Apt. 2B Baking Co. is the reason why I make a halfway decent pie crust. Yossy herself seems to have gone on a crust quest of sorts, from which she emerged with the most decidedly delicious method courtesy of Brandi Henderson’s class on How to Be a Pie Ninja, but the lesson never would have gotten to me without Yossy's work. In countless other ways, her blog has been a perpetual source of visual, written, and, of course, kitchen inspiration, and I often find myself turning to her site whenever strikes a baking or blogging rut. Toward the end of last year, Yossy and I got to chatting about how Apt. 2B Baking Co. got started, and I not-so-subtly tried to learn the secrets behind the approachability of her work, the ease of her writing, and just how she manages to stay so beautifully inspired on her blog and in her kitchen. In the name of rediscovering inspiration for the year ahead, a transcript of our chat and a few of Yossy’s gorgeous photos are posted below; I hope you find it all as inspiring as I did! And if you haven’t yet checked out Apt. 2B Baking Co., there’s much to admire on her site and you should surely click on over. Happy New Year, my friends!
KARI NYE (Tanglewood Baked Goods): Cool I think it’s going…Yeah, so hi!
YOSSY AREFI (Apt. 2B Baking Co.): Hi!
KARI: Okay, thanks for doing this interview with me. Your blog is so magic and awesome—I read it all the time—and I just really wanted to find out more about how you got going and what keeps you inspired. So my first official question is about how the Apt. 2B Baking Co. got started.
YOSSY: Okay! Well it started because I had been working at a restaurant for a long time, and I got really bored. I thought the solution to the boredom would be to start an Etsy baking shop, and I started the blog in conjunction with that. It wasn’t really what I wanted to do though, so I ditched the shop after two holiday seasons and let it peter out. But I kept blogging because I really liked it and I loved the photography, and I enjoyed making food that I couldn’t make at work.
KARI: What was it that kept you going with the blog?
YOSSY: What I really wanted to do was have an outlet that wasn’t my job, that was something creative that I was doing on my own. I realized that I could scratch that itch through keeping up with the blog, and it was so much more satisfying than packaging cookies for people. The part that I liked was the creating and the sharing, and the photography of course.
KARI: Were you baking at the restaurant that you were working at?
YOSSY: Yeah, I started there as a reservationist, and I planned birthday parties and bridal showers, and it was really awful. But there was a position that was open in the kitchen, and I started to bring things in that I had made at home to show my boss that I could bake—I don’t have any formal training. I eventually convinced my boss that I could do it, and then I did for five years! I baked and decorated cakes there.
KARI: Oh man, your pink cake blog post is like…I think I had just discovered your blog right before you posted that, and I was so stunned. I thought it was the most beautiful cake I’d ever seen, and it looked so good!
Photos of pink birthday cake by Yossy Arefi
YOSSY: I almost didn’t post that cake at all because I didn’t like the pictures. I shoot on film so I don’t know exactly how the photos are going to turn out, and I really did not like how those turned out. But I’m really glad that I did. It’s my most popular post by a thousand percent.
KARI: Wow, still to this day?
YOSSY: Yeah, still every day more views on that post. It has more views, probably, than every other post combined. It’s crazy!
KARI: So you don’t love the photos on that one, but would you consider it one of your favorite posts anyway? Or do you have some favorites that really stand out to you?
YOSSY: I love the sentiment behind the cake post. I don’t know if many people actually read it, but I made that cake with my twin nieces in mind because they had just been born. I was feeling pretty bad about being so far away from home because all my family was in Seattle to be with the babies, and I made them that cake as a symbol of my love. I still absolutely love that post. I’m actually trying to go home in February so I can make them a birthday cake in person.
KARI: Is that when they’re turning one?
YOSSY: Yeah! I’m excited to get to do that. But a few other posts that I really liked are the rhubarb pie post from the summer, and I love the stone fruit tartlets because I think they turned out really well—that puff pastry! My trip to Seattle this summer was really special for me, and I love all of those posts. I did two or three that are just about that trip: there’s a blackberry rhubarb crisp, and gingered blackberry cobbler, and a blackberry jam. I had a really great trip to Seattle, so there’s just a lot of great memories associated with those.
Photos of fruit and blackberry rhubarb crisp by Yossy Arefi
KARI: I’ve only been to Seattle once, and I feel like I missed so much. I didn’t know where to go! But I looked at all your photos from there, and the fruit is just unbelievable.
YOSSY: Oh yeah, I don’t think that people realize that the summertime in Seattle is incredible. August and September are amazing. It doesn’t get too hot, it usually stays in the 70s, and blackberries just literally grow likes weeds everywhere—in parking lots.
KARI: That’s so dreamy.
YOSSY: Everybody has a fruit tree in their yard. My parents are really into gardening so they have a beautiful garden with chickens, and it’s just an amazing place in the summertime, but it gets a bad rap. But I went to Maine for Common Ground Fair, and I was there on Saturday when it was just kind of drizzling, and that’s what Seattle is like. It doesn’t pour down rain—it’s just drizzly and overcast. You adapt.
KARI: Yeah totally, you get used to it. Have you always been a baker, or is that something that you mostly learned at the restaurant?
YOSSY: It’s essentially something that I’ve always done. When I moved to New York, I thought I could get a job in the restaurant industry. I had enough knowledge to figure out baking, and I learned a bit at work—mostly cake decorating, like making flowers and writing names, and I can make a cake look like a tiger if you want. But all the baking technique was pretty self-led or learned through cookbooks. The restaurant itself was sort of like, “If you have time, make whatever you want.” It was really great because I would just go through a cookbook and bake every recipe from it.
KARI: Were there any baking cookbooks that stood out to you when you were in that learning phase?
YOSSY: I baked every single recipe in Martha Stewart’s cookie book—it had just come out. I didn’t learn a ton, but it was pretty fun to just bake every recipe like that. The books I love a lot now—and that I used a lot then too—are Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert—
KARI: Oh, I love her!
YOSSY: Yes! I love her so, so much. And that book introduced me to a lot of new ingredients: alternative flours, cacao nibs—and I think I’ve baked most of the recipes from that book as well. It was new to me that dessert could be more than just chocolate chip cookies and layer cakes. Also, Claudia Fleming’s book, The Last Course, was a huge inspiration. She also uses ingredients I hadn’t heard of or thought to use in desserts before, like peppercorns and herbs. I love that book a lot.
KARI: Yeah, I feel like when I got that book, I didn’t know what to do with it. It was a lot of gelée, and I was sort of like, “What is this? I don’t get it,” but then I dug into it and realized how awesome her book is.
YOSSY: What I did with that book was pick and choose some of the smaller recipes. I made her roasted pineapple with pink peppercorns and then turned it into an ice cream. It was so freaking good. Roasted pineapple…with pink peppercorns…it’s so delicious.
KARI: Yum. Well do you ever get to feeling in a rut? How do you stay inspired?
YOSSY: I actually feel in a rut a lot—
KARI: It doesn’t show!
YOSSY: I try not to show it at all! I try to stay positive in my blog and my online presence. I try really hard not to use my blog to complain or be upset—it seems defeatist and doesn’t help me get out of the rut at all. My biggest source of inspiration is celebrating and embracing the seasons. It’s a good way to mark the time that’s passing and to stay fresh and new. You know, I’m not going to think up a new strawberry recipe this week since strawberries won’t be in season for another six months, but the market has 13 different types of heirloom apples that I can choose from and try to highlight. I do get really frustrated and feel like I’m in a rut, but as soon as I get into one, something new comes into season and I’ll get reinspired.
KARI: I’m also curious about your plans for Apt. 2B Baking Co. Like, what future are you planning for your work?
YOSSY: For me, this is a way to practice my photography and have a journal of what I’m cooking and what interests me in July 2010 or whenever. My number one goal is to work on my photography and food styling and turn that into a full-time and successful career. The blog isn’t the endpoint, but it would be ideal to make a living of the skills that I get to practice. It’s also been an incredible way to meet people who have similar interests. I lived here for three or four years without making any contacts in the food and photography world, but once I started blogging, I met a lot of people in those spheres. That inspired me to make the leap to pursue photography and food as a full-time career.
KARI: Oh I haven’t even asked about your photography! Is that something you were self-taught as well?
YOSSY: I studied it a little bit in college, and it was always something I did on the side. But when I got serious about wanting to leave the restaurant, I had to get serious about what I wanted to do to make a living. I wanted to continue doing something in a creative field, and photography was my other big, creative love, so I started to put a lot of energy into building those skills.
KARI: I love your photos. They always make me hungry and like, calm.
YOSSY: Haha, well honestly, I’m such small potatoes. To know that people actually look at and cook things that I’ve posted is super awesome.
Photos of quince custard cake and quince by Yossy Arefi (one of my favorite photo pairs!)
KARI: I’ve been trying to remember how I came across your blog in the first place, but I can’t recall. It seems that I’m seeing your work more and more places now though—Gourmet, BuzzFeed—it’s cool to see you getting more well-known!
YOSSY: Thanks! I’ve been working really hard to make connections, but blogging can be so weird. Sometimes it feels like you’re just throwing things into the ether. It’s so nice to know that people are receptive to it.
KARI: Yeah, sometimes I feel really guilty about talking about myself on my blog. I always wonder, “Well what am I even offering people with this?” That’s part of why I like your blog so much. It’s so natural, and it seems like what you put out there is for other people too and not just for yourself.
YOSSY: It’s something that I think about a lot too. Some people share a lot of personal stuff on their blog, and it’s hard to strike a balance with how much I want to share. Sometimes I feel more connected to people when they write about what they’re interested in and why, but I don’t want to share too much, or write about it every time I’m having a crappy day. I don’t want people to come to my blog and then have to read about my crappy day; I want them to come to my blog and see a cool pie that I made, or these awesome brownies, or appreciate the beautiful fruit that grows in the Hudson Valley.
KARI: Totally. But sometimes it feels so tempting to use a blog as a platform to discuss this crappy political thing or that terrible, frustrating other thing. It’s tough to maintain the right tone.
YOSSY: Definitely. Well there is a lot of stuff that’s frustrating about living in New York, for instance, but I try to focus on the stuff that’s positive and the stuff that I like. I can’t focus on everything that’s hard because I would just be so bummed all the time!
KARI: That seems like the right idea. Plus I always feel inspired when I read your blog, so it must be working! Okay, well that’s about all I have.
YOSSY: Okay, I hope I was a good subject!
KARI: You were great! Let’s hope this recording worked, or else this was just a very inspiring pep talk.
And, special bonus! We got to chatting about New York's must-visit bakeries and coffee shops too, and below are a few of Yossy's favorite recommendations. Road trip, anyone?
Dominique Ansel Bakery
Four and Twenty Blackbirds
Photo of saffron vanilla sugar cookies by Yossy Arefi (another of my favorite photos!)