By Rebecca Holland
One look at the food and baking blog Grandbaby Cakes, and you get hungry, fast. A fluffy red velvet cake draped with blackberry cream cheese frosting slides across the screen, followed by cookie cheesecake swirl bars. A pink theme and friendly writing pulls you into the blog, and before long you’re reading tricks and family stories, reminiscing about your own grandmother’s recipes, which is exactly what Jocelyn Adams, the Chicago food blogger and more recently cookbook author behind the site, has in mind.
“What resonates with people is this love of family,” Adams says. “They find themselves thinking about their own families and their own memories. That’s what sets it apart from other recipe sites.”
Family is also what inspired Adams to start her blog. After spending years in the kitchen with her grandmother, mother, and aunts, she developed a love of baking and a library of family recipes. Adams started Grandbaby Cakes three years ago while working as an events producer; about eighteen months ago, she took the plunge into full-time blogging. “I started the blog to share recipes and inspiration from my family, then things kind of blew up,” she says. “I fell in love with it and started doing more recipe development and learning more about both baking and blogging, until I knew I wanted to do it full-time.”
The risk paid off. Since she’s been able to focus on it full time, she says, her blog has tripled in size and now she has her first cookbook. “I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do the book if I didn’t have time to commit one-hundred percent to it,” she says.
“Grandbaby Cakes: Modern Recipes, Vintage Charm, Soulful Memories” contains the same enticing photos and conveys the warmth of Adams’ site. “I’ve always wanted to write a book,” Adams says. “I’ve always loved the art of writing, so writing about something very close to me like my family flowed naturally.”
The book is full of tidbits about Adams’ southern grandma, as well as beautiful photography shot by Adams, a self-taught photographer. The recipes themselves are easy to follow, and Adams includes additional tips like, for instance, “how to roast a sweet potato” to make the buttered rum and candied sweet potato crumb cake.
Even in my minuscule kitchen I was able to whip up the Mississippi Mudslide Cake, which Adams describes as “cake you bake when you crave pure satisfaction on the plate.” This dessert taught her to “treat myself to guilty pleasures and seize moments of unadulterated bliss without a shred of guilt.” Sounded great to me. The three layers of chocolate and coffee cake came out perfectly, to be topped with a heavy Kahlua cream and chocolate ganache. My cake was indulgent and delicious, if not as beautiful as the version in the book. My frosting skills need work and my ganache looked a little droopy, but overall I was satisfied, and, more importantly, inspired to perfect my baking skills.
Adams herself has been honing her techniques over the years. “I think that my knowledge is a big mix of being self-taught and learning from trial and error,” she says. “Lots of it is instinctual stuff picked up from my family, but I’ve also been studying the science behind baking a lot over the past few years.” Where her grandma doesn’t measure, Adams is a little more careful, and where her family uses salted butter to bake, she opts for unsalted. “I’ve learned a lot about control in baking, and in some ways I definitely have different baking instincts than my family.”
Adams says she tried to portray both tradition and modernity in her book, highlighting what she’s learned from her grandma and also what she’s picked up on her own. There are some recipes that are straight from her past, like the 7-UP Pound Cake or the Cinnamon Roll Pound Cake.
When asked about her favorite recipe in the book, Adams struggles. “It’s so hard!” she says. “I tested all of them to the point where all of them became a favorite.” The result is a compilation of fifty recipes she absolutely loves. “The caramel cake is a classic, so I love that one, and I love the Mississippi mud pie, and I love the butter rum sweet potato cake. Oh, I really love the strawberry sundae cake: that one is great,” Adams says, and on and on.
Adams hopes she can get young people into baking. “It’s really about opening people’s eyes, getting back into the kitchen and trying new memories and passing them down,” she says. “Looking into your own families and preserving what’s important is a crucial take-away for the book.”
Dining and Drinking Editor for Newcity, David also writes a weekly food column for Wednesday Journal in Oak Park and is a frequent contributor of food/drink and travel pieces to the Chicago Tribune, Plate Magazine and other publications. David has also contributed chapters to several books, including Street Food Around the World, Street Food, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org