Yossy Arefi, Food Photographer, Food Stylist and Blogger

Yossy Arefi, Food Photographer, Food Stylist and Blogger

The moment you step into Yossy's cozy Greenpoint home, you know you're in for a treat. Is it the welcoming waft of just brewed coffee hitting your nose? The plate of orange-tinged saffron shortbread beckoning for a taste? The soaring high ceilings rimmed with charm aplenty crown molding? Yes, yes and yes; but there's more to it. There's an easy, unaffected quality to Yossy's style, which fans of her popular Apt. 2B Baking Co. blog will quickly recognize; and it's exactly this quiet confidence that draws you into this baker's dreamy, sweets-filled world where simplicity and beauty reign.

Read on to learn how Yossy broke into the food world and tips to prevent pie crust shrinkage this holiday season!

Hi Yossy! Please tell us a little bit about yourself, your baking background and your full-time turn into photography.

I've always had food-centric jobs and when I moved to New York about seven years ago, I thought I might go to culinary school then work in the restaurant industry. I had a great time touring all of the culinary schools here and meeting the instructors, but I got big time sticker shock when it came to the financials. I decided that I still wanted to work in the industry, but I was going to have to approach it from a different angle so I got a job at a restaurant as a reservationist and eventually worked my way into the kitchen. I worked at that same restaurant for five years as a baker and cake decorator where I studied cookbooks and learned a ton from my co-workers.

While I was working at the bakery I started an online bakeshop, Apt. 2B Baking Co., and related blog. The shop never quite took off, but it did help me realize that I did not want to own my own bakery. It also helped me realize that I loved photography and sharing food through my blog. Through some connections I made through blogging I was able to start doing a bit of freelance photography and about two years ago, I stopped working at the bakery to pursue food photography, styling and recipe development as a career.

We understand your father's Iranian. What did you eat growing up and did you spend a lot of time in the kitchen? How much of the Iranian culture influences your cooking?

Yes! Both of my parents are wonderful cooks and we all (I have an older brother) spent a lot of time in the kitchen growing up. My mom grew up in the Pacific Northwest, but I think she really learned to love food and cooking when she moved to Iran with my dad in the late 70s. I grew up eating a combination of traditional "American" food and Iranian food, and love both. My favorite Iranian dishes were and are the rich stews flavored with dried limes, served with fragrant basmati rice, thick plain plain yogurt and pickled garlic to cut the richness. I think I get my love of tart, sour foods from Iranian cooking and my dad. He'll squeeze a lemon or lime on just about anything for flavor, a habit that I've also picked up. I was just talking to a friend about comfort food; hers was rice with butter and mine was rice with plain yogurt, which really says it all.

An assortment of Iranian pantry staples (l-r): dried limes; saffron (from her dad's stash!); two types of sumac (or "somagh" in Farsi); dried barberries

Left: Oh, just some of Yossy's saffron pistachio shortbread cookies lying around. | Right: Another masterpiece.  

We love the calm, gentle tone that accompanies the photos on your blog. Can you walk us through your cooking and shooting/editing processes?

I like to bake and cook all sorts of things, but what I love most is reflecting seasonality in my photos both through the ingredients I use and in the way that I use the light that changes throughout the day and year. I want my blog and photographs to feel more like a slice of life than a photo shoot. Sure, there is some styling and futzing that goes on, but in the end I want the food to speak for itself. I recently moved to a new apartment with a big, white porcelain sink that I love photographing. Almost every time I wash a batch of produce, I photograph it in the sink. It's not that exciting, but it's real life and it's simple and beautiful. I mean it's cute and all when people tie a stack of cookies up with string, but who actually does that?

What's your favorite camera and medium to shoot just for fun?

I love my Pentax K1000 and Holga. My blog is almost exclusively shot with my thrift store Pentax and Kodak Portra 400 film. The Holga is great for shooting outdoors and I never worry about breaking or ruining it because it is already stuck together with tape, ha!

Capturing Yossy capturing her own creation.

What's your most memorable professional or personal food shoot?

I have been spending a lot of time with Tama Matsuoka Wong lately, who is a professional forager and author who works with Daniel, Gramercy Tavern and Acme among other chefs and restaurants. At the beginning of fall she took me to a pawpaw grove in Pennsylvania that was incredible! Pawpaw are these crazy tropical looking fruit that are native to the east coast, so we got there and Tama started scampering up the trees to pick the best fruit. I was underneath her, trying to take photos and Tama was just tossing pawpaw at me. The crop was so abundant this year that you could hear them falling to the ground every time the wind picked up. That day we also foraged for shiso, onion grass, nettles, chestnuts and some seeds I can't remember the name of off hand. It was cool and raining all day and by the end of it there were leaves in my hair and I was covered in mud, but it was so much fun. Her enthusiasm and zest for foraging is unbelievably contagious. We have a wonderful working relationship and friendship that I am so happy to have.

We never tire of black grout + white subway tile. Would you believe this girl did this backsplash job herself?

What kind of savory food does a pastry chef like to make for herself on a day-to-day basis?

I cook a lot for work so when I cook for myself I lean towards very simple dishes with bold flavors. I like a lot of heat, salt and acid to balance out all of the baked goods and rich foods I inevitably consume. I also have a soft spot for avocado toast with plenty of chili flakes and crunchy salt; it's the perfect meal.

Top pantry essentials in your kitchen?

For baking: good butter, vanilla beans, and an assortment of flours and sugars.

For cooking: good olive oil, vinegars, tomato paste, aleppo pepper, sumac and salts aplenty.

Yossy's go-to vanilla bean source: Beanilla for fresh beans that are super economical in bulk!

How would you describe your cooking style?

Simple and seasonal (even if that is a bit of a cliché at this point).

Favorite kitchen utensils or gadgets?

A mandoline, kitchen scale, bench and bowl scrapers, simple maple rolling pin, my hand-me-down Dutch oven that gets almost daily use, cheap peeler, sharp knives and my collection of pie plates. Oh,and I love having all of the beautiful handmade spoons and pottery I've received as gifts from my talented friends around. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, so I like it to feel really homey and comfortable in there.

Left: Ariele Alasko's gorgeous hand-carved wood creations. | Right: Tartine's starter never fails. 

Favorite cookbooks/blogs/sites?

Gah, too many! Laura from The First Mess really inspires me to eat healthy, nourishing meals. I love Seven Spoons for its writing and calming photography. I think that Izy from Top with Cinnamon is top notch - and only 17! Tim from Lottie and Doof has excellent taste. Bon Appétempt is hilarious. Andrea Gentl of Gentl and Hyers is a huge inspiration and her blog, Hungry Ghost Food and Travel, is just gorgeous. Kimberley from The Year in Food is a friend and such a talent. Kelsey from Happy Yolks always has something solid to say. Orangette was the first blog I discovered and it inspired me to start my own. Sarah's Vanilla Bean Blog has such a calm tone that I just love. Food52 has it going on.

As far as cookbooks go I love Claudia Fleming's book, The Last Course; Alice Medrich's Pure DessertNigel Slater's books; the Chez Panisse cookbooksDorie Greenspan's collectionOttolenghi's booksTartine Bakery's cookbook and Tartine Bread; Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain. I could go on here for awhile...

Who is your biggest food inspiration?

There are so many incredibly talented cooks, chefs and bakers out there and they have undoubtedly left an impression on me, but I'm most inspired by my parents and anyone else who can get a wholesome home cooked meal on the table after a full day's work.

Favorite restaurants?

Well, I love a good burger so I have to put Shake Shack on my list. The burger at Anella just up the street from me is also quite good. The falafel from Taim is A+. Saltie's sandwiches are amazing. Buvette is so great for breakfast. Vanessa's dumplings are cheap and awesome. Paulie Gee's and  for pizza. The pork buns at Momofuku are addictive. I recently had a Laotian meal at Khe-Yo in Tribeca that was incredible and so unique. Glasserie is also a new neighborhood favorite; they had a rice and yogurt dish last fall that was so, so good. 

Bakeries: Dominique Ansel Bakery (he is so much more than the cronut), Four and Twenty BlackbirdsDoughnut PlantPeter Pan DonutsDoughSullivan Street Bakery is phenomenal; Ovenly's peanut butter cookies are amazing; Bien Cuit makes beautiful breads and pastries.

What would your ideal last meal look like?

A feast somewhere in the Northwest, in the summertime, on the beach at sunset (where it will be magically warm but not too hot), full of friends and family eating Northwestern classics like salmon, Dungeness crab and oysters followed by a full Iranian meal made by my wonderful Aunt Guiti, who currently lives in Iran.

Whose pantry would you like to raid? 

The women of The Canal House. I was lucky enough to meet them at their studio this fall and it took all of my willpower not to poke through all of their cabinets.

Left: A coquettish partner-in-crime, Abigail, joins in on the fun. | Right: Yossy dons a Kill Devil Hill custom apron.


Salted Caramel Apple and Cranberry Pie

For the Crust
12 ounces all purpose flour 
8 ounces cold butter
4 ounces ice water
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
½ teaspoon salt

Mix the flour and salt together, then pour the whole lot on a large cutting board or countertop.

With a bench scraper, cut in half of the butter until it is the size of lima beans, then cut in the other half of the butter until it is the size of quarters. Add the apple cider vinegar to the water.

Using your fingers, flick the water on to the butter flour mixture and gently fold it in with your bench scraper. You have added enough water when you can pick up a handful of the dough and squeeze it together without it falling apart.

Press the dough together, then split it in half, and wrap each half in plastic wrap and form into a disk. Chill the dough for at least one hour before using. I like to chill mine overnight.

Salted Caramel
1 cup sugar
¼ cup water
½ cup butter
½ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt

Combine the water and sugar in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the butter and bring the mixture to a boil. Cook until deep golden brown, about 7 minutes. Then carefully add the heavy cream and salt. Whisk to combine. Set aside while you prepare the rest of the filling.

For the Filling
4-5 large apples (about 3 pounds) I like Mutsu (aka: Crispin), Jonathan, Golden Delicious and Cortland varieties
⅔ cup fresh cranberries
½ cup sugar
¼ cup all purpose flour
Zest and juice of one small lemon
Zest and juice of half of an orange
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
½ cup Salted Caramel (recipe above)

Peel the apples and cut them into thick slices. Place the apples in a large bowl with the cranberries then add lemon and orange juices and zests, stir gently to combine. Add the sugar, flour and vanilla bean seeds and stir again.

For the Topping
1 egg, beaten
A few teaspoons of coarse sugar, like turbinado or light demerara

To Assemble and Bake

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece of the dough into a 12-inch circle, 1/4-inch to 1/8-thick, and place it into a 9- or 10-inch pie pan. Place in the fridge while you prepare the rest of the pie.

Roll out the other piece of dough into a 12-inch circle, 1/4-inch to 1/8-thick, and place it in the fridge to chill while you prepare the filling.

Fill the prepared pie shell with the apple mixture, top with the second crust, trim the edges so there is about 1/2-inch of overhang then crimp the edges and cut a few vents in the top. If you'd like to make a lattice top, here is a really great primer for all sorts of pies.

If the crust seems soft or warm, slide the whole pie into the fridge or freezer for about 15 minutes before you bake it. When you are ready to bake brush the top of the pie with a beaten egg and sprinkle with a healthy dose of coarse sugar.

Put the pie on a baking sheet to catch any drips and bake for 15 minutes on the lowest rack of your oven, then lower the oven temp to 350ºF and bake for 40-50 minutes or until the crust is deep golden brown and the apple juices bubble.

Yossy's baking tip to prevent crusts from shrinking: 

Don't overwork the dough while you are mixing it and give it some time to chill and relax before you bake with it. I think overnight is best. Also, make sure the dough is nice and cold before it goes into the oven.

Be sure to follow Yossy on her blogTwitterPinterest and Instagram, where there's no shortage of inspiring snaps of her creations and white-socked Abigail. She also writes a column called Project Dessert on Food52.

*Photos by Christine Han Photography for Pantry Confidential. All photos on Pantry Confidential are original and copyrighted. Please credit and link back to our site when using our images, thank you.