The headline blared, “A Bang-on-the-Pan All-Star.”
The celebrated baker is Sarah Kieffer, and that’s how the Columbia Heights blogger (thevanillabeanblog.com) and author of “The Vanilla Bean Baking Book” made her auspicious debut in the all-powerful pages of the New York Times.
The story, which appeared Oct. 4, chronicled Kieffer’s uncommon approach to creating chocolate chip cookies that are flat, wide and chewy, with crispy edges and decidedly wrinkled tops.
Her method was revealed in that headline. Yes, during the baking process, Kieffer enthusiastically slams the baking sheets against the oven’s rack, several times, causing the dough to deflate and sending distinctive ripples from the cookies’ center outward.
“If you’re having a bad day, it’s a good way to take out any aggressions,” she said with a laugh.
Now, her unorthodox technique is being practiced by Times readers all over the country.
“I still can’t believe it,” Kieffer said. “It’s so exciting.”
The hoopla started a little over a month ago, when Times food writer Julia Moskin contacted Kieffer.
“She said that she was curious about all the attention that the cookies were getting on Instagram,” said Kieffer.
Kieffer has a daily habit of posting images on Instagram (find her at @sarah_kieffer) of whatever she’s baking. Her chocolate chip cookies — chocolate-packed, wide and wavy, like an edible Shar-Pei — are perennial attention grabbers.
“More and more people are finding them, baking them and posting images of them,” Kieffer said. “It grew into a slow whisper over Instagram, and that’s what happened to catch the eye of the New York Times.”
Did it ever. “I grew curious,” wrote Moskin. “It seems impossible that there’s anything new to say about basic chocolate chip cookies. But a recipe that spreads across Instagram (and isn’t galaxy-, unicorn- or ombré-decorated) cannot be lightly dismissed.”
The story first appeared on the Times’ website, and when it did, Kieffer’s phone practically blew up.
“I think I got, like, 5,000 texts in that first hour,” she said with a laugh. “It was shocking. And super-nice, and fun.”
Just exactly how does Kieffer approach that baking sheet? “I open the oven door, I lift the pan up maybe 4 inches, and then I slam it down,” she said. “It’s a quick flick.”
She eventually discovered that utilizing the freezer, pre-baking, made for a better looking cookie.
“The dough spreads — a lot,” she said. “I found that briefly freezing it helped them keep their shape, and it kept the centers gooey, and the edges crispy, which I like.”
Rather than freezing the dough, it can also be refrigerated overnight, she noted.
“I find the dough just needs to be cold,” she said. “Refrigerating overnight essentially does the same work that freezing does. It also helps develop the flavors.”
Still, Kieffer prefers the convenience of turning to the freezer for 15 minutes rather than relying upon eight-plus hours in the refrigerator.
“When I want chocolate chip cookies, I want them right away,” she said. “I’m never thinking that far in advance.
“But if you’re a planner, the overnight method will work for you.”
On the subject of buying butter, she’s a fan of the output from Hope Creamery in Hope, Minn. But for this recipe, she reaches for less fatty Land O’Lakes butter, the unsalted stuff.
“Hope butter is so good,” she said. “But these cookies already spread a lot, and I’ve found that if I use Hope they’ll spread too much.”
With chocolate, Kieffer recommends Ghirardelli’s widely available 60 percent cacao bittersweet chocolate bars.
“I figure that most people are just going to go to the grocery store, they’re not getting fancy chocolate,” she said. “I’ve always liked bittersweet, although semisweet would work just fine.”
Celebrating in style
Those who follow her work know that Kieffer is also a gifted food photographer. She was shooting images for Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg, authors of the “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” cookbook series, when the Times story first appeared online. “Zoë broke open a bottle of Champagne,” she said. “We didn’t get much work done after that.”
Is Kieffer planning to frame her New York Times fame?
“Yes, but the Minnesotan in me feels a little self-conscious about it,” she said with a laugh. “Is it conceited to hang up your Times article in your house?”
Here are a few more kernels of chocolate chip cookie wisdom from “The Vanilla Bean Baking Book.”
• Chopped chocolate, yes; chocolate chips, no (“The cookies will not turn out the same,” Kieffer writes), but if that’s a deal-breaker, use 8 ounces of chips “and make the cookies 2 ½ ounces big,” she writes.
• Yes, the cookies are large (about 5 inches across), but there’s a reason why. Make them smaller, and “you won’t get as many ridges on the outer layer,” she writes. Plus, the cookies’ centers won’t attain their gooey best.
• Instead of parchment paper, try lining the baking sheets with aluminum foil, shiny side down. “The foil makes for an extra-crisp, golden brown bottom,” she writes.
• Finally, “the cookies are delicious warm, but I’ve found that I love them a couple of days later just as much,” Kieffer writes.” I usually store them in the fridge and sneak pieces of them cold.”
Rick Nelson • 612-673-4757 • @RickNelsonStrib