Ann Reardon (author of How to Cook That) expresses a need to conquer the next food challenge and how that keeps her going.
Our cookbook of the week is How to Cook That: Crazy Sweet Creations by Ann Reardon. To try a recipe from the book, check out: Sweet cherry pie, watermelon pizza and light fluffy sponge cake.
Ann Reardon possesses a unique set of talents. On her YouTube channel, How to Cook That, the Melbourne-based food scientist, pastry chef and dietitian applies her skills to debunking viral videos and hacks, decoding 200-year-old marshmallow recipes, figuring out if the Minecraft cake formula works as well in real life as it does in the video game series, and illustrating how to fix epic cake fails.
“If you’re employed as a pastry chef, you tend to have to do the same thing every day, day in, day out,” says Reardon. “Every week, you don’t get to go, ‘I’m going to do something different.’ So it definitely pushes the boundaries of, you have to keep coming up with new and different things. But I like that challenge of ‘OK, what else can we do?’ I think that’s fun, and it keeps it interesting for people.”
In April 2011, Reardon started using YouTube to embed cake decorating videos on her baking blog. No longer a simple storage tool but full-fledged social network, her channel has since grown to 4.75 million subscribers and nearly 815 million views at time of writing. Millions of viewers or not, Reardon was a bit nervous about releasing her debut cookbook, Crazy Sweet Creations (Mango, 2021).
“We have a lot of people who say they watch because they like listening to my voice. They watch for anger management, or they watch to calm themselves before they go to sleep. Or if they’re anxious, they turn on my videos … So I was like, ‘OK, but they’re not going to buy a cookbook,’” says Reardon. As it turns out, she needn’t have worried; the book went into its second print run before it was even released on June 15.
Used to being able to show people the cues they should watch out for while tempering chocolate or mixing batter, one of the challenges was packing all of those details onto the page, Reardon says. But despite her success on a digital platform, she appreciates the permanency of print.
As with the books she poured over for clues to recreate centuries-old marshmallows, physical cookbooks have longevity. YouTube may not be around in 200 years, she says, but books will be. “I liked that thought. That when I’m long gone, and my kids are long gone, someone could pick this up and read it. And it gives them a glimpse into history as well, not just the recipes.”
Reflecting the range of her audience — from people who have never baked before to pastry chefs — Reardon opens Crazy Sweet Creations with a chapter on easy desserts (such as her watermelon pizza), followed by cakes and cupcakes (like her light fluffy sponge cake), chocolate, more advanced “Art on a Plate” and “Show-off Pastries” (such as her sweet cherry pie), and finally, ice cream.
Some of the recipes may be a challenge, but even the most complicated can be broken down into their components, Reardon highlights. Her macaron chocolate tart, for example, is composed of six parts: orange creme brûlée, pastry shell, raspberry glaze, chocolate mousse, passionfruit ganache and macarons. Elements such as the mousse or the macarons could easily stand alone.
And though some of the recipes may look tricky — such as her trompe l’oeil apple- and avocado-shaped desserts — everything in the book can be made using a handheld mixer. No specialty moulds or equipment needed.
Reardon contemplated several different areas of her channel to focus on in the book, such as chocolate (in her studio pantry, the entire top shelf is reserved for it) or cake decorating. But she landed on desserts for their wide-ranging appeal: “It was informed by what people liked, what was popular, what people enjoy.”
A creative food scientist with a sweet tooth, Reardon has always gravitated towards desserts. Making small adjustments in ingredients or techniques can change the outcome in big ways, which for her, is part of the challenge. Through experimentation, she creates new recipes and finds ways to improve others — whether fictional, historical or contemporary — and enjoys teaching others how to do the same.
In the book, her love of experimentation is especially apparent in the cakes and cupcakes chapter. To illustrate the slight variations that occur when you change the amount and type of fat, amount of sugar, water and eggs, she baked 30 different batches of her perfect vanilla cupcakes and shot cross-section photos of each one.
“I feel that once you’ve seen it, it’s easier to troubleshoot,” says Reardon. “A lot of experimentation makes it easier for people to understand.”
Ten years of questions from viewers and readers of her blog have helped her anticipate where people may have problems, and she channeled these insights into the book. When some of her viewers were having difficulty with macarons, for example, she pointed out that the main pitfall is either not folding the batter enough or folding it too much.
The solution is folding a batch of batter a bit less than you think it needs, piping 10 macarons, then proceeding to fold the mixture, pipe another row, keep folding, pipe another row and then bake. “Then you’ll know what you’re looking for when you’re doing it,” says Reardon. “(It’s) not being afraid to experiment to teach yourself what you’re looking for.”
Reardon’s style of explaining what works, what doesn’t and why is one of the draws of both her book and channel. If you’ve ever been tempted to try viral TikToks seemingly demonstrating how to dice strawberries by shaking them around in a sealed plastic container with a few razor blades, or make jelly by piercing an orange with a drill and watching it spin, after watching Reardon’s explanation of why they don’t work, you’ll probably just stick with a chef’s knife and a packet of gelatin.
“It was getting to the frustrating stage of all these channels that were started purely to make money and without the regard of what if we harm people?” says Reardon. (Case in point, the exploding egg hack.) “That frustrated me, because I was like, OK you’re not only doing it just to make money and still making good videos; that’s fine if you want to do that. But if you’re making videos without any regard for the viewer — you don’t care about them at all — something about that irked me.”
When she initially started debunking, one of the most common questions her viewers asked was: Why would someone lie about cooking? Some assumed that if these videos were false or inaccurate, the website would take them down.
“So it’s also this trust of the platform, which is misguided, because (YouTube doesn’t) have any policies against dangerous hacks,” she adds. “They’ve got a policy against dangerous pranks, but not against dangerous hacks.”
Reardon finds it satisfying to debunk viral videos for people like herself, who have seen them and thought, “That can’t work.” But she finds it even more rewarding to inform people who think they’re real, and often receives messages of thanks from parents for encouraging their children to think critically about the content they’re watching.
“There are unlimited places to get information and answers to questions from across all areas of their life. If I can teach them to ask who’s telling you that and what’s their motivation? Is their motivation good? Is it wanting to do the best for you? Or is it just wanting to make money for themselves?’ And so then they can weigh that up and go, ‘Should I believe that?’”
How to Cook That
Crazy Sweet Creations
Food scientist and host of the award-winning YouTube series How to Cook That, Ann Reardon explores Crazy Sweet Creations. She draws millions of baking fans together each week, eager to learn the secrets of her extravagant cakes, chocolates, and eye-popping desserts. Her warmth and sense of fun in the kitchen shines through on every page as she reveals the science behind recreating your own culinary masterpieces. How to Cook That helps you elevate your culinary creations from home cook meal to influencer status.