Here she is, the Queen of Sweets at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, and what is she grooving on?
“I’m craving salty, cheesy, meaty smoked stuff.”
Hedy Goldsmith is talking by phone from Austin, Texas. “I’m eating the most amazing thing,” she says, talking around the munches — “a Frito chili pie, layered with Fritos, amazing smoked brisket, barbecue sauce and melted goat cheese.”
Sweet and salt — together — make up the palate-perking tension that plays a big role in Goldsmith’s first cookbook, Baking Out Loud , due out on Tuesday from Clarkson Potter.
She’s not talking about that pinch of salt you add to the dough when you’re baking an apple pie. Goldsmith is adding salt that asserts itself, enhancing, not fighting with, the sweet bits.
“I don’t know if the palate loves it when you’re eating a dessert that’s overly sweet,” Goldsmith says. “Where every note of it is sugar upon sugar. The palate doesn’t have a chance to recover.
“Salt has a hidden nuance of black cherry if it’s hiding behind something else.”
Not every treat in the cookbook is sweet-salty — and not all of them are baked: tangerine Campari sorbet and lemon ricotta pancakes, for instance, chocolate bourbon sorbet and basil panna cotta topped with a little pour of strawberry consommé.
What really binds so many of Goldsmith’s creations together are taste memories that just about anyone around age 55 can instantly summon: S’mores, peanut brittle, marshmallows, lemon meringue pie, Oreos, cinnamon buns, fortune cookies, buttered popcorn from the movie theater. Goldsmith provides the recipes for all of these — made her way. Scratch a baby boomer and she might bleed Strawberry Quik.
And sometimes, salt is the added flavor booster. Goldsmith, a James Beard Award finalist who has hosted the Cooking Channel’s Unique Sweets, presents her sous chef Amy Kalinowski’s version of Snickers: a smooth center of amber caramel and salted peanuts sandwiched between two thin layers of chocolate. The caramel also takes a teaspoon of kosher salt. Goldsmith’s peanut brittle has a healthy sprinkle of fleur de sel.
Sometimes salt has a delivery system: There’s buttered-popcorn gelato and bacon maple pecan ice cream. Goldmith’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink cookies — “Junk in da Trunk” — pack in morsels of butterscotch, malted milk balls — and potato chips and pretzels.
Her cookbook’s subtitle is Fun Desserts with Big Flavors. Big flavors, but not fussy or overdone.
That wasn’t always Goldsmith’s style. Before she began her collaboration with Michael Schwartz, the Beard Award-winning chef behind Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink and Harry’s Pizzeria in Miami’s Design District, Goldsmith was pastry chef at the late, great Mark’s Place in North Miami. Her desserts there were serious, capital S.
“My desserts had 16 elements — a chocolate tart with black cherries and paired with goat cheese ice cream and 17 flavors that built on each other,” Goldsmith says, exaggerating. “But there was no one flavor that stood out. They were thoughtful and well-executed, but there were so many elements. I would think: ‘What else can I put on that plate?’ ”
Goldsmith first worked with Schwartz at Nemo, on South Beach, where she ran smack-dab into his flavor-forward, keep-it-simple, keep-it-seasonal philosophy. The frills were gone: “Mango sorbet with a shortbread cookie, that’s what my dessert was.” And when mango season was over, so was the sorbet.
Goldsmith and Schwartz hit it off when she came to Nemo to eat. “For me it was the full package. She had a great personality … we had a really good rapport from her being a guest,” he says. “That’s what attracts everyone to Hedy — passion and excitement and a warm way that makes you want to be her friend.”
Goldsmith swoons right back: “I owe a great deal to Michael. I was frightened about going something more simple. I thought I would lose my voice. But it was liberating and refreshing.”
She developed that voice in Philadelphia. As kids, Goldsmith and Schwartz lived about five blocks from each other for a while. They never met till they were all grown up and living in Miami, but it turned out that her brother and the chef were old friends. Stephen Goldsmith had been Schwartz’s camp counselor in Philly.
“I had such a great childhood. I was raised on canned and frozen cuisine, SpaghettiOs,” Hedy Goldsmith says. “My mother was a working mom. She didn’t really desire to cook, but she had an obligation to put food on the table.
“I wish I had a great story — that I cooked with my grandmother, that she taught me how to make rugelach. No, I taught myself to make rugelach.”
Goldsmith wanted to be Annie Leibowitz: “I was going to be a fabulous photojournalist, yada, yada, yada.”
She went to art school, where tuition was through the roof. “I needed to make money. I started working at a number of restaurants,” Goldsmith says. “I knew nothing. I didn’t know there was other lettuce besides iceberg.”
But she learned, and blossomed. “I started going to farmers markets. I didn’t know watercress or romaine or fresh zucchini,” Goldsmith says. “I worked at a vegetarian restaurant and had this ability and talent to understand the way flavors worked before putting them together.”
How did desserts become her focus? There was a “yuck” factor, basically:
“I went to school all day and to work at 3. At one restaurant I was the stir-fry girl and the deep-fry cook. Every night I would take the subway home and smell like garlic and fish and meat and french fries,” she says. “I really loved what I was doing but hated working with meat and raw chicken. I didn’t want my everyday to be that.”
Her boss told her, “OK, go help the pastry chef.”
“I found a medium that was artistic, hands on,” Goldsmith says. “It was something that really spoke of what I was seeing and feeling. People could taste the art.”
In Baking Out Loud, home cooks will find some exotic flavor combos — try the licorice ice cream — but the techniques are as straightforward and unfussy as the flavors.
“People can bake if there is no mystery to it,” Goldsmith says, “A home baker can take this book and have her own out-loud moment. They can take flavors and be carefree and enjoy the exploration of it.
“It’s not complicated.”