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Lawrence native and best-selling cookbook author encourages bakers to eat their mistakes

Freshly-baked biscuits laid out on a wooden cutting board.
Mark Weinberg
Pastry chef Erin Jeanne McDowell said she wrote "Savory Baking" to acknowledge her "salt tooth."

Erin Jeanne McDowell, author of the best-seller 'The Fearless Baker,' has a new recipe book for the savory side of baking.

Erin Jeanne McDowell grew up in a home that smelled of freshly baked bread, the holidays celebrated with home-made gingerbread houses that she and her siblings carefully decorated.

Now, the Lawrence native transfers her memories of bitten-off gingerbread men into the kitchens of thousands of home bakers.

She's been on The New York Times best-seller list for her recipe books "The Fearless Baker" and "The Book on Pie." Her newly published "Savory Baking" has been met with acclaim from chefs and amateur bakers.

"I learned from people at home — and they were excellent at what they did, and they didn't necessarily have professional training — but they had a passion," McDowell said. "They enjoyed spending time in the kitchen. So, what my inspiration is 'What if people could enjoy it?' 'What if more didn't feel fear when they went in there?'"

McDowell originally wanted to be an artist like her brothers, but she quickly discovered putting a pen to paper wasn't easy. When she was around 16, she heard the oven "ding" in her head.

"I really fell in love with food from a young age, but I didn't put it together until I was a teenager," McDowell said. "When I realized that food was sort of an art form, and one that I already had a passion for, was when it sort of clicked."

Shortly after her epiphany, McDowell got her first job at a bakery; and one year later, she moved to New York to attend the Culinary Institute of America for baking and pastry. After 17 years, she moved back to the Midwest and now lives in Kansas City.

The "Bake it Up a Notch" host has always found a way to honor her baking roots.

"My middle name is Jeanne, which is my grandmother's name," McDowell said. "We started making pies together when I was 14 years old. Since pie has been such a big part of my career, (and) my grandmother passed away before my first book was ever published, I have used my full name to commemorate her and her contribution."

McDowell remembers her grandmother's free spirit in the kitchen, going off-book with recipes and eating any of the "mistakes" they made along the way. McDowell draws on this memory in "Savory Baking," encouraging cooks to combine the pleasure and precision of baking with the freedom and flexibility of cooking.

"Baking has a real reputation for being very by the book," McDowell said. "Whereas cooking, you can add a little bit of this, a sprinkle of that, a dash of this, and you can experiment more. Savory baking is the exact intersection between those two things."

McDowell recently partnered with Kansas City's family owned Andrés. They developed a bundle consisting of a savory cracker trio with the recipes included, a signed copy of "Savory Baking" and a box of Andrés' chocolate almonds.

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