Staff Picks

Dessert Person: Recipes and Guidance for Baking with Confidence

Lauren Kohlenberg

April 14, 2022


I have always been an avid baker, but I did not know what kind of baker I wanted to be until I got my hands on a copy of Claire Saffitz’s Dessert Person.

Dessert Person: Recipes and Guidance for Baking with Confidence by Claire Saffitz, Clarkson Potter Publishers

Spending twenty-seven hours on a batch of eight croissants was not something I would have deemed worth my time just a few years ago. But the delicate, buttery flakiness of the final set of pastries was indeed worth it. 

I have always been an avid baker, but I did not know what kind of baker I wanted to be until I got my hands on a copy of Claire Saffitz’s Dessert Person. 

It feels like this book was written for bakers like me. A book for the proverbial “people,” Dessert Person takes the guess work out of the complicated science behind baking itself. Beginning with an actual recipe matrix, the book plots each recipe by difficulty and total time, allowing home bakers to plan their own journey of tackling a recipe in relation to their skill and comfort levels. 

While I would consider myself someone who is good at figuring things out as I go, I will admit to some overconfidence in a few (read: many) of my baking endeavors. At twenty-six, I still struggle to remember to read the entire recipe before beginning. Claire’s ability to break down a recipe into digestible steps with carefully placed reassurances allows you to navigate the process even if you make a mistake or two. 

Dessert Person is full of recipes both savory and sweet. You can go from focaccia to fruit cake in one day, while picking up tips and tricks for foundational elements like flaky pastry dough and crumble topping along the way. Below, I have compiled a few of my favorite Dessert Person recipes that have found their way into a regular rotation in my kitchen. 


1. Carrot and Pecan Cake (Page 175) 

Over the past few years, I have become the unofficial baker for my Dad’s birthday dessert and one of his favorites is carrot cake. This seemingly complex, slightly tedious confection intimidated me for years, but Claire’s recipe breaks it down into simple, doable steps. The resulting cake is perfectly moist but not dense, graced with the bite of fresh ginger, and

 encapsulated by the warmth of a brown butter cream

 cheese frosting. 

DessertPerson-BirthdayCake-LK.jpgThis cake has become a birthday staple in my family, and I recommend it to all carrot cake lovers. The chopped pecans add a delightful crunch to a cake that can otherwise feel heavy, and the tangy sweetness of the frosting with the added depth of the brown butter elevates the dessert to another level. I have yet to make this recipe for our resident carrot cake aficionado, Gabbi Cisneros, but I am certain that she would agree on its deliciousness. 


DessertPerson-Bagel-LK.jpg2. A Little Bit of Everything Bagels (Page 249) 

I pride myself on my ability to judge whether a bagel is a good bagel and I have to say, this recipe gets a stamp of approval from me. The first time I made these, I was extremely nervous and, I admit, they did not turn out great. As bagels have long been a constant in the “Jewish Food” part of my diet, they always made me feel close to both my family and my religion. Needless to say, the pressure I put on myself to make these perfect led to a significantly less-than-perfect result. The bagels were thin, misshapen, and did not rise like they should have. 

I waited an entire year before attempting this recipe again and I think I finally nailed it. This second attempt, fueled by my desire to conquer this chewy, crackly any-time staple, was a total success. 

I opted out of the everything bagel seasoning and chose to make one batch of plain and one batch of asiago. The recipe, and accompanying NYT Cooking video tutorial, guide any baker through the putzy process of dividing and shaping the bagels. Between the two techniques given for shaping, you are bound to find one that works for you. 

My favorite parts of this recipe are the clear directions to boil then bake, and the emphasis on the key component that is barley malt syrup. If you want that crackly, golden-brown finish, the thick, malty syrup is your key to success. I am, however, still trying to find a use for the remaining jar and a half of barley malt syrup in my fridge, so any and all recipe recommendations are welcome. 

The resulting bagels have a smooth and chewy outer shell with a delightfully airy, malty interior. They were a hit with my family and friends, and I have been advised to open a bagel shop of my own. 


dessertPerson-croissants-LK-2.png3. Bonus Mention: Croissants (Recipe and Video Tutorial from NYT Cooking) 

I have been known to look at a dessert and say, “I bet I could make that,” despite the time it would entail or the lack of skill I may have relating to the recipe itself. I will also say that this has never stopped me before. 

Croissants are one of those things that I have always been curious about. 2021 was my “Year of the Pastry” where I was determined to tackle the art and behemoth that was the flaky, delicate, and sometimes finnicky dough. I made galettes and pies, tarts and donuts, but croissants remained the untouched wonder. 

Claire’s reassurance that a homemade croissant with mistakes is still a good croissant was the push I needed. This recipe is long, but the video breakdown of each step is what saved me. I put full trust in Claire, following her instructions to buy good butter, high quality flour, and to take my time no matter what. I reserved a weekend and set to work, planning my schedule around each step of the lamination process, and dedicating a full 27 hours (including an overnight rise) to one batch of eight croissants. 

As stated above, it was entirely and unequivocally worth it. My pastries were not perfect; the dough got too warm at one point, resulting in an alarming amount of butter pooling on my baking sheets. They were a bit lopsided, and, in the end, they were slightly overbaked. But you know what? They were still delicious. 

I learned from the process, documenting what I will do differently next time, and I was able to share a delectable treat with my family. But most importantly, I tackled something that had once seemed impossible. This dessert that sat on the highest of pedestals, the pastry that seemed far too intricate and technical for me to ever be able to attempt, became a doable and attainable endeavor thanks to the guidance of Claire Saffitz and Dessert Person. 

Claire is truly a baker for the people, the ultimate Dessert Person, and every time I come to a crossroads in the kitchen, I ask myself “What Would Claire Saffitz do?” This book has not failed me yet and I cannot wait to see what I bake next. 

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