CARLA SCHIER MAKES some of the world’s best brownies. One of them, from her Honey Crumb Cake Studio in Seattle, is waiting near me right now. It’s at room temperature, but it smells as warmly, richly chocolatey as the first brownie ever pulled out of a hot oven, the one where the whoosh of the heat is still a little scary and you’re actually jumping up and down a bit, and Mom — or Dad, or your best friend’s older sister Annie, whoever’s making them — is your absolute hero. A few excruciating minutes later — the intolerable cooling, the magical cutting — comes one of life’s pure moments of happiness. For sure, a glass of milk will never be this good again.
The densely luxurious interior of the Honey Crumb brownie tastes almost boozily rich, with little hits of pure chocolate throughout functioning as tiny, unexpected extra pleasure-bombs. Meanwhile, a topside crispiness gives a front-teeth-pleasing contrast (Schier calls that the “crinkle”). It’s a brownie that matches memory via pure sensory overload. It’s also one that goes above and beyond mere Proustian greatness, for this brownie is vegan and gluten-free. This means everyone can have it, and Schier wants everyone to have the recipe.
“If you are really closely guarding your recipes,” Schier says, “your spirit is in the wrong place.” Instead of buying “all the weird processed food” in supermarkets that’s vegan and/or gluten-free, she wants everybody to bake from scratch at home. “Making it, in itself, is an act of health and an act of caring for yourself,” she opines. “I think it cancels out the sugar!” She laughs.
Schier started Honey Crumb Cake Studio in 2010, making mostly, per the name, cakes, though dabbling in other “fun little goodies” along the way for weddings and other events. Her work found many a happy reception, with business only getting better as a decade-plus passed.
“And then the pandemic came,” Schier says. It has not been kind, to say the least, to wedding-cake makers — postponements and cancellations began last March, accelerating from there. Scrambling to keep the Honey Crumb afloat, Schier offered credit that could be saved for later, when big celebrations with her elegant many-layered cakes would make sense again. Or that credit could be applied, over time, to offerings from the new Honey Crumb online store: Maldon-salted, crispy-and-chewy chocolate chip cookies; beautifully bright macarons; the absurdly good brownies; “party-at-home” mini-cakes for special occasions or just to brighten a quarantine day.
Most of Schier’s would-be wedding clients were overjoyed to show support, stopping by Honey Crumb’s space on Western near the foot of Denny to knock on the window for contact-free handoffs of extraordinarily tasty, pink-boxed treats. But a few exceptionally disappointed people — Schier herself, ever polite, wouldn’t say it herself, but “entitled” and a few stronger words come to mind — took to online reviews to excoriate her for not offering refunds, even threatening lawsuits. It was hard for her, “a depressing thing to realize that there were people that were so selfish … that they would go low in a moment like that.”
Schier also was “confused and horrified” to find herself turning away requests for cakes for “150 people during lockdown when … no receptions are allowed. They don’t care.” At Honey Crumb, she asserts, “We believe in science.” At first, she’d question the plans of those inquiring — conversations that did not end amicably. Eventually, she arrived at “the least incendiary thing for me to say … ‘We have chosen to be compliant [with governmental regulations].’ So, sorry — no cake for you.”
Happily, many others celebrating COVID-19-era nuptials turned to “little elopement cakes” — enough for the couple and their officiant, maybe also a pod. “We love those!” Schier says. She and fellow baker Chrissy Gordon pour all the creativity they mustered for huge wedding cakes into the mini ones, “a real treat to make.” A Canadian and American couple who had been stuck across the border from each other got married there this winter, celebrating at the Peace Arch with a Honey Crumb cake decorated, at the bride’s request, with sugar daffodils to symbolize new life. “And it was such a beautiful little, sweet, perfect cake …” Schier recalls. “That’s one that sticks out.”
Another pandemic year standout — not for a wedding, however — is the baby Trump balloon they re-created out of cake. “We lost a lot of followers on Instagram for posting [it]!” Schier says, laughing. “It was great — I thought, ‘Thank you all for unfollowing me, because now I know who you are, and I don’t want to make cakes for you, anyway.’ ”
Along the way, Honey Crumb also started a subscription-model Quarantine Cake Club, getting what Schier calls “an amazing, incredible, great, lots-of-hyperbole response!” She just thought it’d be fun, but, “People were so excited.” The Cake Club gave people something to look forward to, and the cakes themselves gave people something to celebrate. The income from it, along with the online store, has been paying Honey Crumb’s bills, but also, Schier says, giving her a new sense of community and the place of her business within it.
“It did remind me about the things that I really care about and the reason why I started this business, and it’s not about the cake …” she says. “It’s always about the things that the cakes are for, and the way that people are brought into the present.” Much like an especially marvelous brownie, cakes make you pay attention to the moment, while also bringing back some of your best moments ever. “Because every time you see a cake as an adult, you have to think about the cakes that you used to have when you were a kid, or the times that you felt celebrated,” Schier observes. “So for me, it acquired this whole kind of symbolic gravity that I really needed it to have during the pandemic.” She laughs, but she means it.
Honey Crumb Cake Studio’s Absurdly Good Vegan/Gluten-Free Brownies
Makes 6 large brownies or 8-12 small ones
We love Azure Standard, which makes monthly deliveries of preordered bulk organic foods to the parking lot of the Old Rainier Brewery in Georgetown. We also love Costco, which stocks the organic cane sugar, Namaste-brand organic/GF flour, organic maple syrup, organic coconut oil and raw organic cocoa powder that we use in this recipe. — Carla Schier, Honey Crumb Cake Studio
¼ cup (60 g) natural almond butter or natural peanut butter (we recommend using the unsalted, “creamy”/smooth kind; you can use almost any seed/nut butter you like, except tahini)
½ cup (100 g) organic unbleached cane sugar, coconut sugar or granulated cane sugar
⅓ cup (113 g) maple syrup
¼ cup + 2 tablespoons (81 g) melted coconut oil (the Kirkland Signature Organic Virgin Coconut Oil from Costco is great)
¾ cup (75 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
¼ teaspoon salt
2 flax eggs (2 tablespoons golden flaxseed meal + 6 tablespoons water; whisk together, set aside in fridge for 15 mins)
¼ cup + 2 tablespoons (55 g) gluten-free flour (we recommend the Gluten-Free Organic Perfect Flour Blend by Namaste, or you can use Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free 1:1 Baking Flour)
½ cup (80 g) vegan chocolate chips (we like the Organic Bittersweet Chocolate Chips from Azure Market Organics)
1. Heat your oven to 325° F. Line a 6-inch-square baking pan, or a 9-by-5-inch loaf tin, with parchment paper or greased foil.
2. In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the almond butter, sugar, maple syrup and melted coconut oil until the batter is homogeneous.
3. Mix in the cocoa powder, a quarter-cup at a time, whisking until the mixture is smooth and shiny. Whisk in vanilla, salt and flax eggs.
4. Fold the GF flour into your batter, one-third at a time, using a rubber spatula. The batter will start to become more dough-like, albeit very soft, with no specks of flour. Fold in the chocolate chips.
5. Scrape batter into baking pan. Using a spatula, even out the batter.
6. Bake for 26-34 minutes (ours usually take about 30 minutes). Allow to cool completely before slicing. Divide into 6-12 brownies. Enjoy at room temperature or warmed with a scoop of plant-based ice cream on top.
Honey Crumb Cake Studio: 177 Western Ave. W., Suite 268-A, Seattle (by appointment/for online order pickup only); 425-577-9220; honeycrumb.com
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.