Julia Just Keeps on Cookin'At 84, a New Book, a New Show And Some Sexy New Secrets

By Candy Sagon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 23, 1996; Page E01

Julia Child's newest cookbook, "Baking With Julia," hits bookstores across the country this week.

Her newest television series started this month on public television.

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She has just kicked off a two-month, 12-city publicity tour.

A biography of her life is due out next year.

And she recently switched publishers after 35 years so she can cash in on CD-Roms of her cooking shows.

All this from a woman who is, what, a million years old now? Didn't she teach Eve to use those leftover apples to make a nice little French tart? Doesn't it seem she's been teaching us to cook forever?

And when are we finally gonna catch on?

No matter, the woman's like the Energizer Bunny with a whisk. She keeps going and cooking and going and cooking . . . .

Even more amazing, in a career field that has been described as being peopled by those with the charm and sweetness of 50 ravenous dogs going after one hunk of meat, nearly everyone likes her. She's Saint Julia, always kind, generous, supportive and deftly remaining above reproach and beyond the snapping teeth of her colleagues.

How does she do this?

C'mon. She has 84 years of experience. She had a whole other life before this cooking-teacher life. (Did you know she was 50 before she wrote her first cookbook?) She grew up in Southern California. Came of age in Paris. Hangs out in Cambridge and Santa Barbara, not that ravenous-dog city Manhattan.

And being over 6 feet tall hasn't hurt either. Short chefs don't give her any guff.

Plus, let's be blunt: The ol' girl is shrewd. She's careful about how she markets herself. She's astute in her financial dealings. And she's as avid about using the latest technology as she is about championing the latest young chefs.

"People tend to see her as a sweet, dotty lady -- and she is sweet -- but she's also very shrewd and very smart about looking out for her interests," says Noel Riley Fitch, the woman Child chose three years ago to write her biography.

Fitch recently finished the first draft of her manuscript and says Child's "a wonderful example of someone taking pleasure and joy in life." She also has turned out to be a much more complicated and interesting woman than Fitch first suspected.

Fitch is something of an expert in interesting, complex women. Her most recent biography was of the French-American writer Anas Nin, famous for her erotic diaries. "But Julia wasn't like that," Fitch quickly adds. "She did sexy things -- she's a liberal and open woman -- but she didn't sleep around like Nin."

Just what those sexy things were, Fitch declines to say right now. "I think I'll hang on to those tidbits until the book comes out."

Fitch wasn't the only one eager to write Child's biography. "Several people wanted to do it," Child says. But Child picked Fitch, she says, "because she and her husband know France so well and she had done two other fine biographies."

As it turned out, not only did Fitch know France well (she has a house there as well as in Los Angeles), but she also knew or had studied many of the Left Bank intellectuals and writers who were friendly with Child and her husband, Paul, in Paris after World War II.

"Did you know that Julia was matron of honor at Jack Hemingway's wedding in 1949 in Paris? She also knew [legendary writer] Alice B. Toklas and Sylvia Beach [a well-known Paris bookstore owner and den mother to the modernist writers of the 1920s and '30s]. I had done a biography on Sylvia Beach that Julia had read," Fitch explains. "I felt that Julia had a historical connection to all these French-American writers, and she liked that angle."

So Child gave Fitch the go-ahead with one condition: "I told her it was fine with me as long I don't have to do anything at all," Child says with a little laugh. "I haven't read her drafts and maybe I never will. I don't even know if I'll read the book when it comes out."

Adds Fitch, "She told me she wasn't interested in going back and reliving her 80-something years, she was too busy with the now."

She's also busy protecting the reputation she has carefully built up over three and a half decades.

For years, says one close associate, Child has turned down offers "in the seven figures" to promote various products. She considers it tacky and worries that it would taint her relationship with nonprofit educational television. ("Of course it helps that she doesn't need the money," adds a longtime friend. Her eight books have earned her several millions.)

On the other hand, she has no qualms about appearing on the home shopping network QVC and selling 10,000 of her cookbooks. "She's not a snob," notes Fitch.

Although she's happy to advise aspiring cooks and writers, Child refuses to write those sappy book blurbs on other people's cookbooks because she doesn't want to endorse anything that "I haven't read carefully and tested myself," she says, and she has no time to do that.

Child has also carved out a niche for herself as the bracing voice of reason and moderation in a land of fad diets and fake foods. Every food writer must have her number on speed dial. A story about how margarine can kill you? Call Julia and get the "Oh for goodness' sake, have a little real butter and enjoy your life" quote.

As sweet and easygoing as everyone says she is, Child still is a smart cookie when it comes to promoting her books and shows. Or at least she has hired some smart cookies to do it for her.

Last year, Child wanted to negotiate a deal for her new baking book with the distinguished publishing house Alfred A. Knopf, which up to then had published all her books beginning with "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in 1961.

But Knopf's owner, Random House, wanted to keep control of any electronic rights. That meant that Child would lose any of the proceeds from her deal with Microsoft to make CD-Roms of her cooking shows and books.

Bye-bye Knopf.

Child's attorney went shopping and found William Morrow & Co., and the subsequent deal for "Baking With Julia" (Morrow, $40) was "financially much better than the other TV series books," says one of those involved.

What's telling about the incident is that Saint Julia remained unsullied. The contract for the book (and the electronic rights) was officially between A La Carte Communications, the company producing Child's television series, and Morrow. Child's longtime editor at Knopf, Judith Jones, whom she counts as a close and dear friend, has remained close and dear.

"It really is a television book, and for many reasons I don't want to go into, it really wasn't her call. She's doing it for her production company. The books that were really completely hers as a cookbook were the large sellers," says Jones.

To prove there's no hard feelings, both women are appearing together on a panel about historic cookbooks in November in Williamsburg, and there's been some discussion about Child doing a book of memories for Knopf.

Jones dates her friendship with Child back to 1959, when they began corresponding about Child's 700-page manuscript for "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." Jones affectionately calls her "the genuine article."

"A lot of these Johnny-come-latelys," her label for some of the younger, more avaricious cookbook authors, "are more concerned with their reputation and their place in the pecking order. Julia," she stresses, "always wants to learn, doesn't take shortcuts and always does the work."

And if she hasn't done all the work, she certainly gives the credit to those who did.

The weighty "Baking With Julia" is based on Child's current TV series, but the actual writing of the book was done by New York baker Dorie Greenspan, a fact that Child repeats like a mantra during interviews.

The idea for the book and the series came during Child's 1993 TV series, "Cooking With Master Chefs."

Executive producer Geoffrey Drummond said two of the episodes -- one on bread, the other on cake -- produced an overwhelming response from viewers. "I mean, it was incredible. Usually we get 600 requests for transcripts, but after those two episodes we got 6,000."

A little light bulb came on.

"So I talked with Julia about doing a baking show," Drummond says. "No one had really done a series on baking. Desserts were always the buzz word. She loved the idea."

She just didn't want to write the book.

That task was given to Greenspan, who turned the book into more than just a TV series companion piece. "We started out thinking it would be just 200 pages of TV recipes, but as we saw the possibilities, the project grew and grew," says Greenspan.

The result is a nearly 500-page baking primer that has already brought sweet results. The book's first printing of 250,000 has been shipped and a second has been ordered.

Not surprisingly, given her reputation, Greenspan says working with Child was a dream.

"She was so gracious, so supportive, so smart." And so energetic. Greenspan recalls going to Child's house at 7 a.m. "and she'd already have been on her exercise bike and was on her second cup of coffee."

Most of all, remembers Greenspan, she could charm the pants off just about anyone, including teen-agers.

Producer Drummond knows this well. He had taken his 14-year-old daughter to meet Child, and they all decided to go out to dinner. "The chef sent over this pizza with about 37 ingredients on it," Drummond recalls. "My daughter timidly asked if she could just have a plain cheese pizza. And Julia piped up, `Make that two!' Of course now my daughter thinks she's the greatest."


(12 to 15 servings)

This cake is a fooler: Its texture is that of a classic pound cake -- moist, firm and tightly knit -- but it is made in just five minutes, using the same sponge technique you'd draw on for almost-weightless genoise. Like most pound cakes, this loaf is rich enough to serve in thin slices and dense enough to take nicely to a light toasting.

This recipe from Norman Love can be found in "Baking With Julia" by Dorie Greenspan (Morrow, $40).

Butter and flour for pan

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 1/3 cups sugar

Pinch of salt

Grated zest of 3 large lemons

1 3/4 cups cake flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream, at room temperature

5 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan and dust with flour, shaking out the excess.

Working in a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and salt for just a minute, until foamy and smoothly blended; the mixture should not thicken. Whisk in the grated zest.

Spoon the flour and baking powder into a sifter and sift about 1/3 of the dry ingredients over the foamy egg mixture. Whisk this flour mixture into the eggs, mixing lightly -- there's no need to beat. Then sift the remaining flour mixture over the eggs in two more additions, whisking only until everything is incorporated. Whisk the heavy cream into the mixture. Switch to a rubber spatula and gently and quickly fold in the melted butter.

Pour and scrape the batter into the prepared pan -- it will level itself -- and bake in the preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the center of the cake crowns and cracks and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the cake to a cooling rack to rest for 10 minutes before unmolding. Cool to room temperature right-side up on a rack.

You can serve this cake as soon as it cools, although there are those who believe that a pound cake needs a day to ripen. Make a taste test for yourself. In any case, the cake should be sliced with a serrated knife and served in thin slices, a pair to a plate.

Once cooled, the cake should be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. It will keep at room temperature for 3 or 4 days or, if double-wrapped, can be frozen for a month. Thaw, still wrapped, at room temperature.

Per serving: 233 calories, 4 gm protein, 30 gm carbohydrates, 11 gm fat, 100 mg cholesterol, 6 gm saturated fat, 53 mg sodium


(12 triangular or 24 rolled scones)

Think of scones as British biscuits. They are made in a manner similar to biscuits and, in fact, share biscuits' buttery-layered texture, but their name, their shape and the fact that they're served with tea rather than gravy lift them to the level of fancier fare.

Here are scones two ways: the traditional triangle and the rolled -- tender buttermilk dough rolled around chopped fruits, nuts, and/or jam. Whichever way you choose, they're luscious: a la the British, with tea and whipped cream, or served the American way, with coffee and a gloss of jam.

This recipe from Marion Cunningham can be found in "Baking With Julia" by Dorie Greenspan (Morrow, $40).


3 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 cup (approximately) buttermilk

1 tablespoon grated orange or lemon zest


1/2 stick (2 ounces) unsalted butter, melted, for brushing

1/4 cup sugar, for dusting


4 tablespoons jam or jelly and/or 4 tablespoons diced or small plump dried fruits, such as currants, raisins, apricots or figs (optional)

Position the oven racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

For the scones: In a medium bowl, stir the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt together with a fork. Add the cold butter pieces and, using your fingertips (the first choice), a pastry blender or two knives, work the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. It's okay if some largish pieces of butter remain -- they'll add to the scones' flakiness.

Pour in 1 cup buttermilk, toss in the zest, and mix with the fork only until the ingredients are just moistened -- you'll have a soft dough with a rough look. (If the dough looks dry, add another tablespoon of buttermilk.) Gather the dough into a ball, pressing it gently so that it holds together, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface, and knead it very briefly -- a dozen turns should do it. Cut the dough in half.

For triangular-shaped scones: Roll one half of the dough into a 1/2-inch-thick circle that is about 7 inches across. Brush with half of the melted butter for the topping, sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and cut the circle into 6 triangles. Place the scones on an ungreased baking sheet and set aside while you roll out the other half.

For the rolled scones: Roll one half of dough into a strip 12 inches long and 1/2 inch thick (the piece will not be very wide). Spread the strip with half of the melted butter for the topping and dust with half of the sugar. If you want to spread the roll with jam and/or sprinkle it with dried fruits, now's the time to do so; leave a narrow border along one long edge bare. Roll the strip up from the other long side like a jelly roll; pinch the seam closed and turn the roll seam-side down. Cut the roll in half and cut each piece into six 1-inch-wide roll-ups. Place the rolled scones cut-side down on an ungreased baking sheet, leaving a little space between each one. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Bake the scones in the preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes, until both the tops and bottoms are golden. Transfer the scones to a rack to cool slightly. These are best served warm but are just fine at room temperature.

If you're not going to eat the scones the same day, wrap them airtight and freeze; they'll stay fresh for a month. To serve, defrost the scones at room temperature in their wrappers, then unwrap and reheat on a baking sheet for 5 minutes in a 350-degree oven.

Per triangular serving: 248 calories, 4 gm protein, 31 gm carbohydrates, 12 gm fat, 32 mg cholesterol, 7 gm saturated fat, 213 mg sodium


(2 loaves, about 24 slices)

A yeast-raised bread with a dough that's half flour, half mashed potatoes, and entirely satisfying. The crust is deep and dark, the moist crumb is tender and open here, tightly grained there, and the flavor is haunting and not easily placed, almost a little nutty. It is an odd and interesting dough to work with, a reverse dough -- it comes together quickly and then softens and falls apart, defying what's expected of bread dough. The breads, two free-form rustic-looking loaves, each with a jagged, flour-encrusted crease running down its center, are easy to make and quick to rise -- they proof for just 20 minutes before shaping and 20 minutes after, making them good candidates for baking on a whim.

This recipe from Leslie Mackie can be found in "Baking With Julia" by Dorie Greenspan (Morrow, $40).

1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes (about 3)

4 teaspoons salt

1/2 cup tepid reserved potato water (80 to 90 degrees)

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Cornmeal or flour for baker's peel or baking sheet

Scrub the potatoes and cut them into quarters, peel and all. Toss them into a 2-quart pot, cover with water, add 2 teaspoons of the salt, and boil until the potatoes are soft enough to be pierced easily with the point of a knife. Dip a measuring cup into the pot and draw off 1/2 cup of the potato water and reserve.

Drain the potatoes in a colander and then spread them out, either in the colander or on a cooling rack over a jelly-roll pan, and let them cool and air-dry for 20 to 30 minutes. They must be be dry before they're mashed.

When the potatoes are cool, stir the yeast into the reserved potato water (if the water is no longer warm, heat it for a few seconds in a microwave oven -- it should feel warm to the touch) and allow the mixture to rest for 5 minutes; it will turn creamy.

Meanwhile, turn the cooled potatoes into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mash them. With the mixer on low speed, add the dissolved yeast and the olive oil and mix until the liquids are incorporated into the potatoes.

Replace the paddle with the dough hook and, still mixing on low speed, add the flour and the remaining 2 teaspoons salt. Mix on low speed for 2 to 3 minutes, then increase the speed to medium and mix for 11 minutes more. The dough will be firm at first and soft at the finish. At the start, it will look dry, so dry you'll think you're making a pie crust. But as the dough is worked, it will be transformed. It may even look like a brioche, cleaning the sides of the bowl but pooling at the bottom. Have faith and keep beating.

Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes, at which point the dough will have risen noticeably, although it may not have doubled.

While the bread is proofing, place a rack in the lowest position in the oven and fit it with a baking stone or quarry tiles, leaving a gap of at least 1 inch all around. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place a linen towel on a baking sheet, rub the towel with flour, and set aside; this will be the resting place for the breads' final rise. Rub a baker's peel or baking sheet with cornmeal or flour. Fill a spray bottle with water; set aside.

Turn the bread out onto a lightly floured surface and, using a dough scraper, cut the dough in half. To shape each half into a torpedo shape, first shape it into a ball and then flatten it into a disk. Starting at the end farthest from you, roll up the dough toward you. When you're on your last roll, stop and pull the free end of dough toward you, stretching it gently, and dust its edge with flour. Finish the roll and, if necessary, rock the loaf back and forth a little to taper the ends and form a torpedo, or football.

Place the loaves on the floured towel, seam-side down, and cover them with the ends of the towel (or another towel). Let the breads rise at room temperature for 20 minutes.

When you're ready to bake, spray the walls of the preheated oven with water and immediately close the oven door to trap the steam. Turn the breads out, seam-side up, onto the peel or baking sheet and transfer them to the oven. Spray the oven with water again and bake the loaves for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the crust is very brown, the loaves sound hollow when thumped on the bottom and, the most important test, the interior temperature measures 200 degrees when an instant-read thermometer is plunged into the center of the loaves. Remove the loaves from the oven and cool on a rack for at least 20 minutes before slicing. While you should wait for the bread to firm up in the cooling process, slathering this bread with butter while it's still warm is a great treat.

Store at room temperature. Once sliced, the bread should be turned cut-side down on a cutting board; it will keep at room temperature for about 2 days. For longer storage, wrap airtight and freeze for up to a month. Thaw, still wrapped, at room temperature.

Per slice: 122 calories, 3 gm protein, 24 gm carbohydrates, 1 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 357 mg sodium


(About 4 dozen cookies}

Here is the thinking person's chocolate chip cookie: Its flavors are expertly balanced, its texture is pleasurably soft and chewy, and its looks have a genteel homeliness. You can use all bittersweet or go with 1/2 pound of bittersweet, 1/4 pound of milk and 1/4 pound of white. Whatever you decide, use the best chocolate you can -- it makes all the difference in the world.

This recipe from Rick Katz can be found in "Baking With Julia" by Dorie Greenspan (Morrow, $40).

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 to 3 tablespoons instant coffee powder (according to your taste)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into chunks

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 pound chocolate (bittersweet, milk or white, or a combination), in larger-than-chocolate-chip-size chunks

1/2 pound plump, moist apricots, coarsely chopped (optional)

Whisk the flour, coffee powder, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl to blend; set aside.

Put the butter in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or work with a hand-held mixer) and beat on medium speed until the butter lightens in color. Add the granulated sugar and beat for about 30 seconds, just to blend. Add the brown sugar and beat for another 30 seconds. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition. The mixture should be light and fluffy; if necessary, beat 1 more minute. Add the vanilla and beat until blended.

Turn the mixer speed down to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are incorporated. Remove the bowl from the mixer and clean the paddle and the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the chocolate chunks and the apricots, if you're using them, and stir them with the spatula to distribute equally.

Wrap the dough in plastic and chill for several hours, or overnight, to firm.

When you are ready to bake, position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two heavy-duty baking sheets with parchment paper. (If you do not have very heavy baking sheets, double up the pans -- these cookies need heavy sheets so that their bottoms don't burn.)

Using a heaping tablespoon of dough for each cookie, drop the dough onto the lined sheets, leaving at least 2 inches of space between each mound of dough so that the cookies have room to spread. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the pans front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking period, until the center is just baked -- they'll still be soft to the touch. Use a wide metal spatula to transfer the cookies to cooling racks to cool to room temperature. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Wrapped in plastic bags or in tins, the cookies will keep at room temperature for 2 days. Freeze for up to a month and thaw at room temperature.

Per cookie: 113 calories, 1 gm protein, 14 gm carbohydrates, 6 gm fat, 19 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 81 mg sodium

The New Book Is More Than Just a TV Companion

The book is called "Baking With Julia," but Julia is adamant that it not be called her book. "I didn't write it," she says bluntly. "Dorie did."

New York writer and baker Dorie Greenspan did indeed do the lion's share of work on the book, which is based on Child's current television series, and it's admirable that Child wants to make sure Greenspan gets the credit.

On the other hand, it's not called "Baking With Dorie." Julia Child's name appears prominently on the cover, as does her photo, and it is Child who has just started a 12-city book tour to promote it. It is obviously her sterling reputation that is selling the volume, even if it is Greenspan's writing skills that make it worth buying.

And it is worth the $40 price tag, but with one caveat: You'd better be serious about baking. Cooks in a hurry, cooks looking for shortcuts or who freak out at more than two paragraphs of instructions would be better off spending their 40 bucks at a good bakery.

"This is for people who love to cook. There are other books that are for people in a hurry, or who don't really like to cook," Child said in an interview from her Cambridge home just before leaving on her tour.

The book contains recipes from the 27 bakers and pastry chefs featured in the new series. Unlike Child's other TV-companion books, however, this one includes more than just the recipes and grinning chefs shown on TV.

"We wanted to give people more opportunity to use what they had learned [from the series], so we asked the bakers to submit additional recipes just for the book," Greenspan explained.

The result is a nearly 500-page book that stresses food first and the bakers second; profiles of the contributing chefs are relegated to the end of the book, and the big, gorgeous color photos are devoted entirely to food. No faces.

Even though she may not have actually written this book, "Baking With Julia" is very much a Julia Child book in the way that it clearly and plainly talks you through a recipe.

Child's big push her entire culinary life has been to teach and explain. That is most apparent in her first book, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" (remember the 17-page recipe for making French bread?), and continued with the books she did (with Nancy Verde Barr) as tagalongs to her TV shows.

Her recipes always include detailed instructions, including lots of little tips, observations and suggestions for avoiding mishaps and mistakes. As she wrote 35 years ago in the foreword to "Mastering": " . . . The recipes are as detailed as we have felt they should be so the reader will know exactly what is involved and how to go about it. This makes them a bit longer than usual, and some of the recipes are quite long indeed."

The same can be said of this book. Many of the recipes are long, but they need to be in order to ensure that home bakers get the same results that the TV bakers do.

And they will. We tested nearly a dozen recipes and, aside from some minor problems with baking times (in three or four, the baking time needed to be slightly longer), the results were not only fabulously successful, but looked exactly like the food in the photos (which are refreshingly straightforward and haven't been garnished and gussied up to death).

Even better is the sheer variety of recipes. Sure, there are the basics (country bread, fudgy brownies, blueberry muffins, stuff like that), but then there are the WOW! ones -- fruit focaccia, rolled up scones, creme bru^leed chocolate Bundt cake, oven-roasted plum baby cakes -- that make this book a treasure for bakers looking for something different.

For beginner bakers, there are some easy gems in the book -- the heavenly lemon loaf cake and the rich mocha chocolate chip cookies are just two examples -- but most of the recipes require concentration and a strict adherence to directions.

If you follow the recipes exactly, though, you won't be disappointed -- and neither will anyone lucky enough to share these treats with you.

-- Candy Sagon

© 1996 The Washington Post Company