'Tis the season, but these Seattle area bakers offer free treats year-round
It’s that time of year when home bakers are working overtime to produce holiday treats to share. But one Seattle baker has been at it year-round to bring some sweetness to her neighborhood.
Last year, Magnolia resident Lanne Stauffer turned her little free library into a little free bakery. And her efforts are going strong and have inspired similar efforts around Seattle.
Lanne Stauffer has had the same Tuesday morning ritual for the past year. On her kitchen counter there are two giant mixing bowls where she’s assembling the ingredients for today’s bake: pumpkin cranberry muffins. In one of the bowls she mixes pumpkin puree, eggs, vegetable oil, and her secret ingredient.
“I put cranberry juice in with the muffin,” Stauffer said. “[It] makes them a little sweeter.”
In the other bowl is a mixture of spelt flour, baking soda and salt that will soon be folded in with the wet ingredients. When the pandemic hit, people picked up new hobbies or adopted pets. But for Stauffer, baking has always been a refuge.
“For me growing up, food equaled love, and for me I wanted to do something that equaled love in a scary time and feeding people is that for me,” she said.
Sharing treats has turned her little free bakery into an ad hoc community hub.
“The little free bakery on a sunny day has become a gathering place for neighbors,” Stauffer said, “and they meet other neighbors and this has just felt like a wonderful community.”
Sometimes other people pitch in as guest bakers. Or they contribute to the cause. One neighbor donated her professional grade muffin pans from her catering days.
Outside of Stauffer’s neighborhood, little free bakeries are popping up. Beth Altman started one in her Maple Leaf neighborhood. Like Stauffer, Altman likes to bake for fun and would often share the treats at work.
“I love cookbooks, I like reading recipes, I really like seasonal baking,” Altman said. But when the pandemic hit, that outlet was gone, until she read about Stauffer’s little free bakery.
“It just provides me this opportunity to try different types of recipes without having to figure out how am I going to eat all of it,” Altman said.
Based on her Instagram account, there are 240 followers who are happy to help her with that.
One of the more recent little free bakeries to launch is in Redmond, courtesy of Deborah Voll.
“What makes my little bakery a little more unique is that I decided to add a dog treat box at the bottom,” Voll said. “So not only do we have treats for humans, we have treats for furry friends.”
Voll’s box is also stocked with books, so there’s something for everyone.
“What I’ve been getting from it, really, is satisfaction that I’m putting a smile on people’s faces,” Voll said.
There is no one way to host a little free bakery. Food writer Jill Lightner tests recipes and stocks up her little free bakery in Columbia City. She says you don’t need a license, but it helps to have a food handler’s permit.
“If you’ve never had a food handler’s card I think it’s useful so you have some kind of actual knowledge to back up your common sense,” Lightner said.
The hardest part may be deciding what to make.
“If somebody wants to open a little free cookies-only bakery, or they only want to make pie, or they want to make pickles, do it!” Lightner said.
After all, it’s your box, your rules.
Back in Magnolia, Lanne Stauffer opens the oven to check if the muffins are ready.
“Perfect,” she said approvingly. “Now I’ll let them cool… I usually bag them an hour before I put them in the bakery.”
Meanwhile, her husband Ryan finishes writing on the sign board that will be posted outside the bakery box.
Reflecting on the half a dozen little free bakeries that have since launched, Stauffer beamed.
“I’m excited," she said. "I want everyone to experience what I experience, which is just joy.”
Plus, who doesn’t love a home-baked item?