Welcome to On Location, where we talk to the coolest cooks and makers around the country about what's inspiring them right now.
You may know Joy Wilson by her pseudonym Joy the Baker, which she lends to a well-loved blog, magazine, and cookbooks. She's a self-taught but seasoned baker, and is beloved for her inventive treats including Drake on Cake and a long roster of approachable, flavorful recipes.
Wilson lives in New Orleans, and in the spirit of the city, she made homemade beignets for us. "I feel like ever since I've moved to New Orleans, making beignets from scratch is my party trick," she says. "They're something that you usually only get at Café Du Monde, most people don't make them at home. But I love making them at home and you get to eat them super, super fresh."
What tips do you have for people making beignets at home for the first time?
I think that people get intimidated by frying and I understand that. I tell people that you don't need as much oil as you think you do. I fry my beignets in a shallow three-inch pan and I use two inches of oil, just enough so that the beignets float. You need a candy thermometer to know what temperature your oil is. After, I let the oil cool and pour it in a jar, label it as sweet, and put it in the fridge so I can use it again. People often don't know what to do with the oil—you can use oil again as long as you know what you fried in it. I have a sweet oil in the refrigerator and a savory oil.
How did your blog, Joy the Baker, get started?
I started Joy the Baker in 2008. There were blogs, but it was early. I was working in a bakery—I had no business working in a bakery, I was just flying by the seat of my pants. I would go home and experiment with recipes so I would mess up less at my bakery job. I just started to put those experiments on my blog. I wasn't trying to be an authority on baking, and it was me and 20 people for several years. I was just persistent.
How did you decide to move to New Orleans?
I was living in Los Angeles when I started Joy the Baker. I grew up in LA but I've lived several different places around the country and I like moving around and experiencing a place by living there. I had come to visit New Orleans a couple of times a year for a few years before I decided to move here. It's sparkly magic when you come visit here. That's true a lot of days, but it's also a normal, kind of rough around the edges city.
I was with some friends and we were a little tipsy in the French Quarter and I saw a for rent sign on a balcony on Royal Street and I said "I'm going to live there." I called them when I went home and I rented it and then I moved there. It was wild.
What's so special about New Orleans food?
What is so special about it? The heavy cream? Maybe that's it [laughs]. Everyone else is afraid to use it and we're not scared.
I think what's special about it is there's never just one recipe. There's not one recipe for gumbo, there's not one recipe for red beans or jambalaya. It's how you were raised eating it. It's been cool to live here for a while and get to experience different people's versions of jambalaya and gumbo. How people eat gumbo on the coast is different from central Louisiana. Even if you visit, when you eat a chef's gumbo you're eating their family's gumbo. It's an intimate space that feels very cool.
Favorite thing you've made lately?
It's these almond flour banana bread cookies. I am a baker and I make a lot of decadent food, but I don't eat a lot of decadent food. I'm just the baker behind it. I try to eat pretty balanced, and I love these almond flour cookies with walnuts and banana, a little bit of honey, they aren't too sweet. I've had a lot of bananas around for recipe testing and I got my banana fix.
- Cake or pie? Pie.
- Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate for sure.
- Favorite snack food? Trash. Flamin' Hot Cheetos. Maybe the limon ones.
- Favorite cookbook? I love the big yellow Gourmet cookbook.
- Dream breakfast? ...Is prepared by someone else.
- Best thing you've bought for your kitchen lately? All-Clad non-stick skillet.