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Got cookie questions? Sarah Kieffer has the answers

Sarah Kieffer of Vanilla Bean Blog talks baking cookies and her cookbook, which was nominated for a Minnesota Book Award.
Image by Courtesy of Sarah Kieffer
Sarah Kieffer’s book, “100 Cookies: The Baking Book for Every Kitchen, with Classic Cookies, Novel Treats, Brownies, Bars, and More” was nominated for a Minnesota Book Award.

Ever wondered why your baking projects fail or how you can amp up your kitchen game? A&E messaged Sarah Kieffer of the Vanilla Bean Blog for the latest tips and tricks on cookies, her cookbook and advice for young bakers.

Your cookbook “100 Cookies: The Baking Book for Every Kitchen, with Classic Cookies, Novel Treats, Brownies, Bars, and More” recently was a finalist for the general nonfiction of the Minnesota Book Awards. What was the process of creating this cookbook like?

Shaping a cookbook just around cookies was a new experience for me. My first cookbook, “The Vanilla Bean Baking Book,” had several genres of baked goods (morning baking, pies, cakes, etc) whereas “100 Cookies” is, well, 100 cookie recipes. I had to plan the book much differently. I also knew I wanted a mix of both classic and “modern” recipes; I tried to include a little something for everyone.

You went viral in 2017 after you shared your unconventional cookie tip of taking cookies out of the oven mid-bake, banging them on a flat surface to create crispy and soft crinkles within the cookie. Are there other cookie tips and tricks readers don’t know about?

I don’t know so much about “tricks,” but I would say that knowing how your oven works and spending a lot of time getting to know a recipe and your ingredients will help you make great cookies.

What, in your opinion, is the main cause of baking mishaps in a college student’s or novice baker’s kitchen?

Your oven! All ovens are different and fickle, and getting to know how your oven works — how long it takes to preheat, where its hot spots are if its temperature is correct — are all so important to baking. This takes time, but it is time worth spending. Also, making sure your dough is completely combined and all ingredients are incorporated will ensure even baking results.

What are some staple ingredients you use for your cookies? Specific butter choice, extracts, etc?

Butter, sugar, flour, eggs, salt and chocolate are ingredients I always use. I prefer pure vanilla extract over imitation but it is really expensive right now! And I like to use a mix of chocolates when I bake cookies — Ghirardelli, Valhrona, and Guittard all have delicious baking chocolates.

What’s your favorite recipe in the book?

I like to say that whatever recipe I’m currently making is my favorite. It’s hard to pick, but I would say after all these years, I’m still partial to the Pan-Banging Chocolate Chip Cookies. I do also love Brown Sugar Cookies.

When you aren’t baking cookies, what other baking/cooking endeavors are you working on?

I just finished work on my third book that will come out this fall, “Baking for the Holidays” (Chronicle Books).

Any other comments about your book, or advice for young bakers?

Baking can often be intimidating, and it’s frustrating when what you’re making doesn’t turn out as pictured. Practice and patience is key. Getting to know a recipe, how it works, and how your equipment and ingredients work within it takes time to master and perfect. But, even if something doesn’t turn out “perfectly,” it often still is delicious. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes in the kitchen, and have fun with the process.

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  • June Hersh
    May 8, 2021 at 10:27 am

    Does the pan need to freeze for 15 minutes or just the dough?

  • Maggie Werba
    Mar 5, 2021 at 1:42 pm

    This is amazing! As a young aspiring baker myself with a food blog, MaggieBakesGrace, it is so hopeful to see a fellow Minnesotan succeeding in the cookbook industry!