For my last 2010 local bookstore talk based on the new edition of Will Write for Food, I worried that no one would show. I had already done two signings in San Francisco (one at Omnivore and another at Book Passage). So I made up a flyer and handed it out at my aerobics class with a note: There will be cake.
Sure enough, about a dozen fellow classmates and their friends showed up, plus friends, neighbors, former students, my sister-in-law and a local blogger I hadn’t met yet. Funny how just the word “cake” produces results.
I was up late two nights before, baking two enormous cakes I had been wanting to try. Why would I choose recipes I had never made before for this event? Because I trusted the authors and their headnotes. I loved their reassurance, their strong voices, and their no-fail offers:
1. Orange Olive-Oil Cake from Leite’s Culinaria. Once I saw my pal David demo this cake on the Today Show, I contemplated making it. What convinced me further was the headnote, different from the one in his award-winning book, The New Portuguese Table. On the blog, the first two sentences cemented my resolve, along with the gorgeous photo:
“This orange-olive oil cake was, without a doubt, the hardest recipe to develop in The New Portuguese Table. Cindi Kruth, one of my recipe testers, and I made 13 versions of it until I knew it was as good as the recipe I got at Papas, the tiny restaurant up the hill from my apartment in Lisbon.”
The deep yellow cake rose beautifully in the oven. It towered over the top of my old Bundt pan by about 5 inches and perfumed the house with the faint smell of orange.
2. Teddie’s Apple Cake, with a cinnamon-scented batter so heavy I could hardly fold in the apple slices, raisins and nuts, came from Amanda Hesser‘s new Essential New York Times Cookbook. Here’s the sentence in her headnote that did it for me:
“When I asked readers for their favorite dishes from the Times, this apple cake recipe one was near the top, with thirty-seven votes.”
How could I lose? My favorite part was when the cake emerged from my tube pan unscathed, always a major source of stress.
I arrived at the signing armed with these two enormous, heavy cakes. I was so confident of leftovers that I told a friend, who expected me for dinner a few nights later, that I’d bring cake. But between the crowd and the young bookstore staff, they reduced both cakes to a few pathetic chunks. I had read out the recipe headnotes, increasing the crowd’s desire to taste.
So, I like headnotes by trusted writers with strong voices. If you read the two examples, you’d see that both authors also have a good sense of humor. What are other attributes of a good headnote that make you rush into the kitchen?