Welcome to One Quick Bite, where we share smart, cool, and weird conversations with our favorite authors about their new cookbook and beyond.
As much as I love to bake, there are times when even I, a recipe developer and editor, get caught up in shortcuts. Could I use a cake mix? Can I skip the sifting? But what if I want a cookie right now? And while there’s nothing wrong with decreasing the effort a bit, it also feels counter to the spirit of baking. Baking is supposed to be about enjoying the process, not rushing through to the end result so you can stuff treats in your mouth.
Throughout Natasha Pickowicz’s beautiful cookbook, More Than Cake, one overarching theme really struck a chord with me. She challenges you to take a breath and experience the joy that comes from simply baking. It’s meditative and oh so satisfying, especially when you can share your carefully crafted bake with those you love.
Natasha seems to take real joy in sharing these recipes with us—recipes she has made for her loved ones and served at massive charity bake sales. From flavorful pastries and cookies to layer cakes, she creates unexpected flavor combinations, the kind of culinary surprises that I can get behind.
In the spirit of More Than Cake, I did my best to ask Natasha unexpected questions for our quick interview, and she did a wonderful job continuing to surprise me. Chip salad, anyone?
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What is the first dish you remember making yourself?
Not so much a “dish,” but I have a very distinct memory of coming home after school, pulling a frozen (store-bought) scallion pancake in our toaster, and then smearing it all over with peanut butter. Haha. I haven’t tried it since but now I want to make it again—it could be delicious!
What’s your favorite thing in your freezer?
I always make big batches of Swiss or Italian buttercream—more than I’ll ever need for a single-layer cake—because it’s such a dream to have it ready to go for larger projects. It’s like a gift my past self gives my future self.
What dish is your go-to contribution to a party or potluck?
When I don’t have time to cook something from scratch, I’ll make my famous chip salad—aka three to four different store-bought chips tossed together in a big bowl. A mix of flavors and textures is crucial, like one corn chip, one spiced chip, and a popcorn or puffed snack. Everyone goes crazy for my “signature salad.”
First thing you eat from your Halloween candy bucket?
Bite-size butterfingers. The ratio of that thin chocolate shell to that peanut buttery toffee (Is it toffee?? What is that stuff??) is absolutely delicious. Actually, all bite-size chocolate tastes better; their ratios of chocolate to everything else are so much better than the bigger bars.
What’s the restaurant you’ve been to more than any other?
Though I love all the independently owned restaurants in NYC, I do love a perfectly executed, totally consistent chain restaurant. Hillstone and Din Tai Fung are my two workhorses; sometimes I’ll crave those spots more than I’ll crave a mom and pop spot. They’re both ideal places to eat with friends and family because the food is so likable.
After an exhausting day, what’s your go-to meal?
I love a snack plate. That’s when I rummage through my apartment like a desperate little rat and see what scraps I can turn into something serviceable. I can always find little bits of cheese, pickles, jams, crackers, bread heels, tinned fish, dried fruits, chips, peanuts, carrot sticks, and apples.
A recipe you think no one should make at home?
There are certain foods that should only be created by machines and can never be hoped to be replicated by a human. My favorite cracker, Triscuit, exists because of machines and the marvel of technology and I will never make a version to replicate it because I just can’t.
What’s your most-used pan?
The first “real” piece of cookware I ever bought (as a recent college graduate over 15 years ago!) is still the piece of cookware I use the most—it’s a basic 10-inch stainless steel fryer pan from All-Clad.
What’s an existing cookbook you wish you had written?
There is something about the formal, almost prim, literary elegance of writing from authors like Anna Higham and JR Ryall—who both wrote two of my favorite baking books from last year—that I wistfully admire but know I could never approximate with my garish American voice, haha.
What is your white whale recipe?
I had a million ideas for granola for my cookbook but ended up deleting them all. I’ve always tried to develop a “signature” granola and just haven’t landed on a combination that feels as delicious and craveable as my favorite granola. I just can’t decide—is it vegan? Buttery? Is it sweet? Savory? Hopefully someday I’ll crack the code.
What is one recipe you want to be known for from your cookbook?
I think that layer cakes are a corner of the baking tradition that feels sacrosanct and intimidating, so it was really important to me to share my philosophy on how I feel about layer cakes and share that with the world. I worked really, really hard to create a method that I truly believe makes the process easier and more enjoyable; if someone makes a layer cake for the first time because they read my book, I think my work has been done.
BUY THE COOKBOOK: More Than Cake