Testing for cookbook ‘Sweet’ made good home cook into an excellent baker

| January 31, 2014 | 0 Comments
BAKING took on new meaning for Peggy Giffin after fearlesslessly following 200+ recipes.

BAKING took on new meaning for Peggy Giffin after fearlesslessly following 200+ recipes.

Peggy Giffin cooks a lot. Known for her elaborate dinners, she and husband Bob Wyman, an attorney who writes for online food magazine “One for the Table,” are big foodies. “It’s our hobby and a large part of our lives,” said Giffin, one of four co-chairs on the food and wine committee at the Ebell of Los Angeles.

Surprisingly, however, she has never been much of a baker beyond some Christmas cookies. But, with her friend Valerie Gordon’s encouragement, she tried a few things and found she actually enjoyed baking.

When Gordon—owner of a baked goods boutique in Silverlake who also has booths at the Santa Monica and Hollywood farmers’ markets—said she needed some home cooks to test recipes for a cookbook she was writing called “Sweet,” her friend jumped right in. “She told me there were multiple people who were going to be testers, but it eventually became clear that I was the only one,” Giffin said with a laugh.

The self-employed measurement psychologist and expert witness in statistics was getting close to retirement age and wasn’t working at the time, so she agreed to take the job.

Over the next two years, she tested nearly 240 recipes—from scones and muffins to cookies and cakes to jams and candies—in the kitchen of her Hancock Park home. And she didn’t have to twist her husband’s arm to try each and every one. “In the beginning, I’d do a chapter at a time and only test a few a week. But as deadlines approached, I started cooking every day, and that’s when we began to gain a little weight.”



Friends, coworkers and family members were happy recipients of the leftovers, and with all the tested recipes approved by the publisher, “Sweet” was completed and released.

“It was a great experience,” said Giffin. “I can’t wait until she does another cookbook… I’ll be her tester again.” And no doubt her husband, who’s working on losing the 10 pounds he gained, will help out with the tasting.

Along the way, she learned a lot about new and different ingredients, such as chocolate. “I thought chocolate came in bars and chips. But I found that rounds are better in cookies.” Another find was vanilla paste, which can be substituted for extract. “It’s thicker and richer and has the little seeds still in it,” she marveled. She found, too, that good equipment, even the spatulas, make all the difference.

The biggest lesson Giffin said she learned was to try things she wouldn’t have ordinarily tried. For instance, “there was a recipe in ‘Sweet’ for raspberry muffins. I don’t like raspberries so I wouldn’t have tried the recipe. But I had to, and it ended up being my favorite. “

Now, when she sees something in a cookbook she would have passed on before and she likes the cookbook author, she doesn’t hesitate.“I just feel so much more confident making anything now. I used to be afraid of candy, for instance. It is so precise. But now nothing scares me.”

That newfound fearlessness was on display at Thanksgiving last year, when, “for the first time,” said Giffin, “I made all of the desserts.”

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