Serious Eats: Sweets
Get To Know Us: Maria del Mar Sacasa
Editor's note: If you have a weakness for beautiful desserts, you may want to stay away from Sweets posts by María del Mar Sacasa, whose ridiculously gorgeous photos have graced our pages since the start of Serious Eats: Sweets. (On the other hand, you might want to pull up a chair, because there are wonderful and carefully tested recipes in her weekly cake column as well as her series on Latin American desserts.) She also recently launched Sandwiched, a recipe column to help you make delicious sandwiches. Today's your chance to get to know Maria a little better. Got ideas for cake recipes? Leave them in the comments!
Tell us about about your training and career path.
Long and winding...I started as a theater major at Northwestern, then transferred to the film department. I moved to New York, did a few internships at indie film companies, then landed at In Style, which led to Lucky, which took me to Vogue. A sudden move pushed me to make a big change and I enrolled at the French Culinary Institute.
After I graduation, I got a job at Cook's Country Magazine (America's Test Kitchen). There I developed recipes, wrote articles, and worked on the photo shoots and TV shows. At some point the food styling aspect of my work clicked and I got signed by an agency. My focus is mostly on styling, but I do freelance recipe development, too.
How do you come up with recipes to write about?
I'm like a girl with a serious crush on a boy: I think about dessert day and night. At markets and specialty stores, I trawl the aisles in search of ingredients that could be made into dessert, and more specifically cake. I also look at other sweets, like pies and cookies, then try to morph them into cake. I also have very odd cravings—fuel for the imagination.
Which was your favorite recipe in your Serious Eats columns so far?
The Bourbon and Brittle Banana Cream Pie.
What's the best dessert you had last year?
That's a tough one! I had a lot of dessert last year. I'm going to say a Nutella crêpe my friend Pauline and I had on the street in Paris. It was more the sheer bliss of having that hot, gooey thing dripping from all sides while the light went from pink to periwinkle and the wind got colder and sharper.
What's your favorite bakery in the US? Why?
I am absolutely crazy for Clear Flour Bread in Brookline, MA. It's simple, honest, and perfectly crafted. I'll stand in line for their morning buns any time. And I never stand in line.
What are your guilty pleasures?
McDonald's vanilla shake with the chocolate syrup from their sundaes (special
order). It clumps at the bottom—love the sugar rush when I finally manage to
suck it up through the straw. And Ritz crackers with grape jelly: I can go through
a whole sleeve.
Describe your perfect meal.
Every time I go home to Nicaragua my grandmother makes a really incongruous meal of rib roast and a boat-sized dish of potato gnocchi in her special sauce (which I suspect is cream and ketchup—don't knock it till you try it because she will throw a shoe at you). I follow up with a pile of small red kidney beans fried until crisp in the family's ancient cast iron skillet. I always have room for her homemade poached figs and a slab of salty queso duro (a very salty chese).
What food won't you eat?
Tripe. Uh-uh, no way.
What would you like to try but haven't yet?
Dinner at El Bulli, but I think I have to let that one go.
Favorite food person?
M.F.K. Fisher. Jeffrey Steingarten. Jamie Oliver.
When did you first realize you were a serious eater?
When I followed my gut (literally) out of a glamorous job at Vogue and into culinary school.
What do your family and friends think of your food obsessions?
I think they're a little horrified by how much and what I eat, but ultimately, my family and friends are wildly supportive and like the benefits of my unfettered desire to always be in the kitchen.
Everyone has a go-to person they call for restaurant recommendations. Who's
Mmmm....it really depends on where I am and what I'm in the mood for. I always call people who know me well and know exactly what my food tastes are. For example, my brother took me to a hole-in-the wall Japanese place in Torrance last year and it was amazing, especially because I was starving (i.e. in a Hulk-like rage) and jet-lagged. What made the meal even better is that he's not a "foodie" yet knows his crazy big sister so well he knew exactly what to feed her.
What is your favorite meal of the day and where do you get it?
Breakfast. At home. I make pretty incredible biscuits.
Do you ever cook? What's the best dish you make?
Well, I bake for you all a few times a week! But, aside from that, yes, I cook dinner four to five nights a week, make big breakfasts on weekends, put together huge spreads for holidays, have dinner parties with friends, and last but not least, prep for photo shoots.
I'd say my favorite or go-to is a braised Boston butt that's based on a Jean-Georges Vongerichten recipe. It has Asian flavors, but I serve it with Latin sides like chayote, cilantro, and mint slaw and a pile of golden tostones.
A Few of Maria's Posts
Olive Oil Cake with Tangerine Marmalade
Churros with Chocolate-Dulce de Leche Dip
Chocolate-Hazelnut Layer Cake
Bocaditos de Corn Flakes y Leche Condensada (Corn Flake Clusters)
Maple Cake with Brown Butter Apples
Cherry and Rum Cake
It's The Great Pumpkin Cheesecake
Coffee & Donuts Cake
Chocolate Cake with Cocoa Puffs Frosting
Ambrosia Layer Cake