The 2017 Piglet

What You Learned & Loved in The Vanilla Bean Baking Book

March  6, 2017

Sarah Kieffer learned to bake in tiny kitchens in the back of coffeehouses and bakeries in Minnesota. She began the Vanilla Bean blog to create a culinary heritage for her family, but soon became passionate about making the joys of baking accessible for all.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

Then came along her cookbook, The Vanilla Bean Baking Book, which our readers have selected as a 2017 Piglet Community Pick. It's her trifecta of welcoming photography, recipes, and storytelling that our readers were most taken by.

Imagine sitting at a scrubbed wooden table on a cold morning, warm mug of coffee in your hands, with the scent of cinnamon and butter coming slowly out of your oven and filling the house—that's what this book is all about.
Sarah Coates

Read on for more from our community about what they learned and liked best:

Inspirational Photos

Photo by Bobbi Lin

Readers found the Kieffer's photographs "lovely," "beautiful," "minimally well-styled," and "unassuming." Community reviewer Scott Oliver Beck couldn't believe how realistic they were:

"From the first moment, when you're enchanted by the cover and all of the beautiful photos inside—to that last moment when you are standing in your kitchen looking at that amazing creation you have whipped up with your own two hands, shaking your head and saying out lout, "I can't believe I was able to bake that!"—this book gives every baker the ability to succeed and feel proud of finally having full-proof recipes that will fly your taste buds out of this world!"

classic, dependable recipes

Bakers who are looking for recipes with alternative flours, sweeteners, and vegan ingredients might want to head elsewhere (perhaps to another Community Pick cookbook). This book is filled with baked goods that, as community reviewer Amy Harper put it, would be found in the "perfect pastry case I want to find in my favorite corner coffeehouse." The ingredients called on aren't fancy or inaccessible—Amy appreciated Sarah's thriftiness: "We don’t have to attend culinary school or buy the most expensive ingredients in order to be successful bakers! "

Community reviewer Linda S. Mueller said "Sarah Kieffer's mastery of baking is evident on every page of this artfully-photographed, precise baking guide and recipes." Scott has made over a dozen recipes, and none of them have failed him. The recipes all have both imperial and metric measurements and "friendly tips and special notes for ease of baking"; the instructions are "clear, reproducible, and not fussy" and include "helpful visual cues."

In terms of standout recipes, two people mentioned the scones.

Sarah's scones are the way all scones should taste and be textured. Gone are the days of when people thought scones should be dry and crumbly because these are moist and delicious and you can do lots of different variations. The best compliments I receive about her scones are from people who have said they usually hate scones! There is nothing more gratifying then having someone love a food they have said they didn't.

Another reader chose a Bundt cake:

"Friends and strangers, please make the Orange-Cranberry Bundt Cake your gateway to this book. I’ve made this cake three times, and all have turned out perfectly delicious. The flavor combination of the sweet citrus with the tart cranberry baked into a melt-in-your mouth soft pound cake can and should be enjoyed morning, noon, and night."

A Friendly Guide

The warmth of Ms. Kieffer's writing is a delight.
Linda S. Mueller, community reviewer

While Sarah knows how to write a clear, easy-to-follow recipe, it's her welcoming, personable tone that made our readers what to cozy up with the book—and get to know her:

"As a former Classicist, I love that Sarah includes a ‘nod to the food gods’ in her introduction and invokes Hestia, the goddess of the hearth, to remind us bakers to follow the guidelines, respect the ingredients, but also to take pleasure and have fun in the process," Amy Harper explains, "And, of final note, I found Sarah’s unapologetic references to The Lord of the Rings trilogy amusing, and so appropriate. It really is like she wrote this book just for me."

2017's roster of Piglet Community Picks were chosen by an open call to our community; the reviews you see here are from some of the folks who voted these books into the tournament. To see other Piglet Community Picks reviews, head here.

The Vanilla Bean Baking Book is available wherever books are sold.


The Piglet—inspired by The Morning News' Tournament of Books—is where the 16 most notable cookbooks of the year face off in a NCAA-style bracketed tournament. Watch the action and weigh in on the results!


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Editor/writer/stylist. Author of I Dream of Dinner (so You Don't Have To). Last name rhymes with bagel.