The secret to Sarabath Levine's success is trusting her gut. Literally. In her mail-order business for her jams and baked goods, her nine restaurants in the U.S. and one in Japan, as well as Sarabeth's Bakery, chef Sarabeth, aka The Goddess of Bakedom, doesn't serve anything she doesn't love to eat herself.
Portrait by Alexandra Kuhn
Her penchant for following her gut also means that she resists trends, from demonizing butter and sugar (the only sugar substitutes she uses are maple sugar and honey) to worshiping oat bran to creating gluten-free baked goods. "Somebody had to twist my arm to make cupcakes," says Sarabeth, who won the James Beard Award for Pastry Chef of the Year in 1996 and whose jam is beloved by Oprah. "We only make a about a dozen or two a day. I am not a cupcake person. I feel they are a trend and I'd rather not be in on the trend."
Strongly believing that high-quality ingredients and the personal care put into food make a state-of-the-art kitchen unnecessary, she can happily create her award-winning jams and baked goods on a 12-inch surface. She loves collecting vintage culinary tools -- but they have to be functional as well as charming. Among her faves is a dough cutter with Bakelite handles.
Here is a recipe for one of her most popular treats, Chocolate Cubbies. (If you don't want to make them yourself, you can order them from Sarabeth's Kitchen. Don't they look yummy? For more recipes, check out her 2010 cookbook, Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours (Rizzoli), which was named one of the the "Best Culinary Books of 2010" by The New York Times.
Makes about 2 dozen cookies
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
9 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (no more than 62 percent cacao), finely chopped
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups superfine sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups (5 1/2 ounces) coarsely chopped pecans
1 1/4 cups (4 1/2 ounces) coarsely chopped walnuts
1 Position racks in the center and top third of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Line two-half sheet pans with parchment paper.
2 Bring 1 inch of water to a simmer in a medium saucepan over low heat. Put the butter in a wide heatproof bowl, and melt the butter over the hot water in the saucepan. Add the semisweet and unsweetened chocolate, stirring often, until melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat and let stand, stirring occasionally, until cooled slightly but still warm, about 5 minutes.
3 Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together into a medium bowl. Whip the eggs in the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium-high speed until the eggs are foamy and lightly thickened, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to high and gradually add the sugar, then the vanilla. Whip until the eggs are very thick and pale yellow, about 3 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and beat in the tepid chocolate, making sure it is completely incorporated. Change to the paddle attachment and reduce the mixer speed to low. Gradually add the flour mixture. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the chocolate chips, pecans, and walnuts, making sure the chunky ingredients are evenly distributed at the bottom of the bowl. (Do not turn the dough out onto the work surface because the chocolate dough makes a mess.) The dough will be somewhat soft.
4 Using a 2-inch ice-cream scoop, portion the batter onto the prepared pans, placing the cookies about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake the cookies immediately-if you wait, they won’t be shiny after baking. Bake, switching the position of the pans from top to bottom and front to back about halfway through baking, until the cookies are set around the edges (if you lift a cookie from the pan, the edges should release easily, even if the center of the cookie seems underdone), 17 to 20 minutes. Do not overbake. Cool completely on the baking pans. (The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature, with the layers separated by parchment paper, for up to 3 days.)