Author's Note: We chatted with pastry chef David Guas, author of DamGoodSweet whose wonderful book of New Orleans-inspired desserts was nominated for a James Beard award for best baking and dessert cookbook. Guas also shared one of his favorite summer desserts from the book, Lemon Icebox Pie.
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How did you get started in pastry? I'm sort of the accidental pastry chef. I had just finished culinary school in New Orleans and wanted to get experience in the best restaurant in the city which at the time was the Windsor Court Hotel. I applied but they weren't hiring. Eventually a family friend got me an interview in the pastry department with the head pastry chef, a German master. It was there that I met Jeff Tunks who I eventually moved up to D.C. with to open DC Coast.
What makes your desserts distinctly Southern? My birth certificate. The book is all about getting back to the desserts that I really love, basic simple, nostalgic, and comforting— elegant but not fussy. Desserts from aunties and grandmas. An avid home cook probably has 90% of the ingredients called for in the book and that was the deal, recipes that were doable, no special equipment to buy.
What are some of your favorite ingredients to work with? Nutmeg, my great aunt Patty didn't like cinnamon so her big thing was nutmeg and when I was five or six I was grating whole nutmeg for her apple fried pies. She'd come to visit from Tennessee and we'd assemble the ingredients for her pies even before her arrival. And of course bourbon—I love boozy desserts.
Who are some of your favorite pastry chefs? One of my mentors is a woman named Nicole Plue, she was one of the first pastry chefs at Eleven Madison Park and is now working at Redd in Napa Valley. I love her style, she taught me that the key to her desserts is reducing the amount of sugar, keeping it light and enhancing the flavors.
What do you like to cook and bake at home? I usually have two or three logs of cookie dough in the freezer, salted oatmeal raisin or chocolate chip and pecan sandies and I make brownies fairly often. I cook at home a lot, at least four or five nights a week with the kids. I make turkey meatballs with or without pasta. I do an anchovy pasta, with garlic, capers, lemon zest and juice, dijon mustard and anchovy paste. My wife and kids love it—it's our go-to pasta.
What are some of your pantry essentials? Really good butter, I use Kerrygold. For dairy I use Trickling Springs from Pennsylvania. Toasted sesame seeds for cookies, and for finishing garnishes. Textured sugars, almond paste for frangipane, all sorts of nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and I always have at least two quarts of heavy cream in the fridge which may or may not be a good thing.
What are some of your tips for better home baking? There are a lot of fears around baking, we're carrying around all of this baking baggage and my goal is to make it fun and lighthearted. For the home baker, the book is a guide breaking down the fears associated with baking, and getting baking to the same level of casualness associated with cooking. But when it comes to baking there is a certain amount of science involved and missing an ingredient is a common mistake especially when doubling recipes, so I recommend writing out all of the ingredients when increasing a recipe.