An animated intro illustrates a peaceful clip of a woman baking at her kitchen counter, only to be interrupted by the chaotic antics of her cats. The scene then cuts to the real-life Claire Saffitz, where she introduces us to the featured recipe — a luscious lemon tart, soft and crispy focaccia, or maybe a supremely delicious oatmeal cookie.
Saffitz, former host of Bon Appetit’s “Gourmet Makes” video series, is now a beloved YouTube personality in her own right, sharing countless delicious recipes with fans through her book, “Dessert Person,” 369 pages of glossy photos and recipes like “Malted Forever Brownies” or “Coffee Coffee Cake.”
Despite creating her personal YouTube channel only six months ago, Saffitz’s channel, “Claire Saffitz x Dessert Person,” has already accumulated over 12 million views over 15 episodes and almost 700,000 subscribers. Her popularity lies in part from her culinary genius, as fans might know her from her previous work in which she recreated gourmet versions of treats like Doritos and Starbursts, and also in part from her approachable, affable personality. Her baking mad genius and best friend persona have made her a hit on YouTube, bringing in her viewers for a comforting and enjoyable experience as they learn how to recreate her recipes.
Her videos take us not only through the motions of making the recipes, but also takes us behind each step of the process, while providing excellent baking tips along the way. Whether that is explaining the purposes of each ingredient, creating your own vanilla extract, or how to know when your cake is done, her videos highlight her culinary knowledge and the hands-on joy of creating. Her videos are accompanied by wonderful sound production — for instance, the cut of Vivaldi’s Concerto Number 2 from The Four Seasons to Saffitz’s rapid whisking of lemon curd adds a delightful sense of humor to what would be a tedious shot.
There is also organic, relatable content like burning the nuts, losing utensils, sitting on the trash can and kitchen invasions by her “quite rotund” cats that break up the segments, making her videos much more real and grounded. Saffitz calls her off-set spatulas “Count Spatula” and licks the icing off of them like any respectable human being. There are no smooth voiceovers, slow motion or slick shots, but the one hand-held camera and a few personable cats manage to capture the viewer’s attention equally well. This feel to Saffitz’s videos makes the viewer really feel as if they were in a kitchen baking with a good friend.
This feeling is reinforced by the setting of the videos. Saffitz isn’t in a recording studio or a test kitchen. She’s not even in a big kitchen, with gleaming appliances and fanciful equipment that’s rare to find in an average person’s home. She’s in a small New York City apartment, with the accompanying tiny kitchen and crowded workspace. This also adds to her appeal: that it’s really her, baking for the simple pleasure of sharing her recipes and that you too can accomplish these delicious feats of baking magic.
Her most recent video brings the viewer on a tour of her home kitchen at the heart of her production. It displays her challenges with keeping her pantries organized, of constantly losing utensils and of playing Jenga with storage. The viewer knows these trials too well, and this too adds to part of the reason why she feels like a friend, someone much more than just another celebrity chef or baker.
In this video, a lively beat plays in the background as she explores her kitchen, starting from her fridge, her pantry (or lack thereof), a “little baking corner,” “microzone cat area” and active “cooking-making-filming zone.”
A closer look reveals the truth of baking in a small apartment kitchen. Her normal-sized fridge is packed with a motley of items on the verge of tumbling out, reminiscent of a cartoon locker avalanche. There aren’t endless, empty plains of gleaming steel countertops — her wooden counter barely peeks through the jumble of stuff.
The contents of her fridge include the standard milk-eggs-and-butter, but also an assortment of cheeses and herbs, wine bottles lined up against the door, skin care propped on top of her condiments, pickle experiments, leftover Chinese food, her 7-year-old sourdough starter and cat food. On occasion, she plays Russian roulette in her videos, seeing which items from her fridge she can leave out on the counter for an hour in order to fit the cookie dough that needs to be chilled for the recipe. Which, again, is incredibly relatable.
Her pantry drawers groan under the weight of her dry goods, pastas, chips and flours crammed into every available nook and cranny. Her baking corner is a series of planks mounted on the wall, shelves for a veritable army of plastic containers holding joys like homemade vanilla extract (which is another video entirely).
She claims confidently that she doesn’t buy or use appliances or gadgets that only serve one function (an economical queen), but two seconds later, she’ll introduce to us her egg topper (a funky little tool that serves the sole purpose of cutting the tops off of eggshells) and a mushroom brush that is her “favorite thing ever” and “I don’t know what that does.”
It’s this mad scientist energy and the stoically comedic contradictions that make her beloved.
She’s also extremely knowledgeable and methodical and understands at a deep level what makes food good. There’s almost a modern revival in her recipes, despite them being very traditional. It’s like she’s teaching you how to make something as simple as a cookie, but by breaking down the reasoning behind each step and including her own little tricks, the recipes take on a fresh, new twist.
For example, in a video in which she makes a Meyer Lemon Tart, she creates the tart’s pastry shell, parbakes it, and advises redeeming structural flaws through a little bit of flour and water — all on par with most recipes. But what’s unique is her addition of a thin lining of raspberry jam to the bottom of the shell and baking it again for a few minutes to create a seal on the crust, ensuring the flaky integrity of the shell, unspoiled by the later addition of the liquid lemon curd filling. Absolutely innovative, and another one of the many reasons to herald Saffitz as our new baking overlord.
Further examples of her innovation can be seen in almost all of her recipes, from including malted milk powder in her brownies to baking the maple walnuts under the cinnamon buns to swapping out raisins for the superior choice of toffee bits in her oatmeal cookies.
As such, Saffitz is incredible for delivering the joy of baking — the joy of creating— to her hundreds of thousands of fans. Through her detailed recipes and creative notes, she transforms conventional cakes, pies, cookies and breads into divine desserts. And even more remarkable is how she is able to almost capture the experience of creating and eating her desserts through the screen, through her friendly persona and culinary expertise.
Saffitz celebrates a love of desserts, empowering reluctant home bakers to work with new ingredients, attempt new techniques and bake with more confidence. In a world where cooking is dominant and baking is seen as either a child’s hobby or overly complicated, Saffitz aims to bring a straightforward power to baking and inspire a new generation of bakers. On her website, Saffitz writes, “There are no ‘just cooks’ out there — only bakers who haven’t been converted yet.”
Saffitz aims to share not only practical and delicious recipes for any home baker but also the pleasures of living less restrictively, to make your cake and eat it too. So that we can all be “dessert people.”