Berry Buckles, Carrot Cake, and Piles of Magazine Clippings: How My Mother-in-Law Inspired My Baking

published May 8, 2022
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Credit: Photos: Nico Schinco

Unbeknownst to her, my mother-​in-​law is a snackable baker from way back. Her recipes check all the snackable boxes — ​easy, short ingredient lists, simple instructions, speedy assembly — ​and I reference them throughout the chapters in my new book, Snackable Bakes, because I truly can’t help myself. I mean, not only is she an excellent baker (and cook), but it’s all comfort food, all the time, and for me that just seals the deal.

From mac-​n-​cheese made from a block of Velveeta and a jar of Cheez Whiz (please don’t knock it till you’ve tried it) to leg of lamb with mint jelly (on Easter) to the best lobster rolls ever (we’re talking Pepperidge Farm rolls grilled in butter alongside a small bag of Cape Cod potato chips, and we’re talking heaven) to spectacular hot dogs (I know, hot dogs?! But yes: hot dogs), to pies and cakes and crisps and bar cookies, she can make anything and everything deliciously. And although she very occasionally plays a little hard to get when asked to share one of her unfussy recipes, with a little persistence she gives up the gold (in the form of a handwritten index card) and (usually) doesn’t feign ignorance when you ask her to clarify a missing amount or illegible ingredient.

Her recipe collection is vast, including those passed on to her by old friends and my husband’s grandmother, as well as those she clipped from the back of a can or a box. But in addition, many come from my MIL’s impressive magazine collection. From Martha Stewart to Cook’s Illustrated to Fine Cooking to Yankee Magazine to many others I cannot even recall, for years, my mother-​in-​law read them all, transcribing the recipes that excited her and then saving the magazines themselves for a rainy day (aka me).

In short, my MIL has not only inspired my snackable baking in the most traditional of ways — ​by sharing her recipes with me —​but she also provided me with such an excellent “primary source,” as it were, in the hundreds of magazines she sent me over the years. Even today, I love leafing through the recipes I saved from those old food mags. There’s nothing like seeing Martha in some early ’90s garb with a tray of cookies in hand, to really get the baking juices flowing.

Ready to get baking? Start with these three recipes, all inspired by my MIL.

Credit: Nico Schinco

Nonnie’s Best-Ever Carrot Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
My mother-​in-​law’s carrot cake is the stuff of legends. It is a moist, sweet, slightly spiced layer cake, with some sweetened shredded coconut folded in for good measure, and a thick, finger-​licking-​good, tangy cream cheese frosting.

Credit: Nico Schinco

Cranberry Vanilla Breakfast Buckle
This crumble-topped breakfast bread is loaded with tart, juicy cranberries. The vanilla-​infused, tender crumbed-​cake is great with coffee for breakfast or a mug of tea in the afternoon.

Credit: Nico Schinco

Tahini Milk Chocolate Bars
These nutty, chewy bar cookies are based on my MIL’s Oh Henry bars. Here, I swapped out the peanut butter for tahini and sprinkled some flaky salt on top of the rich chocolate glaze.