As a small child, Dagmarette Yen remembers sitting on the kitchen countertop, diligently watching her mother whip up Danish holiday recipes that had been passed on through her family for generations, eager to get her little hands dirty.
"Cooking and baking together is a Danish tradition, so I think it was just in me," the Laguna native and pastry chef says as she joyfully spreads melted chocolate over a Marzipan roll. "Christmas is an especially festive time of year, when everyone looks forward to comforting food during the cold, dark winters."
Having traveled to Denmark and celebrated a traditional Christmas with her relatives for many years, Yen said the custom taught her the value of tradition and how a memorable meal can bring a family together.
These experiences inspired her to write her first cookbook, "Glaedelig Jul" (Danish for "Merry Christmas"), which she recently self-published and have sold in bookstores nationwide and in London.
Yen will host a "book tasting" at 6:15 p.m. today at Latitude 33 Bookshop, 311 Ocean Ave., during Hospitality Night, where she will sign copies of her book and share delicious cookie recipes like Brunekager, raspberry and pecan tarts and Marzipan, along with (non-alcoholic) hot Glogg.
Also found in the book are about six dozen other recipes that are typically enjoyed over three days of Christmas, in the proper order in which they're served. Danes and non-Danes alike can enjoy the Ilskov family's creations from Slow Roasted Duck to Caramel Potatoes to Ris `a l'Amande – a traditional rice pudding in which a blanched almond is "hidden" in the bowl.
"With the book, I hope to preserve the traditions that my family and I treasure and share the recipes we love with lots of people," Yen says.
The 23-year-old says her ultimate goal is to host a television cooking show, but in the meantime plans to write more cookbooks that reflect her traveling experiences and various cultural traditions. Although she would like to start with a Chinese recipe book to honor her father and her heritage, she said it might prove more difficult than her latest project.
"I don't know anyone in my father's family who cooks, so nothing has been passed down in the kitchen," she laughs. "But it would be nice to honor those traditions as well."
Yen's passion for cooking has followed her since childhood. As a student at Laguna Beach High, she would often bake decorative cakes for her friends on their birthdays and even founded a "Homemakers Club" through the school.
She and her mother, Ann, also started a tradition of feeding dinner to the homeless in Laguna every Saturday at the shelter.
With a flare for visual art, she pursued fashion marketing and even worked at British Vogue in London, where attended college, and briefly at Teen Vogue in New York City.
"It just didn't feel 'right' and I kept thinking about the cookbook," she recalls.
Yen has been using her artistic talents to decorate tasty desserts ever since.
"The decorative design is my favorite part of baking," she says. "And I also love seeing how happy and excited people get when they taste my cooking. I know this is what I am meant to do."
For more information about the event, call (949) 494-5403.