Jan 23, 2024

Author's ode to early morning baking is a sweet treat

MINNEAPOLIS — When the sky blooms from lavender to pink, and the sun chases away the last vestiges of cold, that's when Sarah Kieffer finds her inspiration.

"There is a calm and stillness, both outside and in, that can be found in the early hours," she said. "Baking in the morning, when the day has just begun, is something I love."

With her fourth cookbook, Kieffer has penned a full ode to her literary love of early morning baking. "100 Morning Treats" is peppered with quotes from great writers like Mary Oliver and Lewis Carroll while delivering recipes for tried-and-true classics with fresh verve and perspective. Instead of giving us another carrot cake recipe, she turns convention on its side and winds it up with a massive cinnamon roll, drizzled with cream cheese icing. Savory breakfasts are popped onto a sheet pan for weekend ease. Banana bread gets the scone treatment, and there's even a breakfast cookie that's made with whole wheat, rye, dried nuts, chocolate and sesame seeds.

This is a cookbook for lovers of early mornings, quiet spaces and sticky fingers.

"I try to start my day with a passage from a good book or a poem. I find a line that will stay with me, and the meaning takes shape as my day unfolds," she said when we discussed her new book.

Kieffer is, if it's not already evident, an English major. It was during her college years that she discovered her fondness for quiet early hours while working at the Blue Heron Coffeehouse in Winona, Minnesota. It's also where she began tinkering with recipes and cemented her love of coffee and sweets first thing in the morning. "I spent so many mornings sipping on an iced coffee and stealing a bite of something sweet ... and that is still how I live my life," she said.

She first blended her love of books and baking when she started her award-winning The Vanilla Bean Blog. What began as a chronicle of her life with young kids quickly zeroed in on her irresistible sweet treats. Her first cookbook, "The Vanilla Bean Baking Book," was published in 2016 and brought her a new level of fame. The following year, the New York Times published Kieffer's "pan-banging" technique for making chocolate chip cookies. The distinctive crinkly, butter-rich cookies had gone viral on Instagram, and the Times catapulted the recipe into a baking sensation. It also inspired her next book, "100 Cookies," released in 2020.

Part of the appeal of Kieffer's recipes is that they’re not just creative, easy to follow and produce reliable results, but they’re unmistakably fun: like banging a cookie sheet and watching puffed-up cookies sink and crinkle in on themselves. It's an edible thrill equivalent to Shrinky Dinks.

"There is a seriousness to baking which is important — directions and measurements need to be followed precisely," she said. "When I found baking in my early 20s, I didn't care about any of that — it was just fun. I made a lot of mistakes during that time, of course, but baking was always rooted in joy, not stress and precision."

Kieffer also takes a pragmatic and understandable approach to what can be difficult pastry techniques, from laminating dough for croissants to kneading sweet dough until it's just the right level of elasticity.

"I spend a lot of time reading all kinds of cookbooks, and I look for what makes sense in explanations, but also what may be confusing to me," said Kieffer. "When I started, I often felt intimidated or insecure when I tried something new, and it was hard for me to ask questions, so I try to write for someone who may also be feeling that way. Baking is intimidating for many people, and I want to try to include every detail I can to instill confidence."

Following her cookie book, Kieffer released "Baking for the Holidays" in 2021 with more than 50 festive recipes, but "100 Morning Treats" feels like a return to her roots.

"This particular book had been on my mind for years — baking in coffeehouses in the late ‘90s early 2000s shaped how I bake today, and I had many recipes that I loved or wanted to rework," she said.

The result is a book that is easy to greedily devour with the exact same satisfaction as surreptitiously nibbling away at leftover cake in the fridge.


Makes 10.

Note: Kieffer doesn't use liners for many muffins in the book, but likes to use tulip liners (which stand taller in the pan) for muffins with streusel to help keep the streusel on the batter and off the pan and oven floor. If your variety of rhubarb doesn't cook down into a pretty shade of pink (many don't), you can add a thin slice of red beet or a handful of raspberries to the pan with the rhubarb, or add a few drops of pink food coloring to the rhubarb mixture. From "100 Morning Treats," by Sarah Kieffer (2023, Chronicle).

For the rhubarb swirl:

1 1/2 cups chopped rhubarb, in bite-size pieces

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon water

For the cream cheese swirl:

3 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

1 tablespoon sugar

For the muffins:

1 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

2 tablespoons sour cream, at room temperature

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 large egg, at room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups streusel (see recipe)


Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line every other muffin cup in two standard 12-cup muffin tins with tulip liners. (The muffins rise better when every other muffin cavity is filled.)

To prepare the rhubarb swirl: In a small saucepan, combine the rhubarb, sugar and water. Heat over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb has broken down, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

To prepare the cream cheese swirl: In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese and sugar, and stir until smooth.

To prepare the muffins: In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and baking soda. In a medium bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk and sour cream.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, 1 minute. Add the sugar and salt and beat until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the egg, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again, and add one-third of the flour mixture. Beat on low speed until just combined. Beat in the buttermilk mixture and the remaining flour mixture in halves, alternating between the two and ending with the flour mixture, mixing until just combined.

Pour the rhubarb and cream cheese mixtures into the bowl, and use a spatula to swirl the mixtures into the batter until just incorporated with two or three turns; there will still be streaks of fruit and cream cheese. The muffin batter can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours before baking.

Scoop a scant 1/3 cup of the batter into each tulip liner. Sprinkle the streusel evenly over the top of each muffin.

Bake until the streusel is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out with a few crumbs, rotating the pan halfway through baking, 25 to 30 minutes. Let the muffins cool in the tin for about 5 minutes, then gently remove them and transfer to a wire rack to cool for a few more minutes before serving.

Muffins are best eaten the day they are made, but they can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.


Makes 4 cups.

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup almond flour

2/3 cup granulated sugar

2/3 cup light brown sugar

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces, at room temperature


In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, combine both flours, both sugars, the cinnamon and salt and mix at low speed. Add the butter, one piece at a time, beating just until the mixture comes together but is still quite crumbly. Store the streusel in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in a freezer-safe bag in the freezer for up to 1 month.


Makes 8 scones.

Scones are best eaten the day they’re made. From "100 Morning Treats," by Sarah Kieffer (2023, Chronicle).

For the scones:

1/2 cup mashed bananas (about 1 1/2 bananas)

1/3 cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing

1 large egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped

For the rum icing:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

1 to 2 tablespoons blackstrap rum or other dark rum

Pinch of salt

1 cup powdered sugar


To prepare the scones: Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. In a medium bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together the mashed bananas, heavy cream, egg and vanilla. Refrigerate until ready to use.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt.

Add the butter to the dry ingredients and use a pastry cutter to cut in the butter until the flour-coated pieces are the size of peas. Add the chopped pecans and stir to combine. Add the refrigerated wet ingredients and fold with a spatula until just combined.

Transfer the dough to a generously floured surface and knead 10 to 12 times, until it comes together, adding a little flour as necessary. Pat the dough into a square and roll it into a 12-inch square, dusting with flour as necessary. Fold the dough in thirds, like a business letter. Fold the dough in thirds again by folding in the short ends, making a square. Transfer it to the prepared sheet pan and put it in the freezer for 10 minutes.

Return the dough to the floured surface, shape it into a 12-inch square, and fold the dough in thirds again. Turn over the dough so it's seam-side down, and gently roll out the dough into a 12- by 4-inch rectangle.

With a sharp knife, cut it crosswise into four equal rectangles, then cut each rectangle diagonally into two triangles. Transfer the triangles to the prepared sheet pan. Freeze the scones for 30 minutes. (Freezing the scones before baking helps them retain their shape.)

Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees.

Brush the tops of the scones with a little heavy cream, making sure it doesn't drip down the sides. Place another sheet pan under the scones, so the pans are double-stacked. Bake the scones, rotating the stacked pans halfway through, until the tops and bottoms are light golden brown, 18 to 25 minutes. Transfer the top sheet pan to a wire rack and let the scones cool slightly.

To prepare the icing: While the scones are baking, in a small bowl whisk together the melted butter, 1 tablespoon of the rum and the salt. Add the powdered sugar and mix together, then whisk until well combined and smooth. Add more rum (or water), 1 tablespoon at a time, if needed, to reach the desired consistency. Use the back of a spoon or an offset spatula to top each scone with the icing.

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