Every week, we’re spotlighting a different food blogger who’s shaking up the blogosphere with tempting recipes and knockout photography. Today, we chat with Sarah Kieffer of the tempting baking site, The Vanilla Bean Blog.
Photo: Sarah Kieffer
Sarah Kieffer was a student at Minnesota’s Winona State University when she turned her hobbyist affection for baking brownies and cakes into a paid gig at local java spot Blue Heron Coffeehouse. First it was cookies, whipped up on weeknights after class. Then it was scones. Then muffins. Then cakes and yeasted breads. She may not have fully realized it then, but Kieffer’s baking hobby had morphed into a professional passion.
After graduation, she eschewed culinary school for a spate of coffee and bakeshop gigs—at one point, she was working 10-hour days and churning out thousands of cookies and muffins a month. She emerged a skilled-but-self-taught baker, and these days funnels her energy into devising lovely recipes and photography for her acclaimed project, The Vanilla Bean Blog (which won the reader’s choice honor in last year’s Saveur Best Food Blog Awards), and raising her two young children.
Here are eight important things to know about Kieffer:
1. She once made pastries in a fraternity house. Well, sort of.
"The last place I worked is called Bordertown Coffee in Minneapolis. It was tucked away in a school fraternity house that the owners rented out on the University of Minnesota campus. It was just me in this kitchen, working 10 hours every day. I really learned how to bake there: I had to learn how to be consistent. I made thousands and thousands of cookies and muffins. It was helpful, even though it was really hard.”
2. She feels at home in a very small kitchen.
"The kitchen at Bordertown didn’t have a stovetop—all I had were these tiny convection ovens. So I had to be creative: I had to melt everything in the microwave that needed to be melted. There was no dishwasher, so I had to wash everything by hand. It was a lot of dishes! I worked in there until I was seven months pregnant, which was really hard. Until I was eight months pregnant, I would work the counter. I was huge! But I got lots of good tips.”
Kieffer’s brioche almond ring. Photo: sarah_kieffer/Instagram
3. Baking helps her keep her head on straight.
"After I had my daughter, I decided to stay home. I didn’t bake for awhile, because I had a tiny baby, and I just couldn’t. But I always find baking really comforting, and so is eating sweets—but that’s a whole other topic. After my son was born, I started a blog. I needed to bake; I felt like it was a part of me.”
4. Her kids have a love-hate relationship with her baking.
"Sometimes they don’t like when I’m taking photographs of my dishes all the time—they [get] resentful and don’t want to help me. But I think it’s important to have them in the kitchen. I didn’t have someone teaching me to do stuff. So if they’re willing, I want to teach them everything I know, so they can do it for themselves."
Kieffer’s maple oatmeal scones Photo: Sarah Kieffer
5. Her passion for photography goes way back.
"I’ve always loved taking photographs—even when I was younger. I really loved finding beauty in these weird objects around the house, and my mom would get so mad at me for wasting film. I’d also go on trips and think the top of a building was beautiful, or I’d try to capture people doing weird things, because I’ve always loved movement."
A scene from Kieffer’s kitchen. Photo: Sarah Kieffer
6. She doesn’t think cooking is her strong suit.
"I always got super-stressed cooking, which most people think is easier [than baking], because you can throw in some herbs and it’s not going to wreck a recipe. But I’ve always been a goody-goody-two-shoes rule follower. And with a baking recipe, you use this exact ingredient in this exact amount. It just feels more predictable. And as someone who likes rules—I feel safe with rules—I feel drawn to that."
7. Scones are special to her.
"Scones were the first thing I learned to make. If I could have a scone every day for breakfast, it would bea perfect world."
Kieffer’s rhubarb blueberry apple pie. Photo: Sarah Kieffer
5. But she really loves a good puff pastry.
"I love making laminated doughs—I don’t feel like they’re hard to do but they take a lot of time and you have to be gentle with them. It sounds cheesy, but there’s something so comforting about all the movement of using my hands to make puff pastry. You get to feed people, and watch them smile and be glad.”
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