by Esther Sung
If I had to name one cookbook I was most looking forward to this year, it would be Caitlin Freeman's Modern Art Desserts: Recipes for Cakes, Cookies, Confections, and Frozen Treats Based on Iconic Works of Art (Ten Speed Press). My excitement goes back to last summer when I beelined it to the Blue Bottle Cafe inside SFMOMA and ordered a slice of Mondrian Cake. After having read about it for awhile, my expectations were high. Let's just say, I became a fan with one bite. And while we may never get around to making desserts inspired by Rosana Castrillo Díaz, Richard Avedon, or Jeff Koons, Modern Art Desserts is undoubtedly a magical cookbook, for what Freeman and her pastry team have managed to create are miniature masterpieces. Perhaps the best part of the book is gaining insight into the process, care, and thought--from conceptualization to execution--that Freeman and her dedicated colleagues all bring.
I had the opportunity to speak with Freeman about the book and her background. Here are two highlights from our conversation.
Epicurious: Is there another book, other than Rose Levy Berenbaum's The Cake Bible, that you reference the most?
Caitlin Freeman: A book that I actually go to most often is Chez Panisse Desserts. It's such a lovely book. It's definitely of a style, but I do think [pastry chef Lindsey R. Shere's] infusions and ice creams, and using flowers and herbs is so inspiring and interesting. And still so relevent.
Epi: With the juxtaposition of art and food, is there any particular piece of art that you'd like to work with one day?
CF: I have this sentimental attachment to a local painter, Robert Bechtle. His works are very photorealistic paintings of California, especially of Alameda. I just love California painters and I know the term "Californai painters" is not beloved amongst them but there's something I love about the oil paintings of California in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s.
Bechtle had a big retrospective at SFMOMA a few years before we started the museum project. I fell apart in that show. For so long as an art student, I would love some piece of art so much that I didn't know what to do with myself. I would get an anxiousness in my chest and would want to eat it or something, to kind of want to make it mine somehow. And I definitely had that feeling throughout that show. I recently realized that, well, I kind of ended up doing that. This project was about looking at art, feeling that feeling, and doing something about it.
Freeman generously offers tips on how to make four desserts from Modern Art Desserts for our Mother's Day story on edible art: Thiebaud Pink Cake, Kelly Fudge Pops, Laskey Lemon Soda with Bay Ice Cubes, and Woodman Cheese and Crackers. And while we don't feature the famed Mondrian Cake in our story, you can find the recipe in the cookbook.