Every Sunday afternoon, Abby Dodge ’75 and her mom would bake together. Eleven cookbooks later, a James Beard Foundation Finalist and International Culinary Association Cookbook Award Winner, Dodge shared the inspiration for her latest cookbook, Sheet Cake, which hits bookstores this month.
While her path was one of great success, Dodge admitted she had never considered food as a potential career path until her early twenties. “My mother always used to say, in her delicate way, ‘You’re going to have to work for a living, you might as well like it.’” And when a fork in the road came, Dodge remembered her mothers’ powerful words as she considered the path forward. With a small catering business at the time, she leaned in.
“I was forced to figure out the answer to two questions: ‘what do I want to do?’ and ‘what do I like to do?’ and what I liked to do was cook,” she said. “From there, it all just jelled. It made sense.”
Dodge later studied at La Varenne in Paris and worked under Michel Guerard and Guy Savoy, specializing in pastry. After culinary school, she worked in countless restaurants, one of which in Greenwich, where she worked overtime as a pastry chef, line cook, and responsible for family meals. “I was the first person in and the last out,” she said. “But it evolved, which is the wonderful thing about the food business — it evolves to whatever it is you’re doing in your life at the time.”
After the passion for food was followed, then came the writing.
“While at GFA, I had a lot of really memorable teachers, one of whom was English teacher Chris Brown. He was a very important influence early on,” she said. “I’m embarrassed to admit as the author of 11+ cookbooks, that many of my papers he wrote at the top of it, ‘Good idea, poorly expressed.’ It’s been the mainstay of my writing career! Everything I write, I think, ‘How did I do on that one, Mr. Brown?’”
From firsthand experience, Dodge knows that baking, especially baking cakes, can be difficult, messy, and a big-time commitment. With her simplicity-forward approach, her latest cookbook, Sheet Cake: Easy One-Pan Recipes for Every Day and Every Occasion, was born. All you need is a sheet pan and a sweet tooth!
“The concept all stemmed from the sheet pan dinner fad. I thought, ‘Why am I just using this for dinner?’” she said. In the effort of wanting to help people bake and bake easier, “all you have to do with a sheet cake is pour the batter in the pan! It takes out all sorts of complications, but that said, just because it’s easy, it can also be elevated, fun, flavorful, beautiful, and versatile.”
Sheet Cake is a resource to find cakes that bakers are guaranteed to love. Recipes include tried-and-true options like Tiramisu, Chocolate Mousse, and Boston Cream and fun, new flavors such as Salty Pretzel Caramel Cake, Fluffernutter, and Chai Mango, with endless options for variation and customization.
Dodge encourages bakers, both new and experienced, to explore their passion for food. “If there are cooking classes available online or in-person, take it. Explore other types of cuisines — Hungarian, Thai — that you’re not familiar with or sound like fun. It’s a great motivator, it's great instruction, and it helps you further along in your process.”