CHEF KAREN KRASNE
Owner & Executive Pastry Chef, Extraordinary Desserts Cookbook Author, Extraordinary Cakes Karen Krasne is the owner and executive pastry chef of Extraordinary Desserts and the best-selling cookbook author of Extraordinary Cakes: Recipes for Bold and Sophisticated Desserts.
Karen Krasne, once called the “Queen of Cakes” by Gourmet magazine, brings a fresh and contemporary sensibility to special occasion cakes. What makes her cakes showstoppers are their unexpected flavor combinations and vibrant touches using fresh fruit and real flowers, which add flair without being fussy. Karen’s cakes have graced the cover of Bon Appetit, and Forbes recognized her as one of the country’s ten best pastry chefs. Karen has been featured in The New York Times, Sunset, and The Los Angeles Times, among other national and international publications. Karen studied pastry making at the Cordon Bleu and returns to Paris, France each year to train with the masters at LeNotre and Bellouet Conseil. In her cookbook, Extraordinary Cakes: Recipes for Bold and Sophisticated Desserts (2011), she shows readers how to make amazing cakes that satisfy sophisticated palates but are still achievable for the home baker. The recipes include tips from her twenty years as a pastry chef, and a step-by-step introduction covers basic techniques. As a woman pastry chef in the industry for over two decades, Karen is passionate about continuing to foster talented women within the industry. She has many women chefs and colleagues within her two San Diego Extraordinary Dessert locations and hosts in-store classes for the community. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling the world and spending time with her husband and daughter.
Valrhona: Tell us a bit about your background as a pastry chef and what you are doing now.
Karen Krasne: I have been classically trained in Paris and return regularly to learn from the masters because pastry is like fashion and staying with current techniques and trends is a passion for me. I’m blessed to be able to go, become inspired, learn the latest, and return with ideas for new recipes. I have opened two Extraordinary Desserts restaurants in San Diego and we serve both sweet and savory delicacies.
Valrhona: What inspired you to enter the world of pastry?
Karen Krasne: I come from a long line of amazing women bakers, who shared recipes and creative ideas in the kitchen. After preparing food and baking, they entertained family and friends for so many different occasions. Like many families, we celebrate through food, drink, and entertaining. When I was looking for what should I do with my life during my college days studying Nutrition at the University of Hawai’i and working in a pastry cafe, the answer was right in front of me, as it had been since my childhood and throughout high school. Bake, entertain, and celebrate. We throw a party for our guests every day and night at Extraordinary Desserts. The creative challenge to “WOW!” our clients and have them include us in their most celebratory moments and events are extremely fulfilling. It is what inspires me to continue.
Valrhona: From where do your inspirations for new creations come?
Karen Krasne: My most innovative creations come from traveling, exploring and tasting new things. Something inside of me opens up and the creative process takes over. Generally, the longer the trip and the further away I go, the more recipes and ideas flow. My kitchen team knows to brace themselves for a whirlwind of activity when I return. It makes it exciting and different for them and that translates to our creations, which keeps our guests coming back on a regular basis.
Valrhona: Who in your life has been the biggest mentor/inspiration in your career?
Karen Krasne: My mom and dad have both played big roles in my career, collectively and individually. Collectively, in that, they both put in money when I opened the first location near Balboa Park. I had been baking cakes in my dad’s kitchen for the Neiman Marcus Zodiac Restaurant in San Diego and private clients when I could not keep up with demand, so he gently kicked me out. My dad had a storefront business in downtown San Diego where I learned how to work the register, inventory, and selling. Therefore, I knew the basics of how to run a store. He has always been there for me.
My mom was an amazing example of a modern woman, as a leader of our community, mother of 3 crazy kids, wife, wonderful cook, and beautiful inside and out. She held us to high standards to work hard, be our best, give back to the community, love our family and friends, be generous, and leave a legacy. She is in my mind daily.
I’m grateful to both of my parents for helping shape who I have become in my career and my life.
Valrhona: What is your most famous dish?
Karen Krasne: Those would be fighting words for many of our guests, as they all have their favorites that they hope we have when they come in. If we went off sales alone or contests that we have run in the past to crown the favorite cakes/desserts of our customers, it could be Shangri-La, the Viking, or Black Velvet. The Dulce de Leche cake was featured on “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” and the Blood Orange Ricotta Cake was also featured on the Food Network. That being said, our Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding has been a best-seller and crowd-favorite since we opened our doors. The croissant pieces are soaked in vanilla bean crème brulee and baked with chunks of Valrhona chocolate and a chocolate sauce. It is layers of delicious decadence. If someone says that they don’t like dessert, they change their mind after trying one bite of this dessert. Topped with our house-made ice cream and whipped cream, you are all set.
Valrhona: What is your earliest dessert memory?
Karen Krasne: It would go back to learning how to bake traditional family desserts with my grandmother. I was 8 years old and we baked Hungarian style coffee cakes, strudels, and cookies. Apple dumplings became my specialty.
Valrhona: What is your favorite type of pastry to make? To eat?
Karen Krasne: The challenge of making layered cakes and bringing different flavor combinations that work together yet also surprise people is exciting. Creating new recipes the kitchen with my team is one of my favorite aspects of owning my business. It’s a very hands-on approach.
Favorite dessert to eat would have to be cookies. They can be crispy, gooey, vegan, gluten-free, or even sugar-free. There are so many options for flavors, textures, combinations, and sizes. It’s the perfect “to go” dessert.
Valrhona: If you could pass one bit of insight down to another chef, what would it be?
Karen Krasne: Love what you do!
Valrhona: What is your favorite kitchen tip?
Karen Krasne: Stay organized and make lists!
Valrhona: When pairing with chocolate, what is your favorite flavor combination?
Karen Krasne: Sea Salt is an extraordinary combination.
Valrhona: What is your favorite perk of the Cercle V program?
Karen Krasne: Staying on top and tasting the newest products. A Valrhona box is like a Tiffany’s box around here.
Valrhona: When & how did you hear about Valrhona for the first time? / When & how did your “relationship” with Valrhona start?
Karen Krasne: Over 20 years ago in a dessert course at Ecole Bellouet Conseil in Paris, France.
Valrhona: What is the Corporate Social Responsibility initiative you’ve implemented and are the proudest of?
Karen Krasne: While our restaurants have become a destination for sweet lovers, our philosophy and passion of working with, inspiring, and supporting women and women-led organizations have become a cornerstone of our brand.
Valrhona: What do you like to post on social media?
Karen Krasne: What makes me most happy – primarily family, but also travel, food, drink, and my dogs, of course.
Celsius or Fahrenheit?
Cake or Tart?
KOKKARI in San Francisco
Go to snack?
Apples and almond butter
Wine or Cheese?
Champagne, of course.
Coffee or tea?
Depends on the time and day. Both have their places in my heart.
Favorite kitchen tool?
ROBOCOUPE. I can’t make a beautiful ganache or a perfect praline without it and those are two key ingredients in my desserts.
Craziest delicious flavor combination?