Baking Up a Storm
I’ve loved to bake ever since I was a little kid. Some of my earliest and most joyful memories are of baking brownies on rainy weekends and piping cupcake batter into muffin tins to bring to school on birthdays. I got it from my mom’s side of the family, or so she says—although my grandma Judy was more talented in the savory department, my great-grandmother Sally was an excellent baker. To this day, my favorite way to remember Sally is by making a batch of mandel bread, a recipe that lives on an aged index card in my mom’s kitchen. (It’s also been published on my mom’s blog.)
Early on in the pandemic, I was one of many who learned how to care for a sourdough starter. Part of what gave purpose to that practice was interacting with and learning from friends who were on their own sourdough paths, including Jordan Salcito. As the founder and CEO of RAMONA, Jordan produces canned sparkling wines in flavors like blood orange and rosé. She’s also an award-winning sommelier with over a decade of experience in the restaurant industry and the mother of two boys, Henry and Ronan. At five years old, Henry is her sidekick in their SoHo kitchen where the two of them have been baking up a storm over the last year.
Seeing Henry and Jordan make everything from blood orange olive cake to hazelnut-almond dacquoise on Instagram has reminded me of my own childhood days, so I jumped on FaceTime with the dynamic duo to compare notes and talk about our love for sweets.
This interview had been edited and condensed for clarity.
Emily: What are some of your favorite things to bake?
Jordan: Ronan just started baking this week, too.
Henry: We baked squash muffins with him yesterday.
How do you decide what you want to bake?
Jordan: There are so many recipes that we've made because Henry has wanted to make them. He will get really, really excited about a recipe and won’t want to make anything except for that. Henry, do you want to show Emily your favorite cookbook?
Henry: (Leaves the screen to grab their copy of Joanne Chang’s Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe then starts flipping through the pages.)
Jordan: I bought this after a friend of mine, Laura Wagstaff, brought over pre-rolled cookie dough—ginger molasses and chocolate chip—that she made from the book. We baked off some for dinner and put the rest in my freezer. It’s been a favorite of mine since before Henry was born. Henry has always been really into cooking and has always been very helpful and interested. And it was a way to do things together, and for me as a parent to not have to feed packaged snacks to Henry. I also like to figure out how to incorporate vegetables into our baking, because sometimes that's easier to do in the form of a snack.
Henry: (Shows a page from the cookbook.) Like this carrot cake.
Jordan: We’ve made this at least three times.
Henry: I choose what to make from the photos.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever made?
Jordan: What did you make for papa’s birthday?
Henry: Dacquoise! It took two and a half days.
Jordan: There's a piece where you have to blanch almonds and peel them—and within that we learned that there is a difference between almond and hazelnut flour, that you have to blanch the nuts differently. As a baker, there are many things that I’ve learned because of the recipes that Henry has chosen, that I've tapped from his imagination.
Do you taste things along the way? I used to love to lick the plastic spatula and the KitchenAid attachments. I still do.
Henry: (Nods enthusiastically and shows off the banana bread page from the cookbook.)
Jordan: This is where it all started. This is a well-worn page here, Flour’s famous banana bread. We always make our own tweaks. Instead of canola, we melt our raw coconut oil. We also sub some of the sugar in for brown sugar and coconut sugar. And we keep our sugar in a canister with a vanilla bean pod—so our sugar is vanilla scented, which is the easiest way to add another layer of flavor. That's the other thing as a parent, baking means I know what's going into snacks. I have control over what's being consumed.
What are your favorite baking tools?
Jordan: (Leaves the screen and returns with three whisks—one large, one small, and one medium-sized in copper.) Henry, which one do you usually use?
Henry: (Grabs the copper one.)
Jordan: That’s not the one you usually pick.
Henry: (Grabs the small one in his other hand.) This one is a little too small now. When I’m like 10 years old I’ll use that whisk (points to the large one).
Do you like to whisk eggs?
Jordan: He’s starting to get really good at cracking. Now he cracks one-handed, up in the air. I don't know where you got your egg-cracking flair, but it's pretty impressive.
Which of the baked goods that you’ve made are you most proud of?
Henry: Everything. I’m proud of everything.
Jordan: That’s a really beautiful answer.
How has your baking practice changed over the past year, with more time spent at home?
Jordan: There was a time when, especially during the high quarantine period, we baked everything. We baked a lot in early March. And then March through June, I would say we baked almost every other day, whenever the thing that we had last baked was gone. We would have [sourdough] bread always going in the background, but also strawberry shortcake cobbler was an amazing thing to have in rotation during the Harry’s Berries season. We did a lot of lemon things like lemon bread and lemon bars. Now that we're in the city, we have smaller Baldor deliveries that are more frequent because of space, versus when we were renting a place [in East Hampton] and we could order ingredients in bulk. I’d have a 50-pound bag of flour and the Sorrento lemons, which actually I just bought again because I just loved them so much. I would say Henry and I try to cook seasonally.
Do you listen to any music while you bake and do you clean as you go? What's your process like?
Jordan: We sometimes listen to Hamilton. That's a big favorite right now. We sometimes listen to Frozen. We lately have been listening to Louis Armstrong. And sometimes it's silent. If we're up baking early and [my husband] Robert is sleeping, we don't put music on because we can get so excited. I’m a clean-as-you-go person. I would say Henry is not really into the cleaning portion, but I get very overwhelmed and stressed by clutter. I love Henry's style because he is absolutely not concerned by the mess, he’ll crack an egg and then immediately place the shell on the countertop. So we're getting into a learning system where I’m teaching him to put any mess in a separate bowl. Back [when I was working in the kitchen at] Daniel, you would have your bowl of things that need to get worked on, the bowl of trash, and then the bowl of the finished product. So that was the system that we introduced when we made the dacquoise.
Does Henry wear an apron?
Jordan: He has a little apron. His favorite apron is the Tilit apron, which has his name embroidered. That was a gift from the Tilit team when he turned one.
I remember one year for Valentine’s Day my mom gifted my siblings and me chef coats with our names on them. I still wear mine today. I must’ve been at least in middle school then because it still fits me. It was a great present.
Jordan: That’s so cute! Henry also has his “Henry stool,” which he uses to get the sugar and flour from the cabinets.
Do you have any favorite bakeries in New York that you like to visit?
Jordan: We love to go pick up bread at ACQ Bread Co., which is so, so good. We’ve had great bread before, but it’s crazy how notably exceptional it is. There's a neighborhood bakery called Vesuvio that we'll often stop at—Henry loves the pignoli cookies that they make. We used to go and visit the Lilia Caffé (Henry’s first bombolone was there), which was a big thing. This weekend we’re actually going to Boston and we’re going to make a pilgrimage to Flour Bakery. Oh, and Carissa’s in East Hampton! We love their croissants.
Henry, are you a chocolate croissant person or a butter croissant person? Or almond?
I have to say I’m a butter croissant girl.
Jordan: I would say, for most of my life, I was a chocolate croissant person and only now have I really rediscovered the beauty of an excellent butter croissant.
Croissants are one thing I will say I am too daunted to try making at home. What’s next on your list to tackle?
Henry: (Goes back to the Flour Bakery cookbook and shows the sticky bun page.)
Jordan: I think we should buy one while we’re there.