- Duff Goldman is a pastry chef known for his amazing creations, successful bakery, and appearances on Food Network shows.
- Goldman told Insider about his most treasured baking memories, tips and tricks for aspiring home bakers, and what makes him so passionate about teaching kids how to bake.
- He also shared details about his latest cookbook, “Super Good Baking for Kids,” that’s set to be released on September 29.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Pastry chef Duff Goldman is known for crafting awe-inspiring cakes, running his successful bakery, Charm City Cakes, and manning the judging panels on some of the Food Network’s most popular shows, including “Kids Baking Championship,” “Holiday Baking Championship,” and more.
But for Goldman, baking is more than a career — it’s been a part of his life since he was a child. Memories of making food with his mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother helped form his true passion for the craft and fueled his commitment to teaching others, especially kids, how to find the same joy in baking he’s experienced throughout his career.
Goldman opened up to Insider about what he most looks forward to when teaching his future child about baking, his best tips and tricks for home bakers, and details about his latest cookbook, “Super Good Baking for Kids.”
Read on to learn more about his future plans and what he wants at-home bakers to know.
First I want to congratulate you. You and your wife, Johnna Colbry, recently announced that you’re having a baby. That’s so exciting! They’ll probably have the best birthday cakes every year.
Goldman: Thank you! It is exciting. And, yeah, we’ll probably have pretty good birthday cakes. It would probably be weird if I was like, “I’ll bake you some bread for your birthday or I’ll make you a pie.”
With you baking every day for work do you still enjoy baking at home? Does it ever get old?
Goldman: No, I love to bake. I do it all the time. It’s funny, I texted my assistant yesterday with a huge ingredient list and said, “It is time I perfect cheesecake.”
I’m OK at cheesecake — I bake good ones — but I want to make the perfect cheesecake. My cheesecakes always have cracks and little air holes in them. I want a cheesecake that’s basically a giant, velvety, thick crème brûlée.
Who makes the best cheesecake that you’ve ever had?
Goldman: The best cheesecake I ever had was when I was dating this girl in high school, and her mom made this cheesecake that was super dense, delicious, creamy, cool, and just amazing. I’ve never had one that good since, so I’m trying to figure out how to perfect the recipe.
It’s not necessarily the ingredients — it’s just eggs, cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, salt — it’s not a lot. But it’s the method. Is it the ratio of eggs to cheese? Is it baking it in a water bath?
I’ve been doing research and I learned that some people put a little bit of flour into the mix to keep their cheesecake from cracking, which could work. I’ll try a few things and spend two or three days just getting my cheesecake game down.
That’s so cool that you’re still trying to perfect your craft even after all of these years.
Goldman: That’s the great thing about baking. I always tell kids that you can be really good at it your very first time and spend the rest of your life getting better at it. It never gets boring. There’s always something else — I’ve only just gotten good at pies in the last year or two.
It also takes a long time to really develop a touch for things. And I notice even the way my hands move now is different than the way they moved five or 10 years ago.
I notice how far I’ve come, too, when I judge some baking shows. I see the mistakes that younger bakers make and I think, “I totally know what you were thinking and why you made this mistake. I was thinking the same thing when I was three years into it.”
Your new book that’s coming out in September is geared toward kids. What made you want to write a cookbook for young bakers?
Goldman: A lot of it has been this reflection I’ve been doing on my career — just thinking of where I am as a baker and why I’m still baking. I decided to be a chef when I was 14 and I find it fascinating that I still enjoy it.
I still think to myself, “Wow, I could literally do this my whole life,” so I wanted to be able to give kids a good introduction into this world. It’s so much more than just recipes.
What’s one of the best tips you share in your book?
Goldman: Before you start baking, clean your entire kitchen. Wipe it down, take out the trash, do the dishes, get everything nice and clean, and then you’re really ready to bake. I do this before I bake and it’s what really gets me ready to do it.
Once your space is clean, turn on some music, get ingredients out, and make sure you have the right pan and your oven is on. You should get everything set up so that when the rubber hits the road you don’t have to stop because you don’t have eggs or the mixing bowl is dirty or your spatula’s still in the dishwasher.
All of those little things are gumption traps that keep you from being successful. If you’re in the middle of baking and you have to clean a bowl, a lot of people don’t want to clean the bowl so they stop and give up. Avoiding those gumption traps is the key to being able to bake like a pro.
When you’re at home, what’s your go-to recipe when you just want to have an enjoyable time baking?
Goldman: I think my chocolate babka is really good, and it’s one of my wife’s favorite recipes of mine. But what I make really depends on what my wife wants. She’s my muse.
We’ll see something in a movie and she’ll say, “Wow, that looks good.” And I’ll be like, “I’ll make it for you.” She loves to eat and she loves food.
Speaking of good recipes, if you had to bake one thing for the rest of your life what would it be?
Goldman: Bread. It’s just constantly challenging to make and I could eat it for the rest of my life. I love bread.
A lot of people associate baking with being time-consuming. What’s your favorite quick recipe?
Goldman: I think my thin and crispy chocolate chip cookies. They don’t take a long time at all and they’re delicious.
Another perfect recipe that doesn’t take long is this one for peanut butter cookies, which is adapted from a recipe from my grandmother’s housekeeper, Atha. When I was growing up, she baked the most amazing peanut butter cookies in the world.
I’m sure you’ve got a lot of great recipes to pass down. With a baby on the way, what do you most look forward to in terms of creating memories with your family through food?
Goldman: I have so many memories cooking with my mom, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother, so I’m really looking forward to making new memories.
It’s kind of trippy because I was always learning and now I’m going to be the one teaching. I’ve got to remember everything my family did effectively that stuck with me and why it stuck with me.
They were very patient, and that’s something I want to be when I’m baking with my kid. You gotta let kids make mistakes and figure things out.
When baking with kids, too, I think it’s really important to remember that the end result is not the cookie. You want a good cookie, obviously, but that’s not why you’re doing it. The end result is something a little more intangible and special.
That’s great advice for kid and adult bakers alike. Speaking of new bakers, what tools do you think they should have in their kitchen when they first start out?
Goldman: I think everybody should have a cheap, inexpensive, digital scale. They’re like $10 on Amazon and it just makes your baking so much more consistent.
If you have a food scale at home, try scooping three separate cups of flour and weigh each of them. You’ll see you have three different weights every time. Bread is very forgiving but other things, like macarons, aren’t so a scale makes a huge difference when you really start making pastries.
You mentioned the kitchen scale being an inexpensive but helpful tool. Are there any other affordable tools that have helped you in the kitchen?
Goldman: A good rubber spatula, nothing fancy. The simple spatulas you can get at a restaurant-supply store are the ones that you want. Everything in my kitchen comes from a restaurant-supply store because chefs need the best tools.
On the higher end of things, what kitchen item do you think bakers looking to improve their craft should invest in?
Goldman: A KitchenAid mixer, definitely. They last forever and they’re great to have for all kinds of stuff.
Having a mixer makes baking easier, too, especially for things like creaming butter and sugar that can be tiring to do by hand.
For home bakers who aren’t ready to create something entirely from scratch, what would you suggest they do to boxed cake mix to amp it up?
Goldman: One of the first things you can do with a boxed cake mix is season it with what you’ve got, whether it’s cinnamon, nutmeg, or cloves. You can start messing around by throwing in pumpkin purée or nuts, too.
If you’re not comfortable baking too much you can also start focusing on preparing things to put on the cake, like buttercream, lemon curd, or chocolate ganache.
Speaking of not making things from scratch, if you had to bring a supermarket cake to a birthday party how would upgrade its decoration?
Goldman: I would get a cake that was as plain as possible, maybe one with just a border piped on. Then I’d get some marzipan, which you can typically find in the baking aisle, and make decorations with it.
Marzipan is a good substitute for fondant, which most grocery stores don’t sell. It can be used to shape decorations and it tastes much better than fondant, too. Since marzipan’s made with almonds, it’s naturally tinted beige which can lead to some natural-looking decorations if you add food coloring to it.
Any other tricks for home bakers who want to create impressive cakes at home?
Goldman: For anyone who wants to amp up a cake, try looking into simple mechanics and going to an electronics store — they have all kinds of stuff, and the people who work there love answering questions.
You can very easily make things to put on your cake that have a motor or lights and you can totally wire it yourself. It’s very fun to do this with kids. Get a little 9-volt motor, battery, and a switch, show them how to strip the wires, create a circuit, and turn the switch so something on the cake spins around.
Building something that works is a great feeling as an adult, but imagine for a 10-year-old? That’s pretty great.
Speaking of impressive cakes, you’ve been making them for years. Have you ever had a wild request that you either couldn’t or wouldn’t do?
Goldman: I honestly don’t think so. There’s been a couple of cakes where people have wanted not-so-tasteful things, and we usually shy away from those kinds of orders. Not to be too hoity-toity, but everybody who works with me is a really great artist and I feel something like that would be an insult to their talent.
In terms of technicality and mechanics, there’s nothing we really haven’t been able to accomplish. We’ve done some crazy stuff, like a life-size motorcycle that had a working throttle and a one-to-one scale working model of the game Operation that you could play.
Some cakes end up needing more labor, time, and people. Fortunately, we have some great mechanics in-house, so if we need a machine or robot we can usually build it. When we can’t, we have a lot of good friends who can help us fulfill more wild requests.
It sounds like you have a great team of adults with advanced skills. Going back to the basics, what are some of the kitchen skills your new book will teach kids?
Goldman: They’ll learn kitchen safety right off the bat. I want kids to really understand the things that can cut you or burn you and how to treat them with respect. They’ll also learn some math skills right away since baking can teach you to do math really quickly in your head.
The book also teaches some basic skills, like creaming ingredients, but I think my threshold for what’s “basic” is bigger than most. There are easy recipes in the book but there are other recipes that are more in-depth and complex, like puff pastry and dessert pizza with a stuffed brownie crust.
I bake with kids all of the time and I know what they’re capable of — they’ll be successful at these recipes. This is a real cookbook that’s written the same way I wrote my last cookbook. Nothing is dumbed down or glossed over, so this book is definitely for everyone.
Do you think anyone can learn to bake well?
Goldman: Absolutely. The thing about baking well is that when you look at something big, like baking a cake, you think, “Oh man, I could never do that.” But when you break it into tiny, individual steps that are all easily accomplishable … all of a sudden it’s possible.
Just read the recipe. Once you take something that’s this big, massive project and break it down into easy steps then anybody can do it. I really believe that.
Duff’s latest cookbook “Super Good Baking for Kids” will be released on September 29. Click here to pre-order your copy.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
I made chocolate chip cookies using 3 celebrity chefs’ recipes, and the best is the simplest
Chefs and bakers share 11 of the best things to buy at a dollar store
Pastry chefs and bakers share the 6 best and 4 worst desserts to order