Olive & Ruby talk to The Messy Baker

Have you ever opened a book and after the first sentence, you think to yourself – has the author been in my kitchen? 

I know she was talking to me when she said - Never trust a person with a clean kitchenI had one of those ah-ha moments a couple of weeks ago when I got my hands on a copy of The Messy Baker: More than 75 Delicious Recpes from a Real Kitchen. From the introduction of the Kitchen God to the Emergency Substitutions this book was written for me. So much so, that it came with me on my last couple of business trips as I zigzagged from Vancouver to Toronto, and points in between.

I met Charmian last year at the first Food Bloggers of Canada’s conference, and over the past year I’ve had the fortune of getting to know her, as our paths have crossed at various foodie events across the city.  Her warm and friendly manner, wit and sense of humour are reflected in the way in which she has re-worked some tried and true recipes, and brought forth some new classics. I devoured this book from cover to cover, and when I was done I had so many questions that I could hardly wait to see Charmian and talk to her about it,

So armed with a copy of her book in hand, I whipped up a batch of Charmian’s Ginger Vanilla Scones (page 87) and sat down for a little Q&A with The Messy Baker.

The Messy Baker book review ©OliveandRuby.com


Q1. I had a tear or two in my eye when I read the Kitchen God. I also learned at the elbow of a kitchen god, so I relived some great memories reading about your experiences. Although she was the catalyst, where do you find inspiration when you create new recipes, today?

I'm inspired by flavour combinations. I'm not much on one-note foods, although there is definitely a place for those. Because my basic recipe concepts are classic, for instance scones or galettes, I look to fruits, vegetables, fresh herbs, spices, and nuts to create something new and exciting with a familiar form. I'd like to tell you I meticulously plan my attack, but the reality is I veer wildly off course when I see something that piques my interest. Every time I head off to the Farmers' Market, I have a list in hand, but inevitably come home with a pint of berries I didn't know were still in season or a bunch of herbs I'd been having trouble finding. It all snowballs from there based on mood, weather and what's in the fridge.

Q2. I love the titles you’ve given to your chapters. It is so clever, but I know from experience that the simplest ideas are sometimes most complex to execute.  How difficult was the process to decide on the names and the recipes that belonged in each category? 

It wasn't difficult, but it definitely was a process. Initially, I organized recipes by standard course categories, like breakfast, soup, desserts, etc., and gave these divisions a messy name. For example, "Crumbs in Your Bed" was going to be the breakfast category. But it was too forced and became kitschy a few categories in. Waffles might be crumbly, but breakfast crepes aren't, so it just wasn't a sustainable concept. My agent suggested I focus solely on mess factor, and ditch the customary dish divisions. Once I followed her advice, it was fairly easy to figure out the various mess factors based on the recipes I planned to include. 

As with most things, today's problem was yesterday's solution. The food proved to be messy in more ways than one. Some recipes refused to slip neatly into one category. Where should I put the Double-Stuffed Uber Oreos? The cookie part crumbled, the filling was smudgy, and the assembled cookie was designed to be dippable. I had to really think carefully about which mess factor described each dish best.  

Q3. How do you know the tips and tricks that you do? Did you go to culinary school, or are you self-taught?

I have taken specialized culinary workshops, but have not gone to culinary school. These tips and tricks were learned over time, by watching friends, asking pros, and by making lots and lots and lots of mistakes. As a broke student I only had one size cake pan and had to adapt how I baked certain recipes or spend ages airing out the apartment and scraping charred lumps of batter off the oven floor. Being broke and lazy proved to be powerful motivators. If I could save cleaning up, avoid an extra trip to the store, or salvage burned cookies, I would learn how. I became so adept at this, I created a smart phone app, Kitchen Disasters & Fixes, so I'd always have the answers at my fingertips.

Q4. Do you prefer baking sweet or savoury treats? Do you have a favourite recipe in the book? Or one that’s your go-to recipe?

I love baking sweets but am becoming more enamoured of savouries as I explore their potential. As for a favourite recipes:  What is this? Sophie's Choice? 

My go-to recipes vary with the season. I adapt the Rhubarb-Raspberry Galette with Frangipane throughout the summer, swapping fruit as the season advances. It's just not Christmas without the Chewy Crystallized Ginger Cookies, and a version of the Boozy Chocolate Torte makes it way to the table at almost every birthday.  I realize these choices support the sweets camp, but I also make the Spinach Dill Pockets a lot for parties, and am very fond of the Piglet Muffins for sentimental reasons. I don't need to be asked twice to make the Mushroom Leek & Gruyere Tart since I suspect I'm part Hobbit. 

Q5. Is there any type of baking or cooking that would/could intimidate The Messy Baker? 

My initial response was "I'm not afraid of anything in the kitchen except spiders." But upon rethinking, I realize I'm rather squeamish about visceral organs and can't imagine making anything with liver since the smell puts me off. This is more lack of interest than fear or intimidation.  

If, however, you are referring to tricky desserts like macarons or Southern cakes, I'm game to try anything. I figure that even if I fail -- and that's a strong possibility -- I'll learn something valuable along the way. Plus, I'm a master at salvaging culinary disasters, so I might actually end up unintentionally inventing something new --  or have fodder for another entry for my app.

Q6. Finally, what do you hope your cookbook will accomplish for those who use it?

So many people say, "I cook but I don't bake." This always makes me sad since we're told that baking is more science than art and that's not entirely true. Basic baking isn't hard and allows for more wiggle room than the culinary professionals will admit. Mind you, they are running professional kitchen and expect consistent results. But look at it this way --  People have been making cookies, cakes and bread for centuries using inaccurate measures, imprecise ovens and inconsistent ingredients. If you have a good recipe and follow it with some semblance of accuracy, it's actually hard to fail. Will your results be perfect? Probably not the first time. Or second. But who learns to drive a car the first time they get behind the wheel or writes their name the first time they grab a pencil?

If this cookbook does one thing, I hope it convinces people to get into the kitchen and discover the fun, joy and pride in baking from scratch. Oh, and to embrace imperfection. I can't forget that. After all, the ugly, lumpy scones are usually the best.  


Thank you Charmian from me and my ever expanding waistline for giving us such delicious treats. If you're reading this and still haven't ordered a copy - Shame on you! Okay seriously get this book you won't be disappointed. I'll be getting another copy for some in my family (my mother) who swears she's an amazing baker, and she isn't. If you're still not convinced by what you've read, check out The Messy Baker online and read about Charmian's baking adventures. 

There are a whole host of other food bloggers that are celebrating with Charmian so you can wander over to their sites to see what they've whipped up from this amazing cookbook. 

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book to review from the publisher and it is my absolute privilege to interview the author and publish that interview as compensation. The opinions/review of the book are entirely my own (Rhonda of Olive & Ruby).


Copyright © 2014, Olive & Ruby. All rights reserved.


Charmian @TheMessyBaker's picture

Thanks so much for your enthusiastic review. It’s kind of sad that my cookbook has travelled more than I have, but I’ll fix that when I fly out to Vancouver for the FBC conference.

Thanks also for taking the time to ask such good questions. They made me think!

Robyn's picture

I loved reading this interview Rhonda!!! I am the messiest baker there is, so I'm so happy that Charmian just gets it :)

A Canadian Foodie's picture

What a lovely post with lovely photos. You are so fortunate you were able to have your interview in person! You live amongst so many like minded food bloggers and are so fortunate to share that common interest and dine together - go to events together - bake together.
These look absolutely scrumptious! Sure hope you are coming to the Food Bloggers of Canada Conference again, this year!

Britt at My Daily Randomness's picture

What a great interview! I can appreciated Charmian's honesty and how she has stayed true to herself during this entire process. Her voice really comes through in this cookbook which makes baking & cooking her recipes that much more fun!

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