Over the last three decades, about 30,000 students—amateurs and professionals alike—have learned the art of baking from Carole Walter, one of America’s leading authorities on cakes, cookies and other treats from the oven. Most of them have stood around her, watching, taking notes, benefiting from her thorough, constructive critiques. When she launches her online School of Baking on February 15, her reach will expand even further. But for Walter, it isn’t about numbers. It’s about being able to carry on.
Now in her 70s, Walter has been living with multiple sclerosis for more than three decades. For most of that time, she has kept that information to a very small circle of family and friends, as well as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the publishers of her award-winning cookbooks. But acknowledging that the disease has begun to limit her physical abilities, Walter feels fortunate that interactive online technology seems to have come of age just when she needs it.
“I would like to be able to continue to share my knowledge,” she says. “You need to put on your best happy face and get out there.” While she still teaches at Kings Cooking Studio in Short Hills—near her long-time home in West Orange, where she lives with husband Eugene—the School of Baking at carolewalter.com will help her realize that goal.
“There are many students around the country and the world who don’t live near a cooking school or can’t afford the high price of cooking classes,” she says. “I want to reach out to that person at home.” The first course will be given at three levels: basic (bundt cakes) for $19.95; intermediate (layer cakes) for $24.95; and advanced (complex meringue and foam cakes) for $29.95.
“What makes this program different,” she notes, “is that I’m requiring homework.” Students will have to submit a photo of their finished cake with a piece cut out. “To demonstrate is one thing,” she says.
“Successfully making it is another.”
When Walter published her first major cookbook, Great Cakes, in 1991, famed French chef Jacques Pepin declared her “a credit to her craft,” adding, “her passion for baking shines through in recipes designed to teach others how to create perfect cakes.”
That debut won the 1992 James Beard Award for Best Baking and Dessert Book. The Beard Foundation named Great Pies and Tarts (1998) one of the “13 essential baking books” since 1973. In 2011, Cooking Light weighed in, anointing Great Cookies (2003) “one of the Top 100 Cookbooks of the last 25 years.” Her most recent, 2007’s Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins and More was named one of the year’s “Top 11 Baking Books” by the New York Times and a Top Pick by Food & Wine.
“Carole’s books are so well received,” says Nick Malgieri, director of baking programs at Manhattan’s Institute of Culinary Education, “because she’s a really meticulous [recipe] tester and a meticulous writer. She gives you everything she knows about the subject in plain, friendly language.”
Growing up in Elizabeth, Walter preferred watching her Russian grandmother bake to playing outside with friends. When she was nine, her family moved to Memphis. Around that time, she says, “I took over my mom’s kitchen.” She threw a bunch of ingredients together and stuck them in the oven. It’s hard to say who was more surprised—she or her family—when the concoction turned into a delicious chocolate cake. Not until her second baking session ended in a tearful disaster did she begin to appreciate the precise measurements successful baking requires.
When she was 12, she met Eugene Walter, who was two years older. They became friends, then high school sweethearts. When he went to college at Vanderbilt, in Nashville, she brought him fresh-baked cupcakes. They married when she was 20. In 1956, they moved back to New Jersey, where the young housewife continued to develop her baking skills and eventually began to teach and write.
Walter has spent a lifetime trotting the globe, perfecting her craft alongside chefs in the United States, France, Austria, Italy and Denmark, and returning to share her knowledge with her students. “I’ve loved every minute of everything I’ve done,” she says, “and I’ve learned from everything.”