Seems commonplace now, a bunch of folks brought together online via some blogger’s attempt at motivational cooking. But four years ago, all Laurie Woodward wanted to do was come up with an achievable kitchen goal and something she could write about on her blog.
Hundreds of recipes (and lots of new baking equipment) later, Woodward brings Tuesdays With Dorie to a close.
Dorie Greenspan is the warm tuile of a cookbook author whose 2006 James Beard award-winning book, “Baking From My Home to Yours,” was pored over, riffed upon and otherwise dissected by an almost-all-female club on a weekly basis. Woodward, a Pittsburgh mother of three and self-described “shut-in,” figured she and a few friends would work their way through the 370-plus cakes, cookies, pies, tarts, frozen desserts and more.
“I knew nothing about Julie Powell,” Woodward says, referring to the blogger who parlayed her year of working through all 524 dishes in Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” into a book, a movie and the blessings/curses of fame.
Woodward, 34, is happy to avoid celebrity, and to share the credit. While Greenspan describes her as being organized and efficient enough to run a middle-size country, Woodward says she did not do it on her own.
“For the past year and a half, a TWD’er in Chicago named Julie Schaeffer has helped me run things,” she says. More recently, they streamlined administrative procedures, which made it easier for Woodward to fit in her own three baking sessions per week. It took her a little over two years to make everything in the book, but because she hadn’t taken photos regularly along the way, she revisited the recipes.
From the start, Woodward posted rules that encouraged fairness, she says. Members who signed onto TWD got the chance to “host” once a week on their own blogs, which meant they got to choose any recipe from BFMYTY that hadn’t already been tested. TWD’ers agreed to participate at least two out of every four weeks, and to buy their own copies of the cookbook.
As member numbers swelled to more than 500, the waitlist for hosting grew as well. “Sometimes it took 2 1 / 2 years to get your turn,” Woodward says, and it took her up to eight hours on Sundays to look up members’ individual results posted on their own blogs. She altered the rules so that only the host member included the recipe of the week in her or his own blogpost, out of respect for the author. Woodward estimates that more than 100 TWD’ers completed the recipes in BFMHTY.
She also contacted Greenspan early on, seeking permission for the project. “It’s her name, not mine,” Woodward says. For this, the author was most grateful.
“Nobody really asks in cyberspace,” Greenspan says. “I thought [TWD] was a wonderful idea, but I was nervous about being under such a high-powered microscope — scrutinized by people all over the country. It was scary.”
Even with Greenspan’s reputation for careful, thoughtful recipes? “No matter how good the recipes are, you can’t be responsible for how people make them,” Greenspan says. She followed various TWD posts and left comments on occasion, which thrilled the members.
“It was amazing for me to read the variations,” she says. Cake recipes were cut in half or turned into cupcakes; Greenspan had previously thought this would adversely affect the texture. An ice cream cake with raspberry and chocolate ganache turned into popsicles. Peanut butter chunks were added to her World Peace Cookies. Raisins were replaced with dried cranberries; “who knew that a majority of these people didn’t like raisins? Every week was really an adventure,” she says.
Woodward confirms: “People do have issues, very strong opinions about what they do and don’t like in recipes.” Throughout, Greenspan encouraged participants to riff as she saw their baking confidence take hold, and felt like she got to know them.
There have been few instances of recipe failure, both women say, mostly involving a departure from the original recipe. “The only one I can remember is some rising issues with a carrot cake turned into cupcakes, and we never really figured out why that was,” Woodward says. Greenspan did troubleshoot and recalls responding to a blogpost by New York Times writer Emily Weinstein (not a TWD’er) about a crumb-coat of frosting for the cake.
The exercise gave Greenspan more to think about as she worked on her next book, “Around My French Table” (2010): “This might seem odd, but before, I really didn’t know who had my books. Seeing how these bakers used them and reading what they liked about them helped me write to that audience. It has been different than the readers who get in touch with me through my site.”
And the project filled Woodward’s kitchen cabinets: Bundt pans, cheesecake pans and an ice cream machine among them.
TWD is proof of the power of community and yes, of baking, of learning to make something with your own hands. That you can share what you’ve made with those you love is another gift.
I may be a writer, but I don’t have the words to thank the members of Tuesday with Dorie for all they’ve shared with me, for all they’ve taught me and for all the joy they’ve brought into my life. Each of you holds a place in my heart.
Woodward has chosen Greenspan’s 1996 “Baking With Julia” as the next project for TWD’ers; the author wrote it after working on the public television series that highlighted Julia Child’s sessions with 26 well-respected bakers. Greenspan says this group is ready to tackle the recipes that are very complicated, doable but elaborate and time-consuming — such as Martha Stewart’s wedding cake. “This might be their master’s course,” she says. The new project will begin in February.
Woodward looks forward to the challenge — and to meeting the author in person, at last: “I told you, I’m kind of a hermit! I’ve only met one other TWD’er in all these years.” She couldn’t attend any of Greenspan’s BFMHTY book signings (none were in Pittsburgh), but Woodward plans to attend a food bloggers’ conference in Seattle next summer and hopes Greenspan will be there.
“I’m just happy that people have become close with one another through this,” Woodward says. “It was a happy accident. Dorie really embraced our group in a way that a lot of professional chefs and cookbook authors would not have.”
Meanwhile, Greenspan is working on her next book, about baking in France, and she keeps up with French Fridays With Dorie, a separate online community working its way through her “Around My French Table.” For her, ending Tuesdays With Dorie with a cookie recipe is fittingly sweet.
“It’s kind of like a Christmas story. Heartwarming. The sugar plum fairy tale, all wrapped up,” she says. “This is proof that cooking and baking is alive and well.”