I am not a baker. Thought I’d be honest and get it out there. Even though I do bake from time to time I definitely have a comfort-zone where baking is concerned. So when I received a copy of Hayley McKee’s Sticky Fingers Green Thumb cookbook I had all the feels — mainly a mixture of excitement and trepidation (I mean, just look at that glorious layer cake on the front cover! It’s magic!). What I found when I got past the front cover is a baking book full of delicious and really accessible recipes.
But this is no ordinary baking cookbook because, in some ways, it’s really two books: baking and gardening. Since 2010 Hayley McKee, a self-taught baker, has been exploring the intricate nexus between these two subjects. Her Sticky Fingers Bakery was born from her desire to use natural ingredients to create desserts that “taste of nature.” After trying several of her recipes I can attest to the fact that she has created bold recipes that are honest and true to flavour. If I told you each recipe worked to use underused baking ingredients such as vegetables, herbs, or edible flowers you might scream “Gimmick!” at the addition of porcini to a cake or eggplant to a brownie. The honest truth is that she thoughtfully incorporates and pairs these ingredients in such a way that when you take your first bite it feels delicious, as though you can’t imagine how these ingredients for baked sweets were ever missed.
What I really appreciated is the fact that, although vegetables are used, her recipes stay true the notion that a baked treat should be an indulgence. I can speak from firsthand experience that I’ve tried “healthy” brownies full of beet or sweet potato and they (usually) lack. I wonder: why even bother heathifying a baking recipe at all if the results are going to taste like you hate yourself or hate baking? Honestly if I’m going to go to the trouble of baking the end product has to be worth it. Worth the time. Worth the effort. Worth the ingredients. Just plain worth it. Making and baking recipes from Sticky Fingers Green Thumb I’ve found recipes which on one hand are beautifully indulgent but on the other look to nature, seasonality, and gardening for that beauty and indulgence.
After her introduction the first part of the book goes in depth explaining and exploring how to grow, then use natural ingredients (first vegetables, then herbs and edible flowers), as well as imparting her baking “know-how” and giving novice bakers (such as myself) good tips and ways to troubleshoot (so instead of getting anxious the next time my cookies bake together on the sheet I’ll just get out the cookie cutter and make new shapes!) If you’re going to try your hand at baking I’d really stick with her advice of using a proper kitchen scale — it’ll really have a positive effect on the outcome of your baking projects!
The remaining chapters on Cakes and Sweet snacks are full of interesting and enticing combinations. Although not a baking book focused on the specifics of the dietary needs of those vegan or gluten-free folk I feel like (at least with the recipes I tried) using vegan substitutes for eggs and dairy would work great with her recipes. Out of the the recipes I tried, I did make a vegan version of her Avocado and Pea cookies by using a flax egg and maple flakes. The resulting cookies were wonderful! I quite enjoyed their pillowy texture (I think out of all the recipes I tried, these were my 4-year-old’s favourite!).
All of the ingredients were relatively easy to source and while she suggests growing chamomile on the windowsill I knew I couldn’t wait that long so I improvised and just used organic dried chamomile from tea. Not knowing the counterfactual I thought that this cake tasted really amazing — delicately floral with the hint of white chocolate and an indulgent buttery texture. Many of the recipes included final notes on growing particular ingredients or just fun facts on some ingredients. Did you know that the avocado is nicknamed “alligator pear”?
Normally when I try recipes from the cookbooks I receive I usually like to try around 10 or so before I write my review. Being the first book I’ve reviewed that’s solely dedicated to baking I decided on trying 5 recipes — if you’re curious to see what I tried you can visit my dedicated Facebook post or my custom Instagram hashtag #stickyfingersgreenthumbtotallyeatworthy. What I found with those five recipes I made is that each one had it’s own texture and flavour. For example while the Chamomile and White Chocolate Cake was luxuriously buttery and floral, the Coffee, Banana, and Zucchini Cake was moist and rich. Side convo here — let’s talk about this cake! People who know me irl know that I secretly rage against banana bread. I feel that it’s overused and unoriginal. No, that poor banana bread did nothing to me and I’m not picking on it but almost every recipe developer out there wheels out a “new” version leading to an absolute glut of banana bread on google. A googolplex of banana bread recipes? Oh probably. McKee’s recipe though is really inspired! The combination of the rich, dark coffee, sweet bananas, and moist zucchini is incredible — topped off with that butterscotch sauce and now you’ve got a “forever recipe.” I had a friend visiting over the weekend and even she was quite taken by this cake. It’s really special and totally worth making.
You may have noticed from the pictures that I’m a little Nordic Ware obsessed. For someone who’s not a baker the easiest way to add a little flair and a “wow factor” is to use a specialty baking pan (not sponsored, just adored!) While McKee’s recipes use regular loaf pans or round cake pans I thought I’d see how some of my Nordic Ware would fair and as you can see from the resulting cakes: wow! With the Coffee, Banana, and Zucchini cake I used a 6-cup capacity small bundt pan, with the Chamomile and White Chocolate I used a 6-cup capacity loaf pan, and with the Raspberry, Orange, and Basil Oil I used 2 small loaf pans and a 3-cup capacity cakelet pan.
While exploring seasonality and natural elements of baking what McKee has done is to write a cookbook full of delicious, accessible, and unique baked sweets and treats. Perfect for any occasion from birthdays or weddings to a quiet afternoon coffee (or tea!) In her own words: Vegetables, herbs and edible flowers gave me vivid flavours to explore and offered a savoury-sweet balance that satisfied without overwhelming.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Raincoast Books and Hardie Grant Books for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own