I like our customers or my staff take to. 

UnitedCakes_p79
Tennessee Mountain Stack Cake pg. 78 United Cakes of America

I also love, and want to share with my readers that when you were first starting out, you did a lot of what I like to call “street research” where you would go out to other bakeries, and ‘pick their brains’.  
Can’t tell you how incredibly smart this is.
Great advice for new bakery owners/wannabe bakery owners.
It’s really how you learn to grow, get wise, and help you succeed.
Wouldn’t you agree?

Do it as much as you can. 
It’s hard to find time to talk in detail with bakery owners, but when you can grab as much time as you can and ask direct questions. If they don’t feel comfortable answering, then they won’t. 
Many people respect someone who knows their stuff and asks the right questions, so do your homework. 

Share with us your favorite recipes from your books?

CakeLove:  Sassy Pound Cake
United Cakes of America:  Missouri Ooey Gooey cake – delicious. 
CakeLove In the Morning:  Ginger Pecan Scones
PieLove :  Blueberry Maple pie with Vanilla bean crust. 

UnitedCakes_p103
Mud Cake pg. 102 United Cakes of America

Do you have favorite comfort foods?

Mac & Cheese. I’ve been doing a study of it this winter for my daughters, trying to get the right balance of noodles and wetness. They like a wet sauce, like Kraft without ever having tasted it. I do a blend of Gouda and cheddar with a roux. But have also had fab success using evaporated milk instead of a roux, and it’s much easier.

What do you do in your downtime?

These days, swimming. Started swimming in 2008 and now it’s my exercise of choice. 
There’s not a lot of downtime though. 

You go on speaking engagements to young students and rising entrepreneurs about business development and finding one’s passion.

Sometimes on the road, one at a time, and sometimes locally. Usually it’s about how to find one’s passion, how did I find my passion and start CakeLove. I enjoy sharing the CakeLove story especially how it started. I enjoy even more just talking about the experience of being a small business owner. It’s not always a cheery story, but that’s what people say they like when I speak, that’s it’s real and from the heart. 

CakeLove_45
White Chocolate Waffles pg. 45 CakeLove in the Morning

I read somewhere that you worked yourself straight into some serious exhaustion.  
How did that come about?

Way back when I started I was burning the candle on both ends. That continued for a while, really while I was still going out before getting married. With the kids my life and lifestyle is totally different. I am my parents now and couldn’t be happier crashing just about as early as my girls. Late nights can be fun, but those days are over. 

Any new projects we can expect from you?

Cake Bites is the new project. 
Cake and cream cheese icing layered together in 4 or 12 oz jars. 
I’m pivoting CakeLove away from  a business model focused on retail storefronts to wholesale supplier of a packaged consumer good. 
I enjoy focusing our work on making the product and allowing the grocer retailer to handles retailing the product. I hope to make the full transition complete within the next 2 years. 

www.cometphoto.com
Chocolate Sponge Cake with Chocolate Buttercream pg. 129 CakeLove

I must share with you that in addition to getting a few questions from your fans, a lot them wanted me to tell you that your buttercream frostings (in the cookbook CakeLove) were some of the best to work with and tastiest. And they thank you for that!

Thank you for the kudos about the buttercream frostings. That means a lot. 
We have many different bases and favor extensions off of each base.  I only wish that the rest of the market fully appreciated the nuances of cooked buttercreams and what it takes to appropriately serve them – namely to not eat it cold.  We never want people to eat cold cake and resorted to disclaimers of different sorts to give people the heads up. That was met with resistance of various sorts over the years. 
You may be surprised to know how much push back and flak we’ve caught from critics to consumers because we make and stuck with cooked buttercreams all of these years, instead of just resorting to American Buttercream. 
Why? Well, I really like to focus on specific ingredient flavors and let that item dictate what format it needs to be in for the best presentation of taste. Sometimes that means bending to the will of the food in order to capture the best of what it has to offer. Take strawberries, they’re fabulous in buttercream. We let the mixer beat freshly cut strawberries into Italian meringue buttercream. 
Or a different way to feature coconut in buttercream, our “New German Chocolate” (also coconut buttercream in CakeLove)—it’s a coconut vanilla brown sugar buttercream that is built around a yolk based custard. Both of these have to be held under refrigeration b/c of the ingredients and method of production, but as long as it’s at room temperature when served, it’s fabulous. Really delicious. 
I think the steps to necessary to serve it are just like chilling beer or bubbly before a party, setting out cheese so it’s not fridge cold when sliced and served, or setting out an ice cream cake to slightly thaw before it’s cut and served. Fine food requires a little work and cake is no exception. 

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Coco Cola Cake pg. 88 United Cakes of America

Thank you so much Warren!
For more information on Warren and his bakeries, please visit www.cakelove.com
You can follow Warren on Facebook  and Twitter  

Warren was kind enough to donate one lucky winner, one copy of each of his four cookbooks.
All you have to do to enter is leave a comment telling us which one of Warren's books intrigues you most.
CakeLove - How to bake cakes from scratch 
United Cakes of America - recipes celebrating every state
CakeLove in the Morning - recipes for muffins, scones, pancakes, waffles, biscuits & other breakfast treats
PieLove - recipes for sweet & savory pies, galettes, pastry cremes, tarts & turnovers

All anonymous comments will be deleted!
Please have a valid signature line, name AND email!
Drawing will be held 2/24/14
Good Luck!

44 comments:

  1. cakelove in the morning-i love pancakes and breakfast foods.

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  2. CakeLove in the Morning!!!!! What an amazing man! You definitely have to be in it to win it when you open a bakery. I also love that he said "Be excellent and inspiring to customers". I agree- I think thats SO important!!

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  3. Cakelove in the morning for sure!

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  4. Cakelove in the morning... but my goal this year is to work on pies- so I am really torn between the two.

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  5. PieLove! My hubby and I are pie-obsessed! Although I won't say no to pretty much any dessert :)

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  6. Cake Love, but they all sound wonderful. This was a very interesting post!!!! Thanks for the chance to win! thealldays@msn.com

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  7. What a great interview! CakeLove intrigues me the most.

    EMS591@aol.com

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  8. PieLove sounds like a fun read! I'm really intrigued by his various pie crusts.

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  9. CakeLove in the Morning - I love muffins and would love to make my family some wonderful breakfasts!

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  10. United Cakes of America! I'm interested to see what it covers for Iowa!

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  11. Omg, those cakes look incredible! Will have to check out that book.

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  12. cake love in the morning sounds awesome!

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  13. i'm intrigued by cake love!

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  14. I have to say his favorite book for me so far is his CakeLove for making scratch cakes. I've always loved making cakes from scratch, and his book helped me expand my recipes. I'm also interested in his pie book, but would love to look at all of them. Would love to win them!

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  15. I am obsessed with breakfast, so definitely CakeLove in the Morning!

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  16. Oh, so hard to pick one favorite but maybe Pie Love?

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  17. I've read United Cakes of America and it is a really fun read. I like regional cooking and this is even better because it is baking! I would love his CakeLove book but pies are pretty damn special, too! Is he going to be doing cookies any time soon? Great interview, Dawn! I bet it was fun to do!

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  18. I think Cake Love in the Morning. But that's a really tough choice, what with all the amazing options!

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  19. United cakes of America sounds pretty interesting.

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  20. While I love his statement about pie and that clever pic of the various doughs,
    it's got to be United Cakes of America,
    not only b/c of the clever title, but the fact that I can't stop thinking about that
    Tenn Mtn Stack Cake w what looks like apple buttah.

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  21. I'm intrigued by PieLove!

    shelly8806@hotmail.com

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  22. I knew you were going to make me choose...I want them ALL..Pie Love...PLEASE!!!

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  23. they all sound great, but I would crack open Pie Love first - pie is my favorite thing to bake!
    karenreichmann@hotmail.com

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  24. I would love to read the book of recipes from all the states! How cool is that!

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  25. I think I would be really be excited to get my hands on Warren Brown's book 'Cake Love'.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    margueritecore [at] gmail [dot] com

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  26. United Cakes of America! sounds like fun - I can bake my way across america!

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  27. i would love to check out cake love in the morning

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  28. Really?!?! I have to CHOOSE one?? CakeLove would be one of my top two choices, I think, for the buttercream recipes. But CakeLove in the Morning sounds intriguing, too. HEAVENS, I'd love to win any of the four! :D Thank you both for such a generous giveaway!
    Lori Stilger
    pooh0612@aol.com

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  29. They all sound wonderful. But, my top pick would be CakeLove.

    Sean
    connsean@yahoo.com

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  30. Would love to have Pie Love - pies are my very favorite dessert!

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  31. They all sound great! The United Cakes of America sounds the most unusual. I would love to find out more about local specialties.

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  32. The Unite Cakes of America sound so interesting… hope I win!

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  33. Most intrigues by United Cakes of America. I'd love to see how many different designs this book could hold.

    Alina
    apicazo@umich.edu

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  34. Pie love sounds like it would be my favorite, but all look amazing!! We are definitely pie lovers at my house. I have to check out the Cakes if America, give it a good read! Thanks!!!

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  35. CakeLove in the Morning! Breakfast foods are my favorite. All the books look wonderful!

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  36. Such an interesting interview! I also loved watching Sugar Rush. I have to choose one of his book's I'm most interested in? Well, considering my blog is Pies and Plots, I guess I'll go with PieLove. Laura Dembowski laura@piesandplots.net

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  37. United Cakes of America!! sounds really cool to see cakes from across the US.

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  38. I would love Cake Love in the Morning!

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  39. PieLove! Because it's, well, pie. ;-) Terrific interview -- thanks so much.

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  40. Pie Love would be the one I open first coz I love pies. Would prob have to stop myself eating the pictures of all the yummy pies! :)

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  41. Cake love as I am a cake lover for sure!

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  42. I can't decide between Pie Love and Cake Love in the Morning - either would be amazing!
    And I'm smitten by the photos of his cakes. They really look delicious.

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  43. It's amazing that you got the chance to interview Warren Brown! I'd love to win United Cakes of America, love the idea of celebrating every state with each and every own state's desserts and pastrys! Since I don't live in America (and I absolutely love the country), it'd be great to know more about every state through desserts.

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