Celebrate every day with Baked Occasions

Matt Lewis & Renato PoliafitoAfter years in the advertising business, Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito decided to leave their day jobs and open a bakery in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. Baked opened in January 2005 to instant rave reviews. Three cookbooks (Baked, Baked Explorations, and Baked Elements) followed in quick succession, and now the dynamic baking duo is back with another book, Baked Occasions. (You can enter our contest for your chance to win a copy and check our  events calendar for signing dates). We caught up with Matt and Renato on the eve of publication to see what they had to say about their latest (and largest) effort.

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Baked Occasions is the fourth cookbook from the two of you - what is the theme for this one?

Matt: Baked Occasions is well…about Occasions. A lot of occasions…a la Dolly Parton's Birthday, Chocolate Pudding Day, Canada Day (we love our Canadian friends), Halloween, Earth Day, Christmas, Gay Pride, Mardi Gras, the Vernal Equinox and just about any other damn day we can think of to celebrate. Every day is a holiday. Or at least it should be.

Baked Occasions is our Magnum Opus. It is bigger than our other books. Beastly. Absolutely stuffed with more photography (that was a request from YOU) and more recipes (we couldn't help ourselves) and completely focused on all the ridiculous and not so ridiculous holidays/occasions we hold near and dear to our collective hearts. (Oh, and it is our first cookbook to finally utilize WEIGHT and METRIC measurements!)

You still own the bakery Baked in Red Hook, Brooklyn. How much time do you get to spend there now?

Matt: We are a little all over the place right now with our new Tribeca store about to open (mid-October-ish). Once we get that up and running (granted, it will be many months) we will try to reset our schedules to rotate through the stores on a regular basis. Thankfully, we have been blessed with a great staff...they keep us sane during these crazy times.

What are the roles of the two of you in the bakery and in creating the cookbooks?

Matt: Our roles are not perfectly defined (and there is a lot of - hopefully good - overlap), but we are trying. At the moment, Renato runs more of the day to day operations, while I concentrate on the books, mixes, and corporate businesses. But we check in with each other constantly - maybe too much :)

I understand you didn't have culinary training. Where did each of you learn to bake and what are your major influences?

Matt: Yes, it's true. My only training comes from Peter Kump (now ICE) night/weekend classes and Nato was heavily influenced by his mom's cooking/baking style. We definitely love cookbooks and so many of them taught us so much.

Do you have any favorites among baking cookbooks?

Matt: There is so many, but I'll try: Nick Malgieri's Chocolate was the first baking book I used on a regular basis, and I have many dog-eared pages in Dorie's Baking from My Home to Yours. I always use David Lebovitz's Ready for Dessert when I am looking for something fun and crowd-pleasing. I love all of the Tartine books, and lately, I have been having a love affair with Flour Water Salt Yeast. And while not strictly a baking book, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook has so many great desserts.

Have you added metric measurements in this book? If not, is it because you don't think Americans are ready for metric in baking?

Renato: Yes! Americans are ready (they have actually been ready for much longer than publishing has given them credit for) - it's actually much easier to measure in metrics when baking. However, the hard part with cookbooks that feature dual measuments is making sure the metrics match up to the cup measures and vice-versa (it is not a perfect science). We worked very hard (along with our great testing team) to make sure we were as accurate as we could be.

If you could only have one dessert for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Renato: This is a tough one - it's a toss up. I truly love a devil's food chocolate cake with a chocolate pudding frosting, and I'll always eat a great chocolate chip cookie.

Do you think there are any surprises left in baking?

Renato: Of course - I mean, the cronut is only a couple of years old. Who can say what other crazy fun hybrids/completely new dessert ideas are out there? We can't wait to see what develops.

Are there any new recipes in the book that you are particularly proud of?

Renato: We are particularly proud of this cookbook in that we could eat our way through this book a few times over and never get bored, but if I had to pick a current favorite it would be the Blueberry Buckle for Blueberry Month (yes, there is such a thing).

Finally, now that cupcakes are (hopefully) on the way out, what baking trend do you wish would catch on?

Renato: They have been around forever, so it doesn't really need to catch on - but I really think the donut should replace the cupcake, officially. Put a donut in front of me, I'll eat it. It's the type of treat you always want- guy or gal, young or old, am or pm, sweet or savory, endless combinations! To top all of that - they have staying power! They've been around for as long as you can remember, and always will.

Photo of Matt Lewis & Renato Poliafito courtesy Baked NYC

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