Sam Godfrey is the proprietor of Perfect Endings in Napa Valley and is also known around the world as Oprah’s favorite baker! Sam is revered for his magnificent creations + confections!
Looking straight out of an old fashioned bake sale, Sam created for my wedding, a sublime cake buffet, featuring 10 different types of vintage cakes, all using his grandmother’s coveted recipes. They looked like cakes made by YOUR grandmother, with LOVE. For the bride + groom, he made a heart shaped, red velvet cake, and decorated with our initials in RED HOTS! It was perfection…..
AT: When did you start baking?
SG: I can’t prove it, but I know I was baking cake and cobbler in utero! That is how much it is ingrained in my DNA. I was baking with mama -my maternal grandmother- before I could walk. She’d prop me up on the kitchen counter against a sack of flour as she rolled dough, mixed batter, cut biscuits. My hands (and feet and lord knows what else!) went into everything she made.
AT: Who taught you?
SG: Her name was Pearl, and she was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas. I was her first grandchild and favorite guinea pig. She was a phenomenal cook and extraordinary baker who was overjoyed when I received a scholarship to Cordon Bleu, Paris, because it meant that I would learn to bake the “proper way.” I left Paris after eleven days when I learned she was terminally ill and never went back or sought any formal training. One of my goals is to go to culinary school to be properly trained, but I must admit that it is deliciously ironic that baking “mama’s way” has pleased so many people. I’m just the liaison… the talent was hers.
AT: Growing up– what was your baking specialty?
SG: I baked the full repertoire of southern delicacies -especially sweet potato and buttermilk pies, peach cobbler and coconut cake -until I wandered into Alice Medrich’s groundbreaking “Cocolat” dessert shop at age eleven. That was my Willy Wonka moment… had never seen European pastry before. The refinement, the restraint and sophistication. I inhaled it! This was the start of what mama most affectionately called my “___damn mousse” phase! At age twelve I marched into the Baptist church potluck -the temple of red velvet cake and pecan pie- with a heaping (green tupperware!) bowl of chocolate mousse… that I didn’t receive the Medal of Honor for such bravery remains THE greatest slight of the 20th century!
AT: What is it today?
SG: I think we will always be known first and foremost as bakers of cake. However, we will releasing a broader repertoire of desserts later this year that I am very excited to share… fingers crossed that they will be well received.
AT: What are your top 3 most requested wedding cakes?
SG: Our most requested wedding cakes are my grandmother’s pound cake, filled with our own crushed organic raspberry preserves and a bit of homey cream cheese frosting, our chocolate layer cake filled either with salted caramel truffle cream or cafe au lait bavarian cream, and our ivory apricot cake which is a glorious marriage of white chocolate and apricot.
AT: What is your favorite wedding cake?
SG: To eat, it would be our old fashioned banana layer cake…I taste my childhood in every bite. Visually, I love clean and simple as long as it is not boring. I must admit that big, over-the-top cakes can be thrilling…as long as they taste even better than they look.
AT: Tell me about your vintage cakes?
SG: Our vintage cake line is my homage -and also my apology- to my grandmother and all of those church women who unknowingly laid the foundation for Perfect Endings. I am not the product of an esteemed culinary institution. I desperately wanted to be…so much so that, during the aforementioned “mousse phase,” I refused to bake the cakes that I was raised on…they weren’t chi chi enough. I sit here today, decades later, having had the privilege to fulfill requests for our cakes from all over the world…often by those who could have any cake in the world. And what did they want? Nothing chi chi, no mousse…they wanted mama’s cake. Lesson learned!
AT: How are wedding cake trends different now, compared to 5 years ago?
SG: Five years ago I had hope that pastry chefs would finally understand that the inside of the cake is every bit as important as the exterior….that it is, in fact, dessert and it should taste extraordinary. Unfortunately, with the advent of the “celebrity” chef and Food Network competitions, taste is a distant second to artistry. I will make a cake that looks like the Taj Mahal…I’ve learned that they have their place. It should not, however, taste like the Taj Mahal!
AT: Do you have a secret to baking chocolate chip cookies??? Pls tell!
SG: Two tips:
1. If you were born with willpower (unlike myself!), allow your dough to rest overnight in the refrigerator…a relaxed and well hydrated dough makes for superior flavor and texture.
2. (shameless plug alert!) Look for the “Perfect Endings at Home” line of cookie dough and cake mixes this fall in grocery stores!