Q&A: Sarah Levy Dishes On Her New Cookbook

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If you’re one of those folks who think there aren’t enough cupcake bakeries in the world or you’re just into baking your own at home, we’ve got the book for you: Sweetness from Sarah Levy (official release October 23 from Agate Surrey). Sweetness is a Sex and the City kinda girl’s guide to baking for every occasion. We caught up with Levy, the 28 year old entrepreneurial wunderkind behind the popular Chicago sweets boutique Sarah’s Candies to talk about the book and her favorite pastry chefs and bakeries in Chicago.

Why did you write this book?
I wanted to bridge the gap between professional bakers and everyday women, like myself.

You talk about how the right treat can transform a date night, etc…can you share a very particular story about how a baked treat made a difference?
One thing that pops into my mind is how nice it is to start off my work day with hot croissants coming out of the oven….sometimes there are also “broken” chocolate chip cookies that are still warm….what a better way to start the day?

I read that you don’t drink caffeine? Must be tough considering how busy you are.
That article was written before my first retail store opened! Once the store opened and I started working longer hours I started drinking caffeine again! But I drink tea instead of coffee. I think the caffeine in all of chocolate I eat compensates for the lack of coffee I drink.

Did you ever consider that you had extra pressure when you opened your business or that people were looking closer because you’re the daughter and niece of the Levy Restaurants (Spiaggia, Bistro 110, Fulton’s) founders?
I think it was more that I was worried that people would think that I was “handed” my business when in fact I started it on my own, with the help of several people and family, etc, and worked hard to get it going….My dad has been out of Levy Restaurants since 1999 so it hasn’t been in my family for a while but many people don’t know that and think it’s all the same, which is very far from the truth!

What are your Favorite bakery or sweets spot in Chicago (other than your own)?
Bittersweet Bakery (I used to work there) - Judy does a great job making some delicious pastries.

Pasticceria Natalina - great Italian pastries.

Vanille - great traditional French pastries and owners Dimitri and Keli are super sweet.

Who are your pastry chef idols? What Chicago restaurant pastry chefs are you loving right now?
Chef Jacquy Pfeiffer from the French Pastry School, Rafael Ornelas and Alexa Sindelar from Sarah’s. The new pastry chef at Blackbird (Patrick Fahy) made this incredible “sweet corn bavarois with cornbread pain perdu, pecans and maple sherbert.”

Why do you think people are so scared to bake?
I think it can be a little scary that if you measure something incorrectly in pastry, it makes the whole thing turn out wrong, and unlike the savory side of cooking, you can’t just fix it by adding a little of this or that…..But I think that if you can get a grasp on the basic techniques and learn some useful professional tips (all of which Sweetness provides) then you’ll see how fun and rewarding baking can be!

Your book has some holiday recipes, but nothing for Halloween. What’re you cooking up for the holiday this year?
We make these awesome vanilla bean sugar cookies for Halloween in all sorts of fun shapes and designs - ghosts, bats, pumpkins and cats.

Q&A: Sarah Levy Dishes On Her New Cookbook