Meet Your Food Blogger: Nastassia Johnson of Let Me Eat Cake
Nastassia Johnson, blogger behind Let Me Eat Cake, has picked out several items to try at downtown's Semi Sweet Bakery on a recent afternoon: a croissant flecked with chocolate, an Almond Joy doughnut, and a cookie called "Triple Chip" -- chocolate, butterscotch and potato. She wanted a slice of 7-Up Pound Cake, too, but another customer nabbed the last one. Johnson samples baked sweets all over L.A., and shares discoveries on her blog. (And Instagram, too.) She also posts recipes from her own baking experiments -- buttermilk spiced doughnut-muffins one day; ginger aprium muffins another. Also cheesecake infused with ube (a purple yam used in Filipino cooking) in a nod to her Filipino heritage.
Shaun Lang Nastassia Johnson
Food truck fans may remember that Johnson teamed with fellow Filipino food blogger Marvin Gapultos to found the Manila Machine. It brought ube cupcakes, lumpia, pan de sal sliders and pork adobo to L.A. streets before closing in 2011. We talked with Johnson about sweets, the food blog scene and Filipino food in L.A. Turn the page.
Nastassia Johnson: I have a relentless sweet tooth. My first posts were about restaurants and food I like around L.A. I realized my heart really lies with the sweets when I went to Grace [now closed] for dinner just for the doughnuts. I started the blog while I was working at Joan's on Third. It was a creative outlet to talk about my love of sugar.
SI: What did you do at Joan's on Third?
NJ: I managed Joan's on Third for a long time, and I helped them start their social media.
SI: What's your job now?
NJ: I am the manager of Sotto in West L.A.
SI: Had you planned on a food-related career?
NJ: I studied anthropology in college at UCLA. I was in the honors program, wrote a thesis, and planned to go to grad school. When I applied I had second thoughts, because the dropout rate for master's students seemed so high. So I thought I'd take a year or two off to make sure I was doing the right thing. I love food, and I love the restaurant industry, and I haven't gone back.
SI: How did you learn to bake?
NJ: I'm a home cook. I've worked in one kitchen just for fun -- the Market on Holly in Pasadena. Last winter, their pastry chef went out of town for a month, and the owner asked if I wanted to bake for them. It was a wonderful experience -- making croissants from scratch every morning was awesome.
SI: Was it very different from baking at home?
NJ: It's so much more fun because of the space, the equipment and the freedom to do whatever you want. And the ability to do so, because you have table space and everything you need. The only not-fun part was the bruises I would get from rolling out the croissant dough every morning.
SI: It seems like we've experienced a craze for cupcakes lately ... why?
NJ: They're travel-size and cute. It's a small cake, and everyone likes things in smaller versions. Cupcakes will continue to be popular.
NJ: It's all about pie right now. Hand pies. A lot of people are selling them, blogging about them. And hand pies are similar to cupcakes -- they're smaller versions of pies. Valerie at the Hollywood Farmers Market makes a really good hand pie with different seasonal flavors -- last one I had was blackberry lemon curd. And Village Bakery has good hand pies.
SI: What have you been baking lately?
NJ: My latest thing is to "muffinize." I try to find ways to make my favorite deserts in muffin form. Sometimes they're failures, sometimes they're successes.
SI: Any recent favorites?
NJ: I just made a plum muffin that I loved. I was skeptical at first; I thought it would be mushy or mealy. I did a cherry muffin too. A couple of months back, I tried a Food and Wine recipe for strawberry almond-meal cake. The ratio of almond to flour was so high that I was curious how it would turn out. The texture was gritty and nutty and mind-blowingly delicious.
SI: Who's the audience for your blog?
NJ: Hopefully it's people who are looking for deserts in L.A., or inspiration to bake at home. I'm not trying to be Momofuku Milk Bar. It's something simple. No one has time. When I bake, I want it to be something delicious but also not take the entire day. Although clean-up always takes the entire day!
SI: What are some of your favorite bakeries in L.A. right now?