Originally published on suitcasemag.com
Since she began her blog from the second floor of her Upper West Side Manhattan home in 2010, Yossy Arefi has been an unbroken fixture of the online food scene both in New York and further afield. Her blog, Apt. 2B Baking Co., showcases her talents as both a baking queen and a gifted photographer. All of the photographs on her creamy, light-flooded site are snapped using a third-hand pentax camera that she picked up a few years ago. “I bought it at a thrift shop in the city.” she tells us, cradling it between her hands, “I thought I recognised the name and it looked like it worked! It makes this really dramatic shutter sound. I completely fell in love.” With it, she captures the endless stream of tarts, pies, pastries and seasonal treats created in her new Greenpoint kitchen; still apartment 2, of course.
“Baking is so comfortable for me. It’s one of those things that I’ve always just known how to do.” Yossy tells us, rolling spicy dough into perfectly round pieces, “It’s just always been part of who I am. It’s very natural to me. If something goes wrong, I can fix it, which is empowering. Other parts of my life are not so cut and dry!” Yossy grew up in Seattle to a European-American mother and an Iranian father, moving to New York after graduating college. “Coming here was the best decision I’ve ever made.” She explains, “New York has been the catalyst for every good thing that’s happened to me professionally.” After working at a bakery in Manhattan, Yossy decided to meld together her two greatest loves beneath one virtual roof; baking and photography. “I’ve never had any formal training as a baker,” Yossy says, ‘But when I had free time I would literally take a stack of books and cook every recipe in them. Baking is one of those things that you learn solely through doing. You have to make mistakes in order to develop. Cooking isn’t something that can be taught in a book, you have to get your hands dirty.”
We followed the sweet, peppery scent up the stairs to Yossy’s apartment, which she shares with her boyfriend and Abigail the cat. Theirs is a home filled with vinyl records, cookbook-lined shelves, and threadbare Iranian rugs. Her kitchen is washed with sunlight, with thrift shop pictures hanging on the wall and an impressive collection of cooking hardware. It is unmistakably Brooklyn, and unmistakably the home of a cook. Watching her zip from end to end in her sunny, whitewashed kitchen, Yossy couldn’t make baking look easier. Today, she is making us some classic hot cross buns, a new notch on her (very stylish) apron string. “I’ve never even eaten them!” she tells us, brushing the perfectly browned buns with a glossy egg wash. “I definitely think yeast baking smells the best of them all. Especially when there’s cinnamon or spices in there.” We stood beside her as she proceeded to whip up the bounciest, most golden, most uniformed tray of hot cross buns, doing nothing at all to help. We sat down to eat them, not before insisting in all our Britishness that they must be served with flakes of sea salt and a near-offensive amount of butter, which she loved. It felt good to bring something to the table other than our appetites.
Yossy’s baking style is much like her photography; classical and quality-driven. “I make the things I like to eat.” She explains, “I try to choose seasonal ingredients that will photograph beautifully. I think baked goods should always be a treat, so I make everything taste as good as it can. Sweet things are a sometimes food, not an every day food. I feel like when people are doing that ‘healthy baking’ thing it’s because they want to eat lots of cookies and not feel bad about it. I’d rather make one really delicious cookie and just have that. Healthy baking has its place, but it’s not for me.” Which was good to hear as we tore apart our third hot cross bun each.
Combining photography and baking allows Yossy to make a life doing the things she knows best, it is just her natural calling. This is never more obvious than when she opens the oven just as the buns are at perfection, so at one with the habits of dough that she barely needs a timer. “The reason I love baking is simple; you get to create something from beginning to end, and then the finished product makes people really happy! It feels simple and artistic. It’s just what I do, and what I’ll always do.” Excellent news for her ever-expanding following, then.
Her praises have been sung in all corners of the food world, from Bon Appetit and Saveur, to Food52 and Wilder Quarterly. Spring of next year will see the release of her first cookbook, published by Ten Speed Press, the same company that brings us the cooking bibles of Nigel Slater and Yotam Ottolenghi. “It’s wild!” She says, “When I was doing the book, I was in this kitchen making 5 recipes a day, 6 days a week. I would try to give the bakes away to our neighbours, and at one point they started rejecting them because they’d had to start buying bigger jeans.” The book will contain 60 original recipes, with easy-to-approach tricks to mastering the baking basics. “Once you learn the fundamental tools of baking, you can then start experimenting. I want to help people find those building blocks and create a foundation to start playing around more.” And if her book goes any way to helping its readers bake as effortlessly as Yossy herself, it’s on to a winner.
“I feel like, after 5 years, I’m kind of where I want to be.” She tells us, “Through the years, I’ve treated the blog as an artistic project. I’m not trying to be famous; I just want to remain consistent and connect with people all over the world. I’ve shaped it in a way that is really comfortable for me, and I want it to remain a creative space that is completely my own.” Well, Yossy certainly appears to be doing something right. Her combined talents in the kitchen and behind the lens (not to mention on the pottery wheel; she makes all her own crockery and it is, needless to say, beautiful) give Apt.2B a truly timeless quality. With her site, Yossy is simply doing what she is good at. “It’s just so much fun, it makes me happy.’ she says, passing us another bun with little to no judgment, “And, really, who doesn’t love the baker!” The answer? Absolutely no one.
Hot Cross Buns:
1/4 cup (60g) apple juice or rum
1 cup (160g) mixed raisins and currants
1 1/4 cups (280g) whole milk at 110ºF (43ºC)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups (540g) all purpose flour
1/4 cup (50g) light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 tablespoons (85g) butter, room temperature
3 large eggs
1 cup (125g) confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
4 teaspoons milk, or enough to make a thick, pipeable icing
Bring the apple juice or rum to a simmer in ae, cover with plastic wrap, and let the fruit sit while you prepare the rest of the dough small saucepan. Pour the hot liquid over the raisins and currants, stir to combin.
Stir the yeast into the warm milk and let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg. Add the softened butter and mix until the butter is evenly distributed through the dough.
Separate one of the eggs and reserve the white. Add the 2 whole eggs, one egg yolk, and milk mixture into the flour all at once and stir until the flour is just moistened.
Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough together until it is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Add in the raisins and currants along with any liquid left in the bowl. Knead until the raisins are well mixed into the dough. The dough should be quite soft and sticky, and may stick to the bottom of the bowl a bit. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until puffy and almost doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Grease a 9x13-inch or 10x10-inch baking pan. Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Pat the dough into a square about 1-inch thick. Use a knife or bench scraper to cut the dough into 16 even pieces, and use your hands to form each piece into a ball. Fit the buns into the pan and let them rise for another hour or until puffy. While the buns rise, preheat oven to 375ºF/190ºC.
Brush the buns with the reserved egg white and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the buns are deep golden brown and cooked through. Remove them from the oven and let them cool in the pan on set on a rack.
While the buns are cooling whisk together the icing ingredients until smooth. When the buns have cooled completely, pipe a cross on the top of each one.