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Hint of Vanilla
Megan is a pastry chef, and on Hint of Vanilla, she shares her kitchen experiments, trials and tribulations, and it’s also where she unwinds and relaxes after a long week.
I am so psyched to have Megan Voigt from Hint of Vanilla on the show today.
On Why She Started Her Blog:
It’s a bit of an odd story.
I was in university because I didn’t really know what else to do. That was just kind of what I expected. I thought I would find what I wanted to do while I was in university, but it never really ended up happening.
I was actually doing classical archeology, so that was very different from what I ended up doing now.
On one of my summers, I decided to go to South Africa to volunteer on a wildlife preserve for two months, and that was amazing, and I loved it. It was just a fun thing.
One night, one of the staff members was just kind of talking about what they would do if they could do anything in the world, and money was no object, and they’re asking us.
It came to me, and I said, “Well, you know, I like baking, so I’d probably just take some classes, maybe get a bit more into it,” because, at that point, I was just doing cookies or scones, nothing really fancy at all. She said, “Well, why don’t you do that now? You can still do that. You can do that!” I was like, “No, no way.”
That wasn’t even on my radar. It wasn’t even a possibility at the time, but after that, that kind of planted the seed for me, and then I started to think more about it. I did one more semester at university, and during that semester, all I could think about was pastry school and going to pastry school.
The problem was my parents were not very convinced because it was pretty sudden. They thought, “Mm, we don’t really want to just put you into a very expensive pastry school that might just be a phase.” So I decided to start a blog because I wasn’t living with my parents at the time. I had moved out. So if they could see that I was baking all the time, they could see the things that I was making, then they would kind of get behind my decision to go to pastry school.
That’s kind of how the blog started. It was just, “I want to show my parents what I’m making, and, you know, I might as well start a blog while I’m at it, I guess.”
They were like, “Do you even bake?” I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, I do sometimes.” But I didn’t really do it that often, and to be honest, I wasn’t 100% sure that I wanted to go to pastry school. It just was a kind of gut feeling.
But I started my blog in September of 2012, right at the beginning of that last semester of school, and the more I went with my blog, the more I convinced myself that this is what I wanted to do. I became so sure like, “Yeah, this is exactly what I want to do.” I love it, I love it.
It’s all I could think about was what am I going to make on the weekend for my blog, new ideas, getting books and everything. That January I enrolled in pastry school to start in July, and I stopped going to university, which my parents were not super happy about, but they kind of understood.
On Choosing Pastry School Over Culinary School:
I do like cooking at home, and I do like the fact that nothing’s measured, and it’s just all taste as you go. That’s really cool, but I would never want to do it as a career.
I’m not as passionate about it, and there is more of a demand for line cooks rather than pastry cooks because most places, restaurants or hotels, they’ll have a large savory team, but they might only have one or two people for pastry, or they might just buy in all the desserts.
So, if I had gotten a culinary degree as well as a pastry, I feel like people would have offered me culinary jobs, and then I would have kind of taken them hoping to get into pastry, but I never really would have.
I wanted to put all my effort into pastry and really just focus on that.
On What She Learned in Pastry School Besides Pastries:
Working as a team was a big thing because obviously university it’s like everyone’s trying to get ahead. Everyone’s trying to beat the next person, and I’m a very independent person. I used to not like working as a team, but now I have no choice, and that was a big thing.
Even if you don’t necessarily get along with the people you work with, you have to work as a team, no matter what. You’ve got to leave all that drama at the door, and you’ve just got to work together really well. So that’s a good life skill for me as well.
On Her Love of Food:
Growing up, my parents, they weren’t like super, super foodies. My parents got divorced when I was quite young, but they stayed friends. My dad all of a sudden had to cook for himself. We pretty much ate cereal for a lot of dinners, and we were fine with that, but then he’s like, “All right, I’ve really got to learn how to cook for my kids.” It went from him literally not even being able to make pizza . . . I remember he made this salty, salty pizza, one that was inedible, and now he’s an incredible, incredible cook.
Obviously, he’s still got his day job. He’s not a chef, but seeing him learn and teach himself how to cook and really, really loving it and seeing him in the kitchen all the time making these meals and not having prepackaged stuff, all of it was from scratch.
And that was just normal for me growing up. “Oh, yeah, I’ll make this from scratch or make that or fresh vegetables.” We had a garden as well, which has been a huge thing for me. I wish I had a backyard for a garden.
Just being exposed to that was a really big thing. I hadn’t really realized it until the past year or two that it really had a big impact on me, having that presence of home-cooked food and really taking the time and the effort to prepare a meal rather than getting takeout.
I bake for him all the time. He lives very close to me, so I go over for dinners all the time, and he’ll cook, and I’ll bring dessert, or I’ll bring bread, and he absolutely loves my bread. He just goes nuts, and my stepmom, she got into bread as well, so I’ve been kind of teaching her a little bit. It’s awesome.
It’s funny because my brother actually brews his own beer, and so he brings the beer, I bring the bread, Dad brings the food, and there we go! It works out great.
We’ve joked about opening a restaurant so many times, but I don’t know if it’ll ever happen.
Tips For Making Bread For the First Time:
First of all, you don’t need a bread maker. Your bread maker is your hands.
When you just get the right kind of bread, it’s so easy. You do it once, and you’re like, “Oh, my God! Why has it taken me this long to make bread this good by myself?”
I was also a little bit intimidated about yeast and stuff, because it’s not like, “Oh, wait thirty minutes and it’s ready to go.” You kind of have to feel it and look at it and see, and if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it can definitely be intimidating. But if you mess up, it’s just some flour and some water. It’s not like you’re wasting a lot of money on that, and the results are really amazing.
For me, it’s just find a good recipe, preferably one of those no-knead recipes like I’ve got on my blog. Almost all the breads on my blog are a long fermentation and very little work, just a lot of time.
Those are great breads to really start off with because they’re very forgiving. If you let it proof a little bit too less or too much, it’s all right, it still produces a pretty good bread. Once you make it for the first time, and you taste the bread, it’s an addiction. You can’t go back.
Once you know the basics of it, you can just kind of really do whatever you want. A lot of the recipes that I have on my blog… I have a few basic ones, and then I just added stuff to it, like, “Yeah, I’m going to put some olives in this one, sure, or I’m going to put this into it!” As long as you’re not adding too much moisture or too much inclusions.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
Top Chef is my favorite. Chopped can be good and bad.
What are some food blogs or websites that we have to know about?
I follow so many. Food52 is great because they feature blogs from all over, and so it’s a great way to really get introduced to a lot of different kinds of blogs.
One of my favorite blogs is My Name is Yeh.
Although, she just got married, so I don’t know if the blog is going to be the same anymore. Her photography is really great. I really enjoy her photography, and the things she makes, it’s very fun. It’s very kind of just messing around and fun flavors and just fun things.
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram or Twitter that make you happy?
Oh, my gosh. Well, once again, I follow a lot of bloggers on Pinterest and on Instagram.
There’s this one blogger I follow on Instagram. I don’t like dogs very much. I’m very much a cat person, but her name’s Adrianna, and her blog is called A Cozy Kitchen. She has photos of her little corgi, and sometimes she’ll have photos of a nicely styled shoot with food, but then her dog is actually eating something in the corner, and it’s adorable, and it kinda makes me want a dog.
What is something all home cooks should have in their pantry?
A scale, a digital scale is 100% what you have to have.
I know it seems like “Ew, only professionals use scales or measurements like that,” but really, cups and things like that are just not cutting it anymore. It’s never going to be consistent. It’s never precise. You know, if you fill it a little bit more than a cup, you’re like, “Eh, whatever, it’ll be fine.”
For some recipes, yeah, it’s okay, but for some it’s not.
But with grams it’s so easy. You’re just like, “Okay, 76 grams.” It’s a number.
If you want to half a recipe, or if you want to double a recipe, it’s just simple. I was always really terrible with fractions at school. So grams for me are just 100% the way to go and a kitchen scale.
I recommend every person who’s into baking… scale! Get a scale!
Name one ingredient you cannot live without?
Vanilla beans. Absolutely vanilla beans or, I mean, vanilla paste.
It’s very similar, but to me, I love vanilla, I mean, my blog is called Hint of Vanilla.
I think real vanilla beans and real vanilla paste is just such an incredible ingredient. The smell and the taste, it’s so amazing! It’s so fragrant, so flavorful, and it’s such a classic flavor combination of… well, vanilla can go with anything.
I think vanilla extract is nice but the vanilla beans are really, really where you should be investing your money.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller. I have used so many recipes in that cookbook. It’s unbelievable.
I love the detail he puts into all the recipes and all the kind of reasoning behind it. It’s not just do this and do that and do this. It’s do this because, blah, blah, blah, and do that because, and so that gives a lot of knowledge as well as, “Oh, yeah, you’re learning the recipe,” but you’re learning the ins and outs of it as well as you’re doing it.
And Elements of Desserts by Frances J. Migoya is a really cool one. I’ve used less recipes just because there’s hundreds of them in there, and a lot of them can be difficult or they require really specialized ingredients or specialized tools, which obviously I don’t have.
I really love just getting inspiration from those books. I go look through it, and I’ll get ideas, and like, “Oh, I love those flavor combinations” or “I love that idea for that cake or something.” I really get a lot of inspiration just by looking through the pages.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
That’s a tough one because I normally just put my phone on shuffle.
Coldplay’s one of my favorite bands. A lot of their stuff is pretty slow, but Viva la Vida and Mylo Xyloto, those are two albums that kind of are more upbeat.
Especially Mylo Xyloto, there are some songs in there that are really kinda dance-y songs. That’s probably one of my go-to ones is Mylo Xyloto by Coldplay.
Keep Posted on Megan:
I’ve got a Facebook page for my blog. It’s under the same name, A Hint of Vanilla. I also have an Instagram account, which is under my name, MeganLeeVoigt.
You could also follow me on bloglovin’, which is a great website for keeping up with all the blogs that you follow in one place, and you can actually find all of those social media websites on my blog. I’ve got a link to them, and, yeah, you can stay posted on all the wonderful things that I make.