Cakes with Panache

Just before my daughter headed back to school last month, we went shopping and, on our way to the department store, we passed a cookware store. It was bustling, and unusually thick with customers for an early Saturday morning. With our curiosity piqued, we ventured in. Turns out, an author was there, getting ready to sign her cookbook, Extraordinary Cakes.

Extraordinary Cakes?” I eagerly inquired at the counter. “Any connection to Extraordinary Desserts, the restaurant that serves sumptuous delights?”

And, lo and behold, there was a connection! For the author, Karen Krasne, is the genius behind the two Extraordinary Desserts restaurants in San Diego, as well as the creator of the fabulous confections they offer, including, of course, cakes. Her trademark—which is what makes these delicacies so breathtakingly beautiful and truly extraordinary—are the flowers and edible gold leaf she uses to adorn them.

So, we purchased a book and joined the cue, because if you know anything about my daughter, you know that she loves to bake–a win-win for our entire family. The cookbook is divided by seasons, and features photos and recipes for cakes boasting such evocative names as Passion Fruit Ricotta Cake, Lemon Praline Torte, Strawberry Poppy Seed Cake, Chocolate Nirvana, Versailles, and Love Is Chocolate.

The book signing we attended offered an array of Krasne's extraordinary cakes. We sampled them all!

Last week, I had the opportunity to chat with Ms. Krasne, about her cakes, her must-have ingredient, and her pursuit of a spiritual life.

MTW:  How long have you been baking and how did you discover your talent for creating and decorating extraordinary deserts?

KK:  I’m from a family of bakers. As early as 11, I’d cook with my mom, aunts, and grandma, who all loved to bake. Some of my first desserts included apple dumplings and caramel cheesecake.  It was fun for me and everyone loved my cooking. In college, while I was pursuing a degree in nutrition, I found a part-time job working for a bakery in Honolulu.  I enjoyed it so much, it led me to study pastry-making at the Cordon Bleu in France.

MTW: Please share something many may not know about you.

Photo taken during Krasne's recent trip to Bali.

KK: I’m shy, and I love to be alone. I also love quiet time, to be far away in the world, in a secluded locale. Two weeks of being anonymous, helps you get to the true essence of who you are. My husband understands my need to travel solo once a year, and is very supportive.

MTW: So, you travel by yourself? For women who might be more hesitant to do so, what’s your secret?

KK: Thanks to my parents, I am fearless about traveling on my own. I started when I was 14. At 15, I went to Mazatlan with  three other girls and we rented a condo. Dad would tell you I walked to a different rhythm, that I was an older soul. I wasn’t a saint, and I was somewhat reckless. But I was very intuitive about character, and my parents knew they could trust me. It’s an adrenalin rush to land in places like Cambodia or Morocco. These trips are filled with spiritual growth and can be so stimulating.

MTW: Aside from the basics (flour, baking soda, etc.), what is the one ingredient you must always have on hand?

KK: I highly recommend keeping on hand many different kinds of chocolate—milk, dark, extra dark, white, light milk, etc.

MTW:  Any trade secrets or helpful hints for baking?

KK:  My recipes can be complex, with many steps involved, so make sure you have all the ingredients measured and weighed out before you start cooking. Review the recipe a few times, so you don’t get lost. Map it out.

MTW: Is there any ingredient that you’ve been dying to try in a dessert or are curious to find out how it would taste in one of your confections?

KK: I’ve dabbled in many flavors. I don’t get too esoteric, trying weird things, like cheese and chocolate. That’s not what my clients want. I have played around with yuzu (about the size of a tangerine) from Asia; and matcha tea, a green tea from Japan. We do have a tremendous number of clientele that like this.

MTW:  Your cakes are like a work of art, as if they belong in a museum. If they were to be displayed, what collection do you think they’d most fit in and are there any painters’ who inspire your work?  

KK:   I decorate my desserts with flowers from the South Pacific, so I’d say Gauguin. Also, Monet and other artists inspired by the Giverny Gardens. Each year, I make sure, too, to visit San Diego’s Art Alive, a celebration of floral interpretations of great art. It’s very inspiring.

MTW:  In your estimation, what would be the perfect meal to go with one or any of your cakes?

KK:  I’m a strict vegetarian, and I like to eat healthy. Light picnics are one of my favorite meals. You don’t feel guilty about eating dessert afterwards. I serve food fresh, so I don’t use the oven much (except for cakes, etc.). I love tomatoes, cauliflower, salads with strawberries, steamed veggies, tofu, pesto, and brown rice.

Name three famous people, dead or alive, who you would love to invite over for cake and conversation. What would you serve?

KK:  (Comedian/actress) Sandra Bernhard; (renowned author and mind-body healing pioneer) Deepak Chopra; and my daughter, too, who is eight years old, as I’d want her to meet my heroes.  I’d serve a three-course dessert buffet. Best to add my husband. I can’t possibly leave him out!

MTW:  Where do you find your bliss?

KK:  When I’m walking along the ocean, or doing yoga. Also, a day off with my husband and daughter. Finding my spiritual moments. Now, that’s bliss.

MTW:  What book are you currently reading?

KK:  I’m reading two. The End of Illness by Dr. David Agus, which is all about preserving our health and happiness, and Living with Gratitude: A Journey That Will Change Your Life, by Angeles Arrien. This is a wonderful book; I’ve given several away as gifts. For each month of the year, it tells you what’s going on in the universe. I just read April, all about spring, greenery, and flowers. A great book, with sweet messages.

MTW: What do you hope people will take away from your desserts and your cookbook?

KK:  I hope my cookbook helps people learn something new. It’s easy to read and shows them how to make the actual cakes we sell in the restaurant, so there’s lot of enjoyment after all the hard work. At some level, I hope my desserts bring people pleasure that they haven’t had otherwise.

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54 thoughts on “Cakes with Panache

  1. How did I miss this one Monica… what a fabulous interview and how gorgeous are those cakes? I bake too and I was so inspired to try adding flowers. I will have to check out her book, I am a health food nut and I love to travel, either by myself or with my family, it was wonderful to hear her say that seeing the world is an adrenalin rush, that is exactly how I feel. Thank you for posting.

    • I’m not a baker of this caliber, but I would rather try baking one of these cakes than sew a dress from scratch. Talk about too many rules! One false move and you have a dress with one sleeve way longer than the other. My mother could sew, but that patience skipped me. 😉

    • Thank you, Kim. I’m so appreciative of all the support and love I’m feeling today because of this post, I wish I could send everyone a slice of one of these gorgeous cakes! 😉

      Glad you enjoyed feasting your eyes on them. Hugs to you, my friend. 😉

  2. What a treat, Monica — for you and for us! Those cakes look scrumptuous and I’m going to have to check out her recommendation for Living with Gratitude. I think I’m most in love with her picture of Bali, though — what a paradise!

    • I had so many photos to choose from, it was difficult to limit myself to just these. Each photo is a thing of beauty. I even have a shot I took of Karen and my daughter at the book signing, but alas, I refrained. The photo of Bali is indeed, perfection. I feel relaxed just looking at it.

  3. Monica, I’m impressed. Extraordinary cakes, fantastic interview, and photos that are almost like being there. Well done my friend. Now…if we could just get to enjoy one of her desserts while taking in that view of Bali!

    • Thank you so much, Renee! I’m so glad you enjoyed my post. I tried to capture some of the essence of this amazing author/businesswoman/baker, so I’m glad it came across. And, I’d swim across the ocean for a view like the one in this photo Bali. Ah, paradise!

  4. Fabulous interview Monica. I actually wanted to interview a pastry chef for my career interview series. In case you didn’t know, pastry chef is a hot career right now. I just might contact her – her cakes are truly works of art.

    • Thanks, Savvy. Email me if you want the contact for her publicist. I had no idea that pastry chef was a hot career. Makes sense. Other jobs may come and go, but everyone will always love a good dessert!

  5. They are truly a work of art. I admire her patience. I am not a lover of baking because of the tedium, but share her passion to create. Wonderful interview. M- now that you purchased her cookbook will we see the results of yours or your daughter’s efforts soon?

    • Brenda, I’m so glad you see that, too. Almost as if they belong behind a glass case. Not sure, I can endeavor in such a masterpiece, but when my daughter returns late summer, I’ll document her baking one. Now that’s something I can handle! 😉

  6. I am so intrigued by this woman… and her solo travel … I’m certain it sparks her creativity. I’m not a baker but am bent on creating memorable birthdays cakes for my kids on their birthdays!

  7. Loved this post and your interview Monica. I’d almost given up regular desserts since the fam turned vegan but to learn Karen is a vegetarian and she still eats these incredible and delicious creations – I’m on board!!!

    • Thank you, Susan. I enjoyed doing the interview, so I hope it showed. And, yes, Karen is proof that you don’t have to be an omnivore to enjoy these exquisite masterpieces. 😉

  8. I love Extraordinary Desserts and eating there is one of my favorite treats. What fun getting to know Karen Krasne a little better through your interview. She’s such an amazing artist. Now I’m craving cake! I can have it for breakfast, right?

  9. Monica, anyone who can make beautiful cakes like these has nothing but my admiration! I’m with Eloise–they’re too lovely to cut into! Great interview! I enjoyed reading Karen’s replies, as well as your questions! 🙂

    • Thanks, Bella. It was fun coming up with the questions and then, when we started talking, I could’ve gone on forever listening to her, discovering what inspires her and her deep sense of spirituality, which reminded me so much of our Jodi. 😉

  10. Great questions, Monica. It’s interesting that the home arts are now becoming great art. I never would have asked my grandmother what artists or whatever influenced her lemon meringue pie, but it must have been the high hills of south Missouri since she could stack that white froth so high.

    • Julie, pretty funny! When you put it that way, my question about artists sounds funny, but those cakes truly look like a work of art to me. Suitable for framing. I like your comment about your grandmother’s lemon meringue pie. Ha!

  11. What a great opportunity, Monica. I love to bake and decorate cakes. However, mine are pathetic compared to these. Simply stunning! God, now I’m hungry and just ate breakfast. Yikes, my appetite!
    Hugs,
    Kathy

    • First, Kathryn, how was the wedding? Did you have a wonderful road trip?

      I’m sure your cakes are beautiful. To compare them to these is for me to compare my artwork (I paint sometimes) to DaVinci or Monet. In other words, yes, we don’t stand a chance, but we do it because we enjoy it, not because we hope to be like these masters of their profession. But they’re sure fun to gaze upon–and eat!

    • Yes, she is pretty awesome. Completely confident, attractive and inspiring. If she doesn’t already, she should go on the talk circuit. I think she could be pretty motivating. I would just love to see a slide show of her journeys.

  12. Thanks for the interveiw Monica – her cakes are amazing. We have a cake maker here who does beautiful job too and you just gave me an idea to intervew her and guess what she is Russian 🙂

    • Ariana, honestly these cakes are simply magnificent works of art. And the taste is divine! I’m in awe of Karen’s accomplishments. She’s a very savvy businesswoman, if you ask me! 😉

  13. Those cakes look delicious!

    And that’s really cool that her parents trusted her enough to rent a condo at 15 with a few other girls. My parents trusted me at that age…but not that much.

    • I know! Isn’t that amazing? Thoughtsy, to be entrusted to go to another country and to be able to make your way! I’m sure that gave her a lot of confidence and empowered her to be successful in her career.

  14. “yet there is something still that will always be mine, and when I go to God’s presence, there I will doff it and sweep the heavenly pavement with a gesture: something I’ll take unstained out of this world… my panache.” Cyrano

  15. I enjoyed that blog entry. I am no cook, I reckon unless I try hard I can burn salad!

    Not long had breakfast but after looking at those pictures I am now off down to the kitchen to find something to munch.
    People who can bake and make food like that get my admiration I would not have the patience.

    I find my bliss sitting by the local river under the shade of a tree and watch the boats go by.

    Talking of books I have got back to working on the one I am writing but it’s in it’s very early stages, but as they say watch this space!!!

    • Dear Robert, I enjoy baking, but not sure how I’d fare making these cakes. I’ll wait until my daughter returns from college. I’m sure she’ll do a much better job than me. She has the patience, for starters!

  16. These cakes are breathtaking. I wish I lived in her town, I would be customer for sure. i love her gentle spirituality. It shows through the passionately beautiful cakes. It just makes sense to me!

    • It is such a treat to experience her desserts. Jodi, if you’re ever out here, you should definitely put it on your to-do list! By the way, listening to Karen speak about how much her spirituality means to her, reminded me so much of you and your wonderful blog!

  17. Enjoyed the interview! Thanks for sharing. I’ll have to check out her book when I head home at the end of this month.

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