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Sarah Kieffer Transcript

2020’s Cookie Queen, sarah kieffer

Kerry Diamond: Okay, here we go. We're going to bang a pan. Ooh, cookies look good. [A BANG is heard as Kerry drops the cookie sheet in the oven.] That's fun. Let's set the timer. We'll do that again in two minutes.

Hey everyone. Welcome to Radio Cherry Bombe, the podcast that's all about women and food. I'm your host, Kerry Diamond, coming to you from my tiny kitchen in Brooklyn, New York. What's going on? Well, I made some cookies to celebrate today's show with Sarah Kieffer, the author of the hot new bestseller 100 Cookies: The Baking Book for Every Kitchen, with Classic Cookies, Novel Treats, Brownies, Bars, and More.

A few years back Sarah's recipe for pan-banging chocolate chip cookies, the recipe I was making earlier, went viral. What exactly is a pan-banging cookie, you ask? Well, while the cookies are baking, you lift up one side of the baking sheet about four inches and drop it on the oven rack. This deflates the cookies and creates ripples. You repeat the process a few more times until the cookies are golden around the edges, and you have these craggy concentric circles when everything is done. It's great fun and somewhat therapeutic. Anyway, Sarah joins us today to talk all things cookies, and you don't want to miss our chat.

Today's episode is sponsored by our friends at Kerrygold, the makers of great Irish butter and cheese. Of course, I used Kerrygold in the cookies I made. I wouldn't use anything else.

Let's do some housekeeping. If you're looking for some great holiday gifts, there's the Cherry Bombe cookbook with the iconic pink cover filled with more than 100 recipes from 100 amazing women. Then there's the brand new issue of Cherry Bombe Magazine with a cover story on Paola Velez, co-founder of Bakers Against Racism. You can get both from your favorite local bookstore. This is a great time to support indie businesses, especially the ones in your neighborhood. We'll be right back with Sarah Kieffer of 100 Cookies after this word from Kerrygold.

Kerrygold Announcer: Kerrygold is delicious, all natural butter and cheese made with milk from Irish grass-fed cows. Our farming families pass their craft and knowledge from generation to generation.

Kerrygold Farmer: I'm fifth generation. It goes back over 250 years.

Kerrygold Announcer: This traditional approach is the reason for the rich taste of Kerrygold. Enjoy delicious new sliced or shredded Kerrygold cheddar cheese, available in mild or savory flavors at a retailer near you. Find your nearest store at

Kerry Diamond: Now here's my conversation with Sarah Kieffer.

You seem to have come up with something that everybody can agree on in America. You found the one thing, and that one thing is cookies. So congratulations, Sarah Kieffer.

Sarah Kieffer: Thank you so much. My mom always called me the peacemaker of my family. I'm not big on conflict, so it would make sense that I would try to bridge everyone together with something.

Kerry Diamond: Let's jump right into these recipes. Let's start with how the book came about. Your first book came out four years ago. Was it on election day?

Sarah Kieffer: It was on election day, yes. I went into the morning, like, "We are going to have our first woman president. My cookbook's coming out." And then by noon, I was like, "This cookbook doesn't even matter." It was just so bittersweet and I couldn't even focus on it or promote it because I shouldn't have because everything was so crazy. So yeah, it was a very bittersweet day. Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Wow. It wasn't just the chocolate that was bittersweet, it was everything.

Sarah Kieffer: It was everything, yes. This one was supposed to come out the end of October and I had asked, can we please, out of October, maybe earlier? So then they decided end of August, which I think was great with the start of school. I think that helped with sales too. People are into baking with their kids, not really going to school this year, but everyone needs cookies around.

Kerry Diamond: Well, I'm glad you got your way because it's a big hit, it's a bestseller. Sold out in bookstores all over the place. I will say this a million times during the recording, but this is definitely one that you want for your cookbook collections. I know a lot of you listening to the show have a cookbook problem, just like I do. Let's talk about how you followed up your first book. The first book, it was basically the companion to your blog, the Vanilla Bean Blog.

Sarah Kieffer: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: How did you decide what the next book would be?

Sarah Kieffer: I had a different idea for the book, and then the New York Times had published my pan-baking cookies and that took off, became viral recipe. And so, my agent had just side-saddled me and was like, "What if we do cookies, because that seems to be what people want from you." And I was like, "I don't know. There are so many cookie books." But then it just seemed to make sense. And so I said, "Okay, let's just try it." At the time, my first publisher had passed on another book with me.So we had to start from scratch throughout the proposal and Chronicle was really interested, which I'm glad. I've really enjoyed working with them. They're awesome.

Kerry Diamond: You've become semi-famous for this technique called pan-banging cookies. For those who don't know what the heck we're talking about, can you explain what that is?

Sarah Kieffer: Sure. Banging a pan in the oven isn't new. A lot of people do that to just set the sides as I have been doing that for years or to get crackles on top. But this a technique where you let the cookies bake for anywhere from 10 to 12 minutes. Then every two minutes after that, you pick up the side of the pan, drop it in the oven and it creates ridges and ripples around the side. And so, you do that anywhere from three to six times, depending on how well done you want your center. Some people like it crisp all the way through. Other people want a gooey center, so they just do it a couple of times. So it's a technique of creating ridges around the edges of your cookie.

Kerry Diamond: I haven't made these cookies yet. I am going to do the pan-banging cookies later. You actually brought me a dozen of those cookies when I saw you in Minneapolis.

Sarah Kieffer: I did.

Kerry Diamond: For a live Radio Cherry Bombe. We think it was about two years ago. Sarah, those were the best cookies I ever had in my whole life. I'm not just saying that because you're on the radio show today. They were exactly the way I like them. They were nice and crispy around the edges, but they were that semi undercooked fabulousness in the middle. And I was like, "I don't know how the heck she did it, but this pan-banging thing is genius." I just never thought I could make them as good as you made them.

Let's walk through that recipe first, to get that out of the way so we could talk about some of the other new fun recipes that you've done. You said some people do it as many as six times.

Sarah Kieffer: Yeah. If you want the center crisp, you can just keep going or let them cook.

Kerry Diamond: Keep banging. When you first told me about this technique, I had this vision of someone like... Actually, this is insane now that I think about it, but I had a vision of someone taking the baking sheet out of the oven and then literally dropping it on top of their oven like six inches or something. Now that sounds like a terrible idea.

Sarah Kieffer: People do that, actually. When it went viral, cookie directions, it says to just lift it up in the oven, drop it. But for some reason, that step... I don't know. It's in the New York Times, but in other places it got missed. People would send me DMs, or videos, Instagram stories, just like this on the floor, just dropping it, boom, like shattered cookies. But they were rippled and they were having fun. So I thought, "Well, if that's how you want to do it, that's fine." But you really only need to just lift it up in the oven and drop it.

Kerry Diamond:  It's so funny to me because you said people have been doing this, you didn't invent the pan-banging technique. You said other people have been doing it for a while. I did think you invented it, but I stand corrected. I feel like we've always been taught not to manhandle our baked goods, or woman handle, whatever the term should be. Maybe that's just because of souffles. Not that I'm making souffles on a daily basis, but like, you don't want to jar your baked goods. You don't want to disturb the baked goods. But this throws that out the window.

Sarah Kieffer: Right. Like with cakes and stuff, you do need to be careful. In the intro of my book, I talk about in ninth grade I was frustrated that my cookies were not spreading nice. I just picked up the pan and dropped in the oven, hoping that would help. It did make little cracks. So I was like, "Oh." That's how I even came across the idea, was just out of frustration.

Kerry Diamond: So interesting. Okay. If you want the cookies the way I love them, with the centers not fully cooked, what's the secret to that?

Sarah Kieffer: I only bang like two or three times. And then just take it out early and let them cool on the pan, so they're under baked in the middle and then crisp on the outside.

Kerry Diamond: You also adjusted the recipe slightly for the new cookbook. The cookies are smaller and you don't freeze the dough. Tell us about the difference between the two recipes.

Sarah Kieffer: Sure. I had wanted to work on that because a lot of people did not have freezer space to stick their whole pan in, and you can like take the balls, put them on different pan. People got really frustrated with that. I played around with making them smaller and found that it did work just fine. A lot of people like the ridges better frozen. They feel like they hold their shape a little better and get crispier. But I haven't found it to make that much of a difference, so I took that step out.

Kerry Diamond: Okay. Interesting. You read a lot of recipes now and they say to refrigerate the dough or freeze the dough. What is the benefit there?

Sarah Kieffer: Well, if your cookies are large, it helps them not to spread so much. And so, it can keep them confined in their shape. If your dough's really sticky, sometimes that helps too. Just melts more evenly and better. So I do that. I refrigerate some cookie doughs too if they're really sticky, and that way it just helps it melt nicer into a better shape.

Kerry Diamond: Do you always have cookie dough in your fridge?

Sarah Kieffer: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: God, can I move in?

Sarah Kieffer: You can.

Kerry Diamond: I would be in heaven. Does the pan make a difference? Real investigative journalism here, Sarah, does the pan make a difference?

Sarah Kieffer: I always use a medium weight pan. I haven't experimented a lot with really thin pans, but darker, thinner pans are going to just bake the bottom faster. A lot of times that can result in over baked cookies. So I do think the pan makes a difference. But I don't know about the actual bang part of it. I think any pan would work.

Kerry Diamond: Okay. You have a favorite pan?

Sarah Kieffer: I love Nordic Ware, and they're a local Minnesota company too. But their a medium weight half sheet pans are what I use.

Kerry Diamond: Okay, because I want to do everything the way you do.

Sarah Kieffer: Yeah. Their pants are awesome and they hold up really well. I've really damaged... Not damaged but really used all my pans with all the recipe testing and they have held up.

Kerry Diamond: I would imagine, with all that banging, there's a lot of wear and tear on the pans. Do you put parchment paper on the pan? How do you prep the pan?

Sarah Kieffer: For these cookies, I use foil, and a lot of people have challenged me on this. I think the foil helps crisp up the bottoms a little more, just the way it reacts with the heat and the way the cookies spread on it. I think that it does. But some people have said that it doesn't really make a difference. Parchment works too, and I have used that before. But I always use foil for these.

Kerry Diamond: Foil is such a throwback. It's what I used as a kid, making all those Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookies. Yeah. And folks, you can recycle your foil, so you have to wash it. You can reuse foil too. One other question with your signature chocolate chip cookie recipe. I was reading it last night and I made... Where's my little grocery list? I made a little grocery list of, yeah, two sticks butter, sugar, brown sugar, chocolate chips. Then reading the recipe a little closer, I realized that you call for really big chocolate chips. Are you making your own? Do you cut them up from bars?

Sarah Kieffer: Yeah. I use chocolate chunks, so I just cut up a bar of chocolate. People do use chips and they work. I feel like the chocolate spreads better and it just makes a taste to your bites with it, melted and spread throughout the cookie. But you can use chips if that's all you have.

Kerry Diamond: Okay. Again, because I want to copy everything you do, do you have a favorite chocolate that you use?

Sarah Kieffer: I use a variety of chocolate. I mix and match. I test mostly with Ghirardelli because I try to test with grocery store brands that people have access to, because I feel like most people are just running to their local grocery store, buying ingredients. About two or three times a year, I'll do a special order of Valrhona and get... They're the little disks that they have, and then I'll cut those up and they're so good. I usually just save those for the top of the cookie. So then they last a long time, but then you have all these little specialty chocolates in there. I really like Guittard chocolate too. So I mix and match those three brands and use the bulk of the chocolate as the cheaper chocolate and then put the nicer, expensive chocolate on top.

Kerry Diamond: Got it. Okay. Can you bake with any kind of chocolate? Like when I go to my coffee shop across the street, they sell all these different fancy chocolate bars. Can you chop up things like that?

Sarah Kieffer: It depends on how much the percentage is of cocoa. It can make a difference in the cookie. A lot of people use like... I've had trouble with Hershey's. If you're going to the other route, like the cheaper end, a lot of times it just melts really wonky. And so, I like to stick with... I mean, you can always experiment, but I like to stick with chocolates I know.

Kerry Diamond: Okay. Let's talk about the other recipes in this book. It's not just pan-banging cookies, although there's an entire chapter dedicated to that. I definitely noticed the Neapolitan cookie making the rounds. Can you tell us about that cookie?

Sarah Kieffer: Yeah. I had discovered it on... My daughter had made a list for the chapter five, which is the Time To Play chapter, of stuff she wanted in that chapter. She was really excited about this book and kept me with creative ideas. So like the lemonade half-and-half cookie is her idea. She really wanted macarons in there because those are her favorite. And so she had come up like, "A Neapolitan cookie, that'd be so cool."

I was playing around with stuff and I just didn't come up with anything that was working for me. I had gone on Pinterest for something else and I saw this beautiful Neapolitan cookie that Matthew Rice had... He's a pastry chef in Nashville, that he had come up with. And so, I was like, "Oh, this is so cool." So I took my sugar cookie recipe and played around with his technique where you divide the dough into thirds and then add...

He uses, I think, Nestle Quik for his strawberry, but I used freeze-dried strawberries and then cocoa powder. And then rolled the balls of dough together, the separate flavors, and bake it. It makes this really beautiful three-flavored cookie. And so, that's where it came from. I loved it and people are making it like crazy. It's really fun.

Kerry Diamond: They're so pretty. I love anything pink. But they're such pretty cookies to look at. It seems to have kick-started this whole Neapolitan thing on Instagram. I don't know if they're connected, but I saw our friend Le Dix-Sept out in San Francisco. She did a Neapolitan cake. I definitely feel like the Neapolitan cookie is the cookie of the season, if we had to declare one. Would you agree?

Sarah Kieffer: I would agree, yes. I'm getting tagged in so many stories and photos of people making it. It's so great. I love it.

Kerry Diamond: Are there any tips to making the Neapolitan cookies?

Sarah Kieffer: A lot of people are making them differently, so it depends if you want your flavors separate or in more swirled together. When I made the recipe, I would take the three different types of dough and just squish them together, put them in a cookie scoop, and then bake it. Some of the flavors would interact with each other. But a lot of people want them very separate and have come up with really elaborate methods.

They roll all the dough balls separately, chill them overnight, put them together, and then they'll bake in separate little pockets. I've done both now and they're both great. I like the flavors swirled together though, so you get a little bit of everything in each bite.

Kerry Diamond: That's so much fun. Sarah, pick another recipe that we can talk about. What's another one that seems to have captured folks' imagination?

Sarah Kieffer: I have a section on brownies and blondies, and some people have challenged this in a cookie book because they feel like these are not cookies. But in Minnesota we believe that brownies and bars are cookies. So that's why I included it. Just a little nod to all my church potlucks. These are cookies. My favorite brownies were in my first book and people really loved that recipe. So I wanted to include it again with lots of variations on it.

And so, the marshmallow peanut butter brownies have been a favorite with people. The cakey brownies, a lot of people have been making those. I do frost them.

Kerry Diamond: A frosted cakey brownie, I'm going to challenge you, Sarah Kieffer. That's basically cake.

Sarah Kieffer: But it's cut into tiny little squares. I mean, yes, of course, but it's also a bar and it's also a cookie.

Kerry Diamond: Well, it's your book, so I'll let you have whatever you say. Let's go back to my favorite brownies though. That's a significant title to give to those brownies. Why are they your favorite brownies? Because you obviously have made so many brownies over the years. Why these?

Sarah Kieffer: I do love the good old box brownie, the texture, but the thing everyone complains about is the flavor. It's not very chocolatey. So I really wanted to work on something that was both, had a little bit of both worlds. And so, I had come up with this recipe. Part of it is there's oil and butter in it. The box brownies usually have oil and a really good normal brownie has butter.

So I mixed both and played around with the chocolate ratios and eggs and came up with a brownie that had that chew of a box brownie, but also as rich and indulgent, and just in between both the cakey and fudgy brownie, which is how I personally like them best. I like fudgy brownies, but they're just so dense. You can eat one bite and then you have to move on. But this you can keep going back to the pan and sneaking bites and no regrets.

Kerry Diamond: Absolutely. Well, you've got so many fun brownie recipes in here. All right. Give me one more recipe that folks are loving.

Sarah Kieffer: That folks are loving. I'm trying to think. Surprisingly, the oatmeal raisin, a lot of people have made those. I really like them. Every time I make them, I'm like, "Oh, these are good," because I never would pick an oatmeal raisin cookie if there's chocolate available. Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: It would have to be the last cookie on the planet for me to choose an oatmeal raisin cookie. But I do like a craisin, a dried cranberry or a dried cherry. So maybe if I-

Sarah Kieffer: You could swap. Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: ...make yours, I'm going to swap. Yeah.

Sarah Kieffer: In my first book, I have an oatmeal cookie with white chocolate and golden raisins. So maybe you could compromise there. I don't know.

Kerry Diamond: Okay. This isn't on my list of questions, but I'm a nerd for cookbook design. I love how this book is designed. You rarely get a book that's so beautifully designed and so user friendly, and I think you really nailed it with this.

Sarah Kieffer: I had nothing to do really with the design. I did the photographs, but Lizzie who works over at Chronicle designed the book. They just showed me what they had in mind and I was like, "This is so pretty. I love pink. I'm way into light pink and the rose gold. I like the gold numbers on the pages. When they showed me those, I was just... It's just so lovely and I was so happy with the book when they showed me what they were thinking. The little half cookie swirls on the page, I mean, there's just so much little detail that makes it sweet, and cute, and lovely.

Kerry Diamond: Absolutely. If you're a graphic design nerd, you will geek out on this book 100%.

Sarah Kieffer:  I had nothing to do with it. I'm still floored with how... So I like it a lot.

Kerry Diamond: You've even got a pretty little ribbon with gold thread on it.

Sarah Kieffer: Many people email me, thanking me. They're like, "The reason I bought this book was there was a ribbon." I was like, "Wow."

Kerry Diamond: I love the Cherry Bombe cookbook. My one thing is we don't have a ribbon. They're not cheap, when you're producing books, to put ribbons. And your cover is matte, but you've got the gold, the gold title raised. Anyway, everybody, again, check out this book. You will love it so much. Well, Chronicle did a beautiful job with the book. Let's switch gears, Sarah. I want to ask a few things about your life and your career. I noticed you dedicated the book to your dad. Why did you pick your dad?

Sarah Kieffer: My dad, I'm already tearing up, he's just been so supportive of anything I've ever wanted to do. He's the typical Midwestern strong, silent dad. Worked the same job for hours every day. Worked overtime every Christmas so that he could get us presents. Just all these typical dad things. But then if I had any interest, he was always so willing to just make sure somehow it happened.

We were just straight middle-class growing up, so we didn't have extra funds for just randomly pursuing my interest. But he would somehow make sure, like, "You want to try guitar, okay, we'll get you a guitar." Or I was super into science in fifth grade, so he, for Christmas, bought me a microscope and showed me how to use it. I would lose interest in things very quickly too, poor dad. But he would always make sure if I was interested in something, that I could do it.

I never once felt that because I was a woman that I couldn't do something. He was always believed in me as a person. That just meant so much. I never had a feeling of like I couldn't do something because I was a woman or because we were middle-class or anything. It's like, "I believe in you that you can do this." So I just felt like it was important. My first book, he literally has bought over a hundred copies of it. He gives it to everyone he knows.

The barista at the coffee shop mentioned she liked baking. He went in the next day with my cookbook and was like, "You want to try this cookbook out." Anybody who mentions baking, he will go back to a store, give them the book. And so, he's done the same for this. He just bought a case of them when they came out. I have a video of him just opening a case of my books. He's passed them out to all his friends. Everybody knows. So he's just been so supportive.

Kerry Diamond: Now we know why 100 Cookies is a bestseller --

Sarah Kieffer: I know. He did joke that he had all the copies in his basement. When they were doing another reprinting, he's like, "Oh, I've got them all downstairs," but he really doesn't.

Kerry Diamond: That's really sweet. Well, your love of cookies started very early and your love of baking. Can you walk us through that?

Sarah Kieffer: Yeah. So really, as with you, it was all about cookie dough. I realized early on cookie dough is so good and it makes me feel so good when I eat it. Ninth grade I started making cookies like hardcore, and it was a particularly hard year at school just for all the normal ninth grade reasons. And so, I'd come home every day and just bake cookies, and my mom let me. My mom hates the kitchen. She always says it's her least favorite room in the house. She hates just even being in there.

Now as my parents retired, they go out to eat every night or order in. They don't go out to eat now, obviously, but will order in or just eat popcorn for dinner a lot. They do not want to cook. So she hated it. She was like, "Oh good, you want to bake cookies?" And she likes cookies. It worked out. But I mostly was baking it just... Part of it was relieving my feelings. I learned early on food is a comfort, which is both good and bad.

And then, it was something to do after school. I felt like I was doing something useful. I would go to the neighbors and pass out cookies and bring them over to my grandma. But I loved eating cookie dough. Then I got obsessed with trying to make the perfect cookie because there was so many... We had this old church cookbook that I would bake from, and there's so many bad recipes in there. Because there was so many chocolate chip cookie recipes because anyone could submit any recipe they wanted to this book, and they'd published everything. So there was repeats of recipes, but it was people's versions of it. I, at the time didn't know anything about measuring. You're just dumping... I didn't have any patience for being careful about measuring my flour. I'm sure I was a huge part of the problem why they didn't turn out. But I'd started this quest of trying to make the perfect cookie.

And so, I just experimented. I remember making the cookie from the back of the Crisco can, which gave these crisp edges that I wanted. They were actually the prettiest cookie, but then they didn't have a butter flavor because there was just shortening. So then I was playing around with all those recipes and it consumed a lot of my ninth grade year.

Kerry Diamond: You were obviously not thinking that this is going to be a career. You were not, obviously. Plenty of people go on and want to open their own bakery or work in food. But that, wasn't what you saw for yourself.

Sarah Kieffer: No, I was going to either be the next Amy Grant or... Because I-

Kerry Diamond: Really?

Sarah Kieffer: Well, when I was a lot younger, I wanted to be a singer. I would-

Kerry Diamond: Can you sing?

Sarah Kieffer: A little.

Kerry Diamond: Why weren't you in the Cherry Bombe Talent Show?

Sarah Kieffer: I know. I'm kind of-

Kerry Diamond: You and Paola Velez from Bakers Against Racism. She's got a great voice too. She said she was too shy to be in the talent show.

Sarah Kieffer: Yeah. I was terrified of doing that. Maybe one day.

Kerry Diamond: Well, part two I'm coming for you both.

Sarah Kieffer: I have started taking ukulele lessons as like a COVID crisis, 40-year old crisis. Like, "I need to learn an instrument." Anyway, so I wanted to be Amy Grant, but then I realized that's not going to happen.

Kerry Diamond: Amy Grant, for those who don't know, a very popular Christian contemporary singer. She had a few songs, I think, that hit the top 40. I remember.

Sarah Kieffer: Yeah. Her Baby, Baby hit mainstream. It was a big deal. So then I decided I was going to be a teacher, so that's what I focus on. I've always loved reading. Reading was also comfort and escape for me. So I thought I'd be an English teacher and that was what I was going to do. Baking or cooking was not anywhere on my radar.

Kerry Diamond: So you wind up marrying your two loves.

Sarah Kieffer: Yes. Words and baking.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah. You eventually start the Vanilla Bean blog, which became one of the more popular blogs early on. When was your foray into blogging?

Sarah Kieffer: I had started, blogs were slowly becoming a thing. For a while, they seemed like something, I don't know, like they weren't accessible or they were just all these really interesting unique people had blogs, so you'd go read them. And then, I had a friend start just a blog, a gardening blog, I think it was. And I was like, "Oh, we can just start blogs. That's fun." I had just had my daughter and I had stopped working full time. I decided to stay home with her. And so I was just feeling like...

Obviously, parenting, there's so much to do, but I felt like I didn't have anywhere for my mind to go. Part of my story is I have been diagnosed with OCD and anxiety. So my mind is just constantly on fire obsessing about things all the time. So I've learned I need a place for it to go or it gets a little crazy in there. I started a blog and I just started... There was all these sewing blogs, so I decided I was going to start sewing.

So I started sewing, which I had never done either, and just was making like little baby clothes for my daughter. I took some sewing classes at a local place. But then I would also do recipes on there from the different bakeries I had worked at, the recipes I came up with there. I started putting those on and those were always the most popular posts. I realized like, "This is what I really care about." I would get so impatient with sewing. So then I just decided to start a blog just focused on baking and it just slowly grew out of that.

Kerry Diamond: Yeah, you can't eat those baby clothes. It's not as much fun. I totally glossed over your barista years. Tell us about that, for all baristas out there.

Sarah Kieffer: Yes. I was a barista for a long time. I started in right out of high school at a Gloria Jeans. It was a coffee shop in malls. Our neighbor was the manager at one and he was like, "Do you want..." He's desperate, like, "Can you please come work for me?" My sister and I were like, "Sure." And it was so fun. At the time, he offered to pay us I think it was eight bucks an hour, which was just so much money. We were like, "Really?" We were both saving for college, so we were like, "This is awesome."

So we just worked there all summer and learned how to make coffee. I did that and then when I went away to school, that was... I worked just tons of retail jobs ever since I've been 15. That was the one thing that was the most tolerable of dealing with customers and stuff. I really enjoyed making coffee and interacting with the same customers every day who are coming. It's just such a lovely community that happens. Even in the store, the mall shop, we had customers who were lovely, who came in every day and would buy coffee from us. We got to know them.

Kerry Diamond: I miss my coffee shop and the coffee shop world.

Sarah Kieffer: I know. I miss it so much. And so, I started working at a coffee shop. I went to Winona State University. It's a little sleepy town, college town in Southern Minnesota. There's more coffee shops now, but at the time there was just two. And so, I worked at the one that was the hippie coffee shop. There was the one downtown that was where more of the college kids hung out. And then the hippie one, people would really drive by and yell stuff at us, like, "Granola girls" just putting your sign outside, like, "Okay."

Kerry Diamond: You felt more at home among the granola girls, you're saying

Sarah Kieffer: Well, it was too far away and I didn't have a car. But I had started hanging out in this coffee shop studying and then really liked the baristas and everyone there. And I had some experience, so they hired me. I wasn't a super hippie ever, but I really liked just the vibe in there. It was just more laid back and that's not in. I started working there and then, at the time, it was called The Natural Habitat. Then it got bought by Larry and Colleen Wolner who own the Blue Heron Coffee House, which I talk about in all my books and now my site all the time.

The first coffee shop, they were great, but they didn't make all their baked goods from scratch. They bought a lot of scoop and bake stuff. And so, Larry and Colleen came in and started making everything from scratch and they were busier than they anticipated. I was their only employee for a while. I came with the shop. We always joke about that.

Kerry Diamond: You came with his shop. I love it.

Sarah Kieffer: But they were desperate and Larry was like, "Can you bake anything?" I was like, "Oh, yeah, I can bake cookies." But I hadn't forever. And so, I started baking cookies and they were a disaster at first.

Kerry Diamond: Broke out the church cookbook.

Sarah Kieffer: Well, they had their own recipe, but I messed it up the first couple of times. But then he taught me how to make them and I started loving baking. You create this thing and then you give it to people. And every time people are like, "Oh, yum." It's this warm cookie. There's just something about getting a fresh-baked baked good at a coffee shop. That just makes people happy. And so, I just fell in love with that.

Kerry Diamond: Warm cookie, warm heart. Right, Sarah? Okay. Let's go back to the blog. When you finally settle on baking and you launched the Vanilla Bean blog, and did it take off immediately?

Sarah Kieffer: No, it was a pretty slow... Slow but steady. I feel like that's my life story, just slow but steady, which is fine. It was mostly friends and family. There was the really big bloggers like Smitten Kitchen, and 101 Cookbooks, and Orangette, and all of those that we were just like enamored with like, "Oh, if only they would find our blog." But then I feel like the blogs that came after that, which was mine, became their own community.

I remember the first days of blogging, it was so fun because you'd post something and everyone would go comment. And you'd check everyone's post out and help promote them. Now it's so, so different. There's this real community of food bloggers that I'm still friends with. A lot of them actually have connections in Minnesota. So they'll come here sometimes and we'll have little get togethers and it's really lovely.

Kerry Diamond: I think you see bits and pieces of that on Instagram. I think the Instagram baker community is a really lovely, supportive community.

Sarah Kieffer: One thing I've loved is that everyone I've met is very true to their personality they show online. It's not fake at all or a show. It's been very real. I really appreciate that. People are very real and sincere and lovely.

Kerry Diamond: Sarah, when did the blog and the baking become a full-time job?

Sarah Kieffer: At first, when I started blogging, it was the worst thing in the world if you took sponsored posts or anything. It was just like you were selling out... I know there's this whole thing about it or you cannot promote your posts more than once anywhere. And so, then suddenly, I guess, people started realizing like, "Oh, we could make money doing this and it's stuff we like to use. Maybe we can put the two together." So then finally that became okay to do. I just remember it was such a huge thing.

And then, so I slowly started doing some paid stuff, and then Instagram became a thing. I feel like that was a huge piece of it because Twitter and Facebook had been primarily where people were. There's also those... I can't even remember what they're called anymore, but those blog sites you'd upload a picture of your post and they were the middleman sites. There was a bunch of them that were... They were so huge. Like you had to be doing this.

But then Instagram came along and cut all out, just like, "Here's the picture, here's a link." So people really started liking it. Plus you can curate your feed to see what you want to see. "Oh, I want to see all these beautiful pictures of cake." That's what you can do. I mean, now it's not so much like that anymore. Mostly Instagram, I feel like that really helped to push things.

Then my blog was nominated for the Saveur Blog Awards and one that... I can't even remember what year now. I should know that, but-

Kerry Diamond: Saveur Blog Awards were a big deal!

Sarah Kieffer: They were huge.

Kerry Diamond: ... back in the day.

Sarah Kieffer: Yeah, it was really huge. They flew my husband and I out to Las Vegas and we got to do the whole blog ceremony. I remember I had never done anything like that because of my blog at that time. So it was a really big deal. And then, after that I started... That's when I got the cookbook proposal and just slowly from there it just became a job. Now I'm just finished working on my third book. So I've been doing that. I wrote these two books back to back.

Kerry Diamond: Well, that's very exciting. I'm so glad you're doing another book. All right. You have kids.

Sarah Kieffer: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: How are you and your family doing during pandemic?

Sarah Kieffer: It has been something. I'll start by saying my husband and my kids are my most favorite people in the world. We generally like being around each other, but we've all been in quarantine or home social distancing since March. It's been a lot of together time and my kids are doing school distance learning home full time. So that's been a huge challenge because my husband is a teacher and he is constantly online, teaching all day. He's also in charge of distance learning for his school. And he works with the state too, helping other schools. He does adult education, so he helps other schools set up distance learning. He's in meetings all day just working and we can't really go in and be like, "Dad, I need your help with math," because he's online working.

So my job has become the job that's flexible, which means I'm like part-time teacher, part-time school nurse, part-time guidance counselor. And then also trying to get all my work done. So there's been a few like huge freakout days. I'm just like, "I cannot do all this." I dream of just homeschooling my kids and letting them read books and write book reports for the rest of the year. I'm not going to do that. But everyday I dream about that, like, "What if we just did that for the rest of the year?"

Kerry Diamond: All right. We're going to switch to something a little lighter. We're going to do a speed round. Sarah, are you ready?

Sarah Kieffer: Yes.

Kerry Diamond: Coffee or tea?

Sarah Kieffer: Coffee.

Kerry Diamond: How do you take it?

Sarah Kieffer: Americano with a splash of cream.

Kerry Diamond: Oldest thing in your fridge?

Sarah Kieffer: My sourdough starter that I haven't touched since August and it has a black layer on the top.

Kerry Diamond: Does it have a name?

Sarah Kieffer: It doesn't. That's how committed I am.

Kerry Diamond: Most used kitchen implement.

Sarah Kieffer: My stand mixer.

Kerry Diamond: Most treasured cookbook.

Sarah Kieffer: Probably Sarabeth's Bakery. It's this beautiful coffee table book that inspires me every time I look at it. I love it so much.

Kerry Diamond: A song that makes you smile.

Sarah Kieffer: I love the Graveyard Club. They're a local band. I've listened to a lot of their CDs. So I would say something by them. There's a song called It Hurts that's really sad. But my kids sing it all the time when they have to go to the dentist or the orthodontist. "It hurts. It hurts," and then we laugh. So maybe that.

Kerry Diamond: A food you would never eat.

Sarah Kieffer: I try to eat olives and I can't eat them. Like once a year, I'll try. Every time I'm like, "I can't do this."

Kerry Diamond: Last question, dream vacation destination.

Sarah Kieffer: Oh, I've never been to Paris. Every cookbook advance, which hasn't been a lot. But my husband, like, "We're going to save a little bit and go to Paris." And it's been our cars broke down, my kids needed braces, we moved. That tiny little bit of Paris money has never been. So one day, but yes, Paris.

Kerry Diamond: Oh my gosh. We need to organize. That would be my dream. Paris is my favorite place in the world. We need to organize a Bombesquad Bakers Go To Paris trip or something.

Sarah Kieffer: That would be amazing. I'm in.

Kerry Diamond: That would be a lot of fun. Well, I hope those kids know what you've sacrificed for them, Sarah.

Sarah Kieffer: I know, for their straight teeth.

Kerry Diamond: That's it for today's show. Thank you so much to Sarah Kieffer for hanging out with me and chatting all things cookies. If you enjoyed our talk, be sure to check out Sarah's Vanilla Bean Blog and get a copy of 100 Cookies for you or your baking buddy this holiday season. Thank you to Kerrygold for supporting this episode. Radio Cherry Bombe is edited by Kat Garelli. Our theme song is all fired up by the band Tralala. Hang in there, everybody, and thank you for listening. You are the bombe. I'll have what she's having.

Van Nguyen: Hi, my name is Van Nguyen. I'm the personal empowerment coach at Revival You, empowering individuals to grow through adversity using biohacking, giving insights into food, the mind, love, and more. Do you want to know who I think is the bombe? Linh Kieu, the owner and chef at, because Linh changed the way I experience Vietnam in LA, through locally sourced health driven food, cooking classes, meal kits, dinners at our clubhouse, and taught me how the dishes came to be. Can't seem to find Vietnam-made menu items in America? Don't worry, Linh has you covered. She is the Bombe!