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Emily Luchetti on Baking Myths and the Joy of Eggplant with Chocolate

Just out of college, my first real dessert cookbook was Emily Luchetti’s Stars Desserts. I cooked out of it until the pages were falling out. Eighteen years later, Luchetti, the executive pastry chef at Waterbar and Farallon, has released her latest cookbook called The Fearless Baker (Little Brown, $30), co-authored by Lisa Weiss. To write it, she worked in the kitchen with fledgling, insecure bakers, taking notes all the while so that her book would be one that even someone paralyzed with baking trepidation could master. I talked to her today on the phone while she was on her way back from the James Beard Foundation Awards.

What was your biggest lesson learned while doing this book?
How intimidated people are about baking without having even tried it. They’ll say, “Well, I’m a lawyer.” But if you’ve passed the bar, that’s a lot harder to do than making brownies!

Where do people go wrong?
They don’t read the recipe ahead and all of the sudden it says chill for three hours and then they’re trying to rush that step. Following a recipe is kind of like reading a road map before there was GPS.

Any baking myths?
The one that drives me nuts is when recipes say to put cookies on a wire rack to cool. No professional chef puts them on a wire rack—that’s a pain in the neck. You leave them to cool on the pan. Also, people refrigerate desserts too much and the refrigerator can dry things out. As a general rule, if it has a custard filling, I put it in the refrigerator, but if it’s a pie or a cake, I leave it out at room temperature. Another misconception is the whole softened butter thing. It shouldn’t be soft and greasy. You only have to leave it out for half an hour or so.

What's your pick for a super-easy, go-to cake in this book?
Dark chocolate cake with mocha–milk chocolate frosting. It’s a cake that you can mix by hand. Then you make the frosting and put it right on top—there aren’t even layers. It’s pretty simple.

What would you suggest making from the book considering it's spring?
The lemon cream with smashed berries. What’s really nice about it is you take to the berries with a potato masher and you get juice you wouldn’t normally get out of them.

What’s the best dessert you’ve had recently?
I had it in New York the other night at Del Posto. It has roasted eggplant sliced like carpaccio and then ricotta and chocolate, and it was amazing. You would never have known it was eggplant—you just knew it was delicious.