of Beranbaum’s test kitchen, it holds her
Rose Levy grew up in New York City,
first Queens, then Greenwich Village. As
a child, she found most desserts—
including the cakes her mother made from mixes—too sweet. “I was in college before I
had my first from-scratch cake,” she says.
Levy took a long time to find her groove.
She attended three different colleges and
the Fashion Institute of Technology before
she earned a B. S. in food studies, cum
laude, from N YU in 1974—13 years after
graduating from high school. She stayed at
N YU another year and earned a master’s
in food science and culinary arts.
She married at 19 and left college early in
that ill-fated union “because I was bored,
and then I was bored working as a secretary at a brake-lining factory in Trenton.”
Her only respite was riding with her husband to Temple University in Philadelphia,
where he was working on his master’s, so
she could sit in the dorm and watch Julia
Child's first cooking show.
“We couldn't afford a TV at home,” she
says. “That was 1963. I never thought I’d
meet her. But when The Cake Bible came
out in 1988, I was on the Today show. I
got home and the first call was from my
mother. The second was from Julia. I always get chills when I tell this. She said,
‘Congratulations, Dearie, I’m so proud of
you.’ That was the pinnacle of my career
to that point.” And, she’s proud to say, the
start of a lasting friendship.
She got a divorce and was finishing her
master’s when she met Elliott Beranbaum, a radiologist who had t wo children
from a first marriage. They wed a year
later and now have three grandchildren.
For years, Beranbaum wrote for
magazines and taught baking. Then
in 1980, Procter & Gamble asked her
to help revamp the too-sweet Duncan
Hines cake mixes of her childhood.
That eventually led to a contract to
write what became her career-making
cookbook, The Cake Bible.
But times and tastes have changed in
the intervening quarter century. “Ingre-
dients change and technology changes,
so recipes change,” Beranbaum says.
“And I make discoveries by traveling. For
example, the cover photo of The Bak-
ing Bible. It’s of a French pastry called a
kouign amann. I never heard of it until a
few years ago. I discovered it in Paris and
went to huge effort to reproduce it in my
home kitchen, and finally came up with
a version better than any I had, except on
the Boulevard San Germain.”
Another thing she’s discovered is that
full-time life in rural Warren County is,
to use one of her favorite words, divine.
For decades, Rose and Elliott lived in
Greenwich Village and spent weekends at
the house in Hope. In 2013, with Elliott's
retirement, they moved to Hope full-time
and converted the unfinished basement
into what Beranbaum calls “the kitchen
of my dreams.”
“I always hated to leave to go back to
New York,” she admits. “Now it's like be-
ing on permanent vacation. I work just as
hard here as I ever did in New York, but
it's a different feeling.”
When you make 17 versions of a chiffon
cake before you hit the bullseye, you miss
16 times. “If you want to take creative
leaps, then some things won't work," she
says. In their Greenwich Village apartment building, Beranbaum recalls, “I was
throwing something out and one neighbor said, ‘ Your disasters are our life’s
delight.’ So I started giving away a lot.
In the apartment building, I would give
the maintenance people desserts, and if I
had a leak or some kind of problem in the
apartment, I didn’t have to wait t wo min-
utes before somebody was there.”
The building staff has been replaced
by the people who work at the local bank
and the Blairstown post office, where
they get their mail, and by close friends
who own a farm nearby. Beranbaum and
Wolston, her baking collaborator, bring
those fortunate folks generous samples.
What can follow an epic like The Baking Bible? “We cut an entire chapter on
wedding cakes,” she says. “And there is
still much to be discovered about bread.”
Beranbaum would also like to write a
memoir in which she could tell stories like
that of her friendship with Julia Child.
“I feel so blessed that all the disparate
things I’ve done, and all my learning, I’m
able to put to use every day,” she says.
“That’s the secret of happiness.” ;
Karen Stabiner teaches journalism at
Columbia University and is at work on a
book, Generation Chef, about the opening
of a young chef’s first restaurant.