Zibby Owens: I interviewed Erin Gardner twice during quarantine. Once was on my Instagram Live show. Another time was for this podcast which you’re going to listen to now. Erin’s book, Procrastibaking: 100 Recipes for Getting Nothing Done in the Most Delicious Way Possible, is just fantastic. I thought it was a perfect quarantine read. I even included it in my Next Chapter Please bundle on Page 1 Books, which I think they might even still be selling. Go check out Erin is fantastic and personable and has been on cooking shows and was one of the leading cake bakers in the world when she owned Wild Orchid Baking Company. She wrote for The Cake Blog and wrote Erin Bakes Cakes in 2017. She is the consummate baker. Yet this book, as you’ll hear, is when she learned to bake all these other things while procrastinating from making the cakes that she had been contracted to make. Even the most accomplished baker feels badly about how they’re delaying the chores they need to do. I hope you enjoy our conversation and that you pick up her cookbook and make some of these delicious desserts.

Welcome, Erin. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Erin Gardner: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Zibby: As I was saying to you, I loved doing an Instagram Live with you in the midst of the quarantine, but had so many more questions and just didn’t want to stop talking, so I thought we could do a whole podcast.

Erin: That’s great. I really appreciated you having me on your IG Live. This is super fun too. It’s so nice to have adult contact in any, way, shape, or form. This is great.

Zibby: Before I did this, my two little kids and I were literally in the street waiting for the UPS person, not that we were expecting anything. After an hour, he came. That was the highlight of the day. Good times over here.

Erin: Life is a lot simpler now.

Zibby: Your latest cookbook, Procrastibaking, you’re the master baker. You’ve helped coin this term, procrastibaking. Now you have a whole cookbook about it. First, backtrack a little and talk about how you got started in the professional baking world to get to this point.

Erin: Wow, okay.

Zibby: Go back. Let’s go way back.

Erin: I actually — how far back?

Zibby: You always loved baking as a kid?

Erin: I always loved baking as a kid, but I never, never saw it as a profession. Actually, my first major in college was aviation. That’s how I met my husband. My husband’s a pilot.

Zibby: Wow, no way.

Erin: I learned through doing that for about a year or so that I am not a pilot. That’s a good thing to learn about yourself if you think you’re a pilot. I enjoyed it, but like my husband says, it’s eight hours of boredom bookended by thirty seconds of terror.

Zibby: It’s like parenting.

Erin: It really is. A lot of it is just sitting there.

Zibby: Aviation, so interesting. So you ruled that out.

Erin: Ruled that out. I wrapped up my degree in business management/marketing. I worked in advertising for a very brief period of time. I was selling ads to a restaurant. They were looking for a nighttime dessert plater. I said, I think I could do that. That seems awesome. I didn’t even realize that these were jobs that I could do. It really piqued my interest. To the chagrin of all adults around me at the time, I quit my office job and I took a job plating desserts at night. Then the rest was history. I worked my way up through — that was in Hartford, Connecticut. Moved to Boston. Worked through a bunch of restaurants in Boston and then into New Hampshire. Then I opened my bakery. I had a wedding cake shop for about seven years and made wedding cakes all over New England. That was the big moment in my career. Then while I was doing that, I was approached to start doing other things like teaching classes on a couple online platforms and doing some writing and creating tutorials. That sort of opened up the next phase of what I do now.

Zibby: Amazing. What was it like being at the top of your field and making wedding cakes and being a part of the most special night for so many people in their lives?

Erin: I loved it. I really did truly love it. I loved working with the couples. I loved learning about them and their story and seeing all the different styles, the things that really meant something to people, but it was terrifying. Like we said, the terrifying side of aviation, there’s a terrifying side to cake decorating. That is that every wedding is the big night. It’s never not the most important day of someone’s life. There’s no do-over. That side of it could be fun also because there was an excitement to it. Bringing a cake to a venue, of course you get to know all the other vendors like the florists and the wedding planners and the banquet hall staffs and things like that. Getting in at the time everyone’s setting up and it’s kind of this team and you’re all dispersed and move to the next one, that part, it was exciting. Then also, I should name an ulcer . I’m sure that they’re in there.

Zibby: So then what made you close the bakery and move on to other things?

Erin: I had my first child, Max. He’s my oldest, my son. He’s nine now. He spent the first year of his life in a pack ‘n play at the end of my worktable in the bakery. Then once he got mobile, we had to move on to daycare. Then when my second was born, and she’s going to be five at the end of this month, I decided that it was time to put all of my efforts into those other things that had started popping up like writing opportunities and teaching opportunities and things along those lines so that I could really be there for my kids. With a husband who’s a pilot, I go through stretches of time where I’m the only parent. Having the ultimate deadline of a wedding isn’t always the best thing to have when you have two very small children. Max came on lots of wedding cake deliveries with me. He was strapped to me. I’d bring the cake in. I’m glad that I had enough energy to get through that point of my life. Once number two came along, I was like, I think it’s time to move on to the next phase. I miss things about it, but I love the things I get to do now like sharing with people and being able to look back on my experiences and help people with technique and recipe and the things that they can do at home to enhance their own celebrations.

Zibby: We were looking at some of your recipes online, or I was with the kids before we talked. Your funfetti recipe is on our to-do list now tomorrow.

Erin: That’s a great one. One bowl. You don’t need a mixer, super easy.

Zibby: Thank you. That’s the perfect — .

Erin: They’re the words you need to hear.

Zibby: Yes, exactly. One bowl, not too messy, very simple, full of sugar, check.

Erin: You throw a handful of sprinkles in there, and boom, everyone’s happy.

Zibby: It’s so easy. As long as you don’t mind throwing sprinkles at your kids all day, they would just be thrilled.

Erin: Actually, funny story. My youngest one day — I work from home now, so I have a lot of supplies in my kitchen. My oldest, he could care less about sweets. He’ll walk past them. My youngest is a cookie monster, like a hardcore sugar addict. One morning, we woke up and Max was in my room. We’re hanging out. I was like, “Where’s your sister? I haven’t heard from her. It’s way too quiet.” She was downstairs and had poured herself a bowl of sprinkles and was sitting at the kitchen table just spooning them into her mouth.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, that’s awesome. That’s a dream breakfast. Did you take a picture, I hope?

Erin: I did take a picture. I think she was two and a half, three at the time. I was like, “What are you doing?” She was just like, “Ha, ha, ha.”

Zibby: That’s perfect.

Erin: She thought she had figured out the perfect thing.

Zibby: Tell me about how you ended up doing your first cookbook and how that led now to Procrastibaking, your next cookbook.

Erin: I had written — I’m on number three now.

Zibby: I’m sorry.

Erin: Oh, no, because the first one was more like an author-for-hire kind of situation where I was writing to fulfill a need for a publisher. Then Erin Bakes Cake came from my experiences and heart and soul kind of deal and had the opportunity to that put that together. That book embodied where I’ve taken cake decorating from the high-end wedding cake world to home. I was using a lot of those classic techniques and ideas and recipes and flavors and then translating them to, still kind of over-the-top stuff, but stuff that you could accomplish at home and that you don’t need special tools for. That’s something I’ve prided myself on with the kinds of tutorials and recipes that I write for people now and the different publications and what not. I will never do anything that requires you to purchase anything that isn’t already in your kitchen. I use toothpicks, foils, spoons, stuff like that. I have moved away from the traditional wedding cake elements like fondant and gum paste and that kind of stuff. I will only use now, like, chocolate cookies and candy to create decorative elements. That book was in the spirit of that.

Then this book, Procrastibaking, actually was born from that book. I had no idea that that was happening at the time. One of the things that I do, and now everyone knows, is when I have these big projects that I’m working on, I will bake something else, something not on the script to kind of warm up. If I’m not feeling whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing, I’ll just make something fun. I did that one of the days that I was supposed to be writing for Erin Bakes Cake. I posted a picture of it on Instagram, #procrastibaking, the baking I’m doing when I’m supposed to be doing other baking. It wasn’t even that big of a post. A couple of my baker friends were like, ha, ha, ha, I do this too. Literally, just life moved on. That was a very basic post. Then about a year and a half after that, around that, I get a message on Instagram, a DM from Julia Moskin from The New York Times saying that she’s writing an article on procrastibaking, and would I want to be interviewed. Of course. Spoke with her. I said some silly things because it’s a silly topic. I ended up being in the article.

Then my literary agent, my wonderful, wonderful, literary agent, Alison Fargis, she called me. She was like, “Erin, this is a book.” I said, “Yeah, it probably is. This could be really good.” Then it was just really fortuitous. The publisher that I ended up with, Atria, the publisher who was on staff then was a procrastibaker himself. He felt a strong connection to the book. My editor Sarah was just so enthusiastic about the project. Books are hard because there’s so much work that goes into them, but it was such an enjoyable process. It was so, I don’t want to say easy because it’s not easy, but it came so naturally because it was literally just, okay, wow, I have to just open up the floodgates. This is what I do when no one’s looking. When my husband read the first draft of it, he was like, “Wow, this is the most you-thing that you’ve ever done.” I was like, “Yeah, this is what this is.”

Zibby: But that’s so great. That’s what all the advice is. Write what you know. Write what no one else can write. This is your thing that you do behind closed doors. It benefits everybody for you to tell us about it.

Erin: Writing in your voice, it’s challenging. My career was never to be a writer. That’s just kind of happened in a way. That part has been interesting for me, just practicing writing and practicing really saying what I want to say and not saying it in a way that you think people want to hear it kind of thing. It’s been a learning process, but one that I’m grateful for. It’s been really great.

Zibby: What are your biggest go-to procrastibaking recipes? If you have a huge deadline, what will we find you mostly likely in the kitchen baking furtively and feeling guilty about?

Erin: Cookies. Because cake is my life, I turn cookies when I’m looking to get away. Cookies, scones, biscuits, things like that, they’re easy. They’re easily sharable. My butter crunch cookies are hands-down my favorite cookies in the whole world. They’re just so yummy. That’s why also in the book there’s a hundred recipes and the chapters are primarily broken up into about ten recipes each except for cookies which is like twenty percent of the book. I think it’s a common thread through all kinds of people who procrastibake that cookies are a go-to. No one will turn down a cookie. In the before time and going forward, at some point I’m sure, they’re sharable. You can bring them into the office. You can bring them into school. It’s just a real easy bake to blow off some steam.

Zibby: Do you have any secrets to making the best chocolate chip cookies? That’s my favorite food I think in the planet, is a chocolate chip cookie. What are your secrets?

Erin: Chocolate chip cookies are very personal. It’s probably one of the most personal baked goods, I think. You can agree on, that’s a good eclair or that’s a nice something. Chocolate chip cookie, some people like thin and crispy. Some people like chewy. Some people like cakey. With any style of chocolate chip cookies, I always to under-bake a little bit, like a hair. Obviously, you don’t want something that’s gross or unsafe. If a recipe calls for twelve minutes of bake time, maybe I’ll set it for ten and then look at it and make the call. I think with chocolate chip cookies it’s okay if they’re a little glossy in the center, just a hair. Then you pull it out and you let them kind of finish baking on the baking sheet. Let that residual heat get everything to set. Then if you like a softer cookie, a little bit of cream cheese is actually a great — the soft-batch style ones in the book, the cream cheese just makes it smoother and creamier. It kind of inhibits a little bit of the gluten production. It keeps the structure soft inside the cookie. That would be another good trick. Oh, and to use good chocolate, but good chocolate is just whatever chocolate you like. If you like dark chocolate, go for that. If you like milk chocolate, go for that. Don’t feel chocolate pressure. Just use what you enjoy the most.

Zibby: I’ve recently discovered the larger size dark chocolate Toll House chips. That’s not good. I’ve started hiding them in my office because I don’t want the kids to eat them. They’re so good. So what’s coming next for you? Are you going to do another cookbook? I know this is just coming out. What do you see happening in the next year or two?

Erin: I wish I knew. I think everyone wished they knew now, right?

Zibby: Assuming life was normal. Let’s pretend.

Erin: If I had a crystal ball, that would be great. In the future going forward, I look forward to being able to do more in-person classes, things that I had scheduled that are going to be put off into the future now. I really, really love teaching people in person. It’s so much fun for me to just have that energy. I teach a lot up at Stonewall Kitchen Cooking School here in York, Maine, right over the border. There’s some other in-person teaching opportunities. Then I’ll just keep sharing on my blog and on my social media channels. Now that I’m getting through this whole book process, I’m actually kind of looking forward to just posting some stuff for fun that has no one else looking over my shoulder with a theme or a deadline kind of thing. I’ve got some fun projects that I have in mind for Mother’s Day and spring-y and summer kind of things coming up.

Zibby: That’s awesome. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors, somebody out there who might want to do a cookbook or has some great idea? What do you think?

Erin: I think my best advice would be to write. For me personally, the more I write, the better I feel I am at it. Write anything. Write emails to people. Write what you did that day. It doesn’t have to be a project. It’s just getting your words onto paper. I always find that the more that I do that, the better. Sometimes if I have nothing to do, I will go on and just review things on Amazon. I’m like, what can I say about this that’s funny? What can I say about this that’s creative? It’s a completely no-pressure outlet. No one’s going to judge what you’ve written on your Swiffer review. It’s just a low-key way to do that. Then if someone’s really serious about it, I would say to find a literary agent, to find an agent who works with authors in the field that you’re in and that manages or works with people who have books that look like the kind of book that you want to write so that you know you’re in the right company. I think that’s such an important key. I know it’s been a huge key to the wonderful things I’ve been able to work on.

Zibby: Awesome. Thank you, Erin. This has been so fun. Thanks for distracting your kids and not minding my kids walking in here. Thanks for taking the time today. Your book is obviously, not just for the fact that everybody is at home and happens to be baking at the moment, but in general is a great concept. It’s just so awesome. Thanks for coming on.

Erin: Thanks. I appreciate it. It’s been a lot of fun being able to chat with you here. Thanks for having me.

Zibby: You too. Bye.

Erin: Bye.

Zibby: Thanks so much. Buh-bye.