Tessa Huff ’06 has taken her culinary talents to the book world. Huff owned her own bakery in Northern California, before relocating to Vancouver, Canada, seven years ago. Now, she has a growing online following of home bakers who can see her latest confections on her blog Style Sweet. With the recent release of her second cookbook, Icing on the Cake: Baking and Decorating Simple, Stunning Desserts at Home (Harry N. Abrams, 2019), Huff sat down with Josephine Thornton, UC Davis Magazine intern, to discuss her literary process, recipe development and the path that led her to baking.
Josephine Thornton: Did you always intend on having a career in the culinary world?
Tessa Huff: Definitely not. When I graduated from UC Davis, I really had no idea what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to do something in the creative field, but I had no idea it would turn into food because I didn’t even know how to cook! I didn’t learn how to cook until I went to Davis and was on my own. By the time I graduated I had completely fallen in love with cooking and baking. I started a baking career path, which segued into all these other avenues, which eventually turned into writing cookbooks. Baking for me was a creative outlet. I grew up dancing and was on the dance team when I was at UC Davis, but it wasn’t something I wanted to do professionally. I’ve always been a part of the arts, and I tried other things like watercolor painting and I was never good at it. But once I considered buttercream as my medium and cake as my canvas, it was a real turning point.
JT: How did UC Davis impact your career development?
TH: [Senior year] I got a job working at the Coffee House. That was actually my first kitchen job. And even though there was a required 6 a.m. shift, which is very early when you’re in college, I realized I would much rather chop vegetables or scoop cookie dough than go to class. That’s when I started thinking about it as a potential career. That was my first kitchen job; that’s where it all started.
JT: Now you also have a blog Style Sweet. How does the writing process vary between published cookbooks and blog writing?
TH: Blogging is so immediate. I was just writing a recipe right before this and am going to hit publish on that. The book writing process is very long. It starts with proposals and meetings with my editor, by the time it goes to print and is available in stores it’s a two-year minimum process. Blogging is just me. But that’s fun because you can do more seasonal and trendy things, whereas I want my books to be more timeless.
JT: What’s the recipe development process like?
TH: Before I got into blog writing, I worked at a bakery for a year, prior to opening my own custom cake boutique, where I did wedding cakes and birthdays. When I wrote my first cookbook [in 2016], a lot of my recipes were scaled down from the bakery. I’m always looking for seasonal inspiration, which is so easy when you can find fresh produce or floral elements that you can incorporate into recipes. The recipe development process is me in my kitchen, trying different things, trying different ratios, writing them down, taste-testing, looking at texture and color. I’m working on some citrus recipes because those are in the market right now. I have a lemon tart and a lemon Bundt cake that I have been working on. I’m looking forward to the lighter and fruitier flavors for spring.