Jeremiah Duarte Bill lives in California and loves to bake for his family who are of Portuguese heritage. To share his love of Portuguese sweets Jeremiah is currently testing his baking skills with an upcoming Portuguese dessert cookbook.
As a finalist in ABC’s The Great American Baking Show, Jeremiah was inspired to set out on a journey to uncover many of Portugal’s rich dessert traditions and transform them into a work of art. While interviewing Jeremiah this is what he had to say:
Jeremiah Duarte Bills
1. How did you become interested in baking?
Jeremiah (J): I am a third generation Portuguese American. My mother’s family is from islands of Faial and São Miguel in the Azores. While growing up I loved the stories my grandparents would tell of our family’s life in the Azores and then their emigration to America. I feel a keen almost past life connection to my heritage and its culinary traditions. My family is also obsessed with desserts. My earliest food memories are of my mom baking massa sovada (Portuguese sweet bread) and my grandma serving arroz doce (sweet rice) which I adored. Where I grew up in the foothills of Northern California, there are no Portuguese bakeries. This led me to believe sweet bread and sweet rice were all Portugal had to offer in terms of desserts. My passion for food and baking really started as a way to connect to my Portuguese heritage during my college years in San Francisco and then New York City. I knew there had to be more to the sweet side of my heritage. Baking became another way to connect with my family and experience more of the food of Portugal without getting on a plane. When I did finally board a plane to visit Portugal for the first time, I was shocked and overjoyed to discover its vast and rich dessert traditions. The first time I tasted a doce conventual (traditional convent sweet) rich in egg yolks and sugar it was like coming home. I became obsessed with sharing these treasures with those around me.
Portuguese Sweet Bread (Massa Sovada)
Portuguese Sweet Rice (Arroz Doce)
2. Do you have a favourite baker? A mentor you look up to?
J: Back in the early 2000’s when I started learning to bake and cook there were only a couple of Portuguese cookbooks widely available. One of them was Ana Patuleia Ortins’ book Portuguese Homestyle Cooking by Ana Patuleia Ortins , I can’t tell you how important this book was to me. It taught me everything my grandmother didn’t know and gave me the Portuguese culinary education I was desperate for. Fast forward to the release of Maria Lawton’s book Azorean Cooking, I had already been to the Azores a few times. Cooking out of her book was like being back in the islands tasting dishes that had become special to me. Seeing a book solely devoted to the Azores made me incredibly proud and inspired. Once you read her book you feel like you know her and have been welcomed to her family table – a very warm and inspiring feeling!
Finalist at ABC’s The Great American Baking Show
After appearing on ABC’s The Great American Baking Show I shared my plan to write a Portuguese desserts cookbook on social media. Soon after I received messages from Ana wanting to help, support and guide me to my cookbook goal. I had to pinch myself. I couldn’t believe I was talking to the author of the book that directly inspired the journey to where I am now. Then I was interviewed by Maria and Angela Simões for their podcast Our Portuguese Table. I could have talked to Maria and Angela about baking and food all day! When Maria invited me to bake with her for her upcoming PBS show, Maria’s Portuguese Table I was beyond excited! Spending time with her in person was like being with an old friend I’ve known my whole life. She too is encouraging and supporting my cookbook goal. They don’t know this but I call them my cookbook fairy madrinhas (godmothers)! I am so thankful and still in disbelief that I now have a relationship with these two. They are a huge inspiration and I will always look up to them!
Sweet Bread Sleigh (Trenó de Massa Sovada)
3. If you could use three words to describe Portuguese desserts what would they be?
J: Gemas, canela e limão (egg yolks, cinnamon, and lemon)! For me, these ingredients are the soul of Portuguese desserts. If I had to choose three adjectives they would be: divine, soulful and playful.
Custard Tarts (Pasteis de Nata)
4. How would you describe your baking style or technique?
J: Refined, modern, sometimes classic and sometimes rustic. I love decorations that are made up of other pastry elements, meringues, caramel, chocolate and fresh fruit. I appreciate fondant decorations but don’t usually gravitate towards them.
Bride’s Mattress (Colchão de Noiva)
Caramel Cake (Bolo de Caramelo)
5. What are some of your favorite flavour combinations?
J: Anything with Passion fruit! Passion fruit and chocolate are an amazing pairing. Of course, cinnamon and lemon are dear to my heart. Almond and citrus, coconut and lemon, raspberry and rose, honey and lavender, I could go on and on…
6. Your desserts are beautifully presented and a “work of art”. What inspires you to be so creative?
J: Necessity! Both of my grandmothers are artists. One is a professional and the other a hobbyist which means my childhood was filled with art and creativity. That creativity led me to become a musician where I have the opportunity to express my creativity in a specific way. I find presenting my baking artistically is another way to express myself. Creativity is absolutely essential to my life.
7. How do you stay up-to-date on the latest baking trends?
J: I have a huge collection of cookbooks. It’s always growing with so many new books focused on many different aspects and traditions of baking. However, I have to say Instagram is the easiest place to keep up with trends.
8. Are there substitutions for diabetic and vegan dessert/pastry recipes?
J: I don’t have a lot of experience in this area. I do have a vegan cousin who I’ve had some success baking for. The key for me is to choose recipes that don’t require eggs. I’ve made him fruit tarts, doughnuts and even bolo de bolacha! If you’ve never had cashew “cheese” it’s delicious whether you’re vegan or not. It’s a great substitute for cream cheese and can be sweetened and used as a filling. A great butter substitute is coconut oil since it will solidify at cooler temperatures. I used to do a lot of gluten-free baking and I’m happy to see so many flour blends on the market. I used to create my own which involved a lot of different flours taking up room in the pantry!
Almond Tart (Tarte de Amêndoa)
9. You are currently working on a cookbook solely devoted to Portuguese desserts. How is that going and when do you think it will be available?
J: My book is going really well! What I never knew is the timeline to publish a book is quite long. Currently, I am working on the Proposal which I will be sent to publishing companies. Once I have a deal (fingers crossed this will be early 2018), I will finish working on the manuscript. I will also be doing two big research trips to Portugal, the Azores, and Madeira in 2018. If all goes well the earliest the book will be out will be 2020. It sounds like a long time but this is pretty fast in the publishing world. I will keep everyone updated and included in the adventure!
Portuguese Christmas Pastry (Coscorões)
8 Fun Questions to ask Jeremiah
1. First word that comes to mind when I say baking?
2. Person you would most like to bake for?
J: I can’t pick one! I love baking for my family. We can all sit around and talk about sweets for hours.
3. Favorite dessert dish?
J: This is a hard one. I love the Portuguese Convent Sweets. I love Bolas de Berlim, my mom’s Massa Sovada, all types of Pão de Ló (espcially the under-baked types), and recently I’ve fallen in love with Patas de Veado (rolled cakes made to look like deer hooves).
4. Favorite ingredient to work with?
J: Egg yolks. Fresh passion fruit. Really good grass-fed cultured butter. Sorry, I can’t pick one!
Walnut Flan (Pudim de Noz)
Cream of Heaven (Natas do Céu)
5. Hardest ingredient to work with?
J: Chocolate if it must be tempered. There’s a science and intuition to the process which I grasp but it still makes me nervous and then incredibly proud when it works!
Portuguese Style Caramel Cake
6. Must-have piece of baking equipment?
7. Late night dessert craving?
J: I always crave desserts that are made up of cake, cream, and fresh fruit.
Orange Cake (Bolo de Laranja)
8. How do you stay so slim as a baker?
J: After the Baking Show, I had a serious conversation with myself. If I’m going to continue to bake like this I cannot skip the gym. So far it’s working. Let’s hope the holidays don’t throw me off! Surprisingly, the more I bake the less I crave and I’m happy to taste small amounts. It’s always a joy to give bakes away and see other people enjoying them!
Little Goat Cake (Bolo de Chibo)
It was an immense pleasure interviewing Jeremiah and we wish him great success with his forthcoming cookbook.
Follow Jeremiah on Facebook and get inspired to bake Portuguese style desserts for your family.