When I saw the cover of Sweet Melissa Baking Book, my mouth watered. The confectioner’s sugar topped dessert looked too good to be true. And when I later read the book (during my breaks at work), I was intrigued. I love author Melissa Murphy’s style. Her brief tidbits with each recipe really make the book for me. And her recipes for delights like chocolate peppermint meringues are the stuff dreams — at least my dreams — are made of.Melissa Murphy owns Sweet Melissa’s Patisserie in Brooklyn. She is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute who has appeared on the Food Network. I had the opportunity to ask Melissa some questions and got some great answers. As my son often says, here ‘a goes!
Why did you decide to write The Sweet Melissa Baking Book?
MM: A literary agent from Regal Literary’s Culinary Cooperative approached me in my Cobble Hill store. I tried to write this book 8 years ago, but I wound up too busy baking for Sweet Melissa’s, and had no time to do the book the way I really wanted, so we decided to wait a while. I am glad I did, I had that much more experience 8 years later when it was finally the right time.
How did you go about writing the cookbook?
MM: That was the hard part. Like most chefs, writing did not come naturally to me! There was so much to do, between choosing the recipes, deciding how to break down the chapters, defining my audience, and writing about memories that I had attached to different desserts. Once I had a clear idea of what the book would be, my literary agent, Michael Psaltis, really helped me to put a proposal together. He went above and beyond his call of duty as an agent, and helped me edit and put my thoughts together in a way that worked. Once it was together, he sent the proposal to different publishers, and we met with those that were interested. We decided to go with Viking Studio, a division of Penguin, because they only do a few books a year, and I thought they would treat the project as “special”, and they did. After we had a deal with Viking, it was time to write the book, and break down my recipes.
There is a bee theme throughout the cookbook, your website, and even the storefront. What’s the story behind that?
MM: The honeybee is the logo of Sweet Melissa Patisserie, Melissa means honeybee in Greek. So I thought it was a very cute idea for the logo. I love the little dotted bee trail that follows behind him, it gives him personality, it’s a kind of a loop-dee loop. It reminds me of the path I’m on, sometimes filled with unplanned detours, but always knowing where I’m headed!
How does writing enter into your career? Would you like to write another cookbook?
MM: I would love to write another cookbook and fill it with tons and tons of pictures! The hardest part of writing a book for me was the fact that I couldn’t just stay home and write it, leisurely testing recipes, and jotting down notes. In the year that I wrote this book, I also opened a new store, settled my divorce, bought out my partner, managed my 2 stores and production kitchen and 45 employees! Not to mention preparation for the Food Network Challenge and some unplanned emergency surgery which laid me up for 6 weeks- it was some year! So now, I have organized things so that I will be able to do what I love most, which is thinking up new recipes for my customers that can go into my next book.
When did you know that you wanted to go to culinary school and pursue a food career?
MM: I had worked in restaurants while putting myself through college. I was a Psych major, and liked it well enough, but didn’t love the idea of treating patients as a career. One night at the restaurant, I stepped into the kitchen, as I had always wanted to learn to brulee the custards. That was it, I was hooked! I looked into culinary schools and I was accepted by the French Culinary Institute. Going to school there was the best thing I ever did!
What’s been the biggest surprise in the past 10 years since you opened Sweet Melissa Patisserie?
MM: I was surprised to see how much my customers love the bread pudding! I thought it would be too simple for them, but I think that’s exactly why they like it.
Were you surprised by the Patisserie’s success?
MM: I am a strong- willed Sagittarian, and for me failure is not an option. I strive to make everyone’s favorite desserts, better than they’ve had them before. So as long as that remains my goal, I think Sweet Melissa’s will continue to be appreciated and successful.
You also have a television show in development. Can you tell us about it and where and when we might see it hitting our TVs?
MM: As soon as I find the right production company to film it! I have had some interest from people who would like to do a reality type show on the bakeries, and the ups and downs of day to day. But my heart really lies with teaching how to bake, to bring the cookbook to life!- and I think it can be fun- not boring, like some shows in the past. I think that all of the cooking shows out now have done a great job of teaching America how to cook, now I want to teach everyone how to bake! I just have to find the right people to work with, it will happen when the time is right. So right now, I am continuing to hone my on camera skills by doing baking videos for the podcastGo! network – and coming up with more recipes!
What are your plans for the future?
MM: I am currently renovating and expanding my original Court Street store. Thank goodness, because it is soo tiny! In the additional space, I am building a dessert and ice cream fountain, and I am going to make my own ice cream! I am so excited to do my Butterscotch Banana Sundaes with Salted Almonds, and Hot Fudge Peanut Brittle Sundaes for my customers. So at this moment I am focusing on that.
What inspires you?
MM: My family, my customers, and the seasons inspire me. I know I can make anything lemon for my mom, and she’ll love it. My sister loves, loves, loves peaches. My customers always have special requests, and I love rising to the challenge of making them their favorite dessert, better than they’ve had it before. I get very excited with the changing of the seasons, and the different fruits that become available.
Final question: what’s the secret to perfect cookies (ones that don’t fall flat or get dark brown around the edges)?
MM: Follow the instructions from a trustworthy cookbook with proven recipes – like mine!!
Photo: Sweet Melissa Patisserie