Bakesale for Japan_outside

Genny McAuley is a writer and editor, who reads and cooks in Oakland, CA. Follow her on Twitter @gengen.

Here Genny shares her experience being an official Recipe Club representative at the Bakesale for Japan, where she baked cupcakes from Gluten-Free Cupcakes by Elana Amsterdam (on sale April 26th from Ten Speed Press), and made a sweet donation to Peace Winds Japan, in more ways than one.

When Haiti was devastated by a 7.0 earthquake in January 2010, Samin Nosrat, a Berkeley, California–based chef and writer, gathered her food world friends to help in the best way they knew how: by cooking. They organized a bake sale at three locations in the Bay Area with the ambitious goal of raising $10,000. Amazingly, by the end of the day, they had raised more than $23,000 to go directly to Haiti. As news poured in this past March about Japan’s catastrophic tsunami and earthquakes, Samin decided to do it again. The event went viral and soon, a simultaneous nationwide bake sale was set to occur in locations from Hawaii to Massachusetts on Saturday, April 2, 2011.

After responding to Samin’s call-for-bakers through Twitter, I started getting updates on the planning process. Pretty rapidly, her goal of matching $23,000 was surpassed by a goal of $100,000. Lofty goal for a bake sale, but who am I to judge? Might as well shoot for the stars for a good cause.

I spent last Friday night in my little kitchen, measuring and stirring, excited to be testing out a few recipes from Elana Amsterdam’s new cookbook Gluten-Free Cupcakes. No, I don’t have celiac disease or any form of gluten intolerance, but a growing number of my friends do, so I’m always eager to find new recipes everyone can enjoy. Elana’s previous cookbook, The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook (Ten Speed Press), holds a prominent place on my bookshelf not just because it caters to my friends’ food allergies, but because I love that she bakes without using refined white sugar. The same holds true in the new cupcake book and honestly, it’s such a relief not to pour that white grainy stuff into my batter. Many of Elana’s recipes are easily vegan-friendly by using egg replacer rather than eggs, too, which I used Bob’s Red Mill Egg Replacer for this project.

Bakesale for Japan_Salt, Coconut Flour, Almond Flour, Baking soda

Bakesale for Japan_Orange & Rosemary

Anyway, back to the baking. The recipes in Gluten-Free Cupcakes call for both almond flour and coconut flour. I’d never even heard of coconut flour before, but let me tell you: I’m sold. It’s light and fluffy and the only flour that has filled my kitchen with a tropical scent. I started with a double batch of the Orange Rosemary Cupcakes, zesting organic navels and chopping rosemary from my window box herb garden. While those baked, I got to work on the two batters needed for the Cookie Surprise Cupcakes. I rolled the chocolate chip cookie dough into balls and covered them with rich cocoa batter. The kids at the bake sale were going to love these cupcakes. Heck, I was going to love them; two desserts in one, what could be better?

Bakesale for Japan_Orange Rosemary Cupcake Batter 2

Bakesale for Japan_Cookies, surprise!

I’ll tell you what’s better: Elana’s Vegan Chocolate Frosting. Oh. My. God. She says in the header for the recipe that she eats it with a spoon, but I wish she told us how she stops eating it. What came out of that recipe is the most decadent, rich, and smooth chocolate I’ve had. It knocks Nutella out of the park on spoonability. Is it possible to be simultaneously thankful and very angry with Elana for putting this recipe in the book? If I gain ten pounds, at least it’ll be a delicious process and I’ll know whom to blame.

But I digress. On Saturday morning, I packed the cooled and frosted cakes into plastic cupcake boxes (I made a vegan orange buttercream from Cybele Pascal’s The Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook for the Orange Rosemary Cupcakes), filled two canvas tote bags with my confections, and walked off to the bake sale at Pizzaiolo, a beloved Oakland restaurant specializing in wood-fired pizzas. At 8:45 a.m. on a Saturday morning, people were already out of the house, drinking coffee in the sun after weeks of constant rain. Prime time to grab a homemade treat in Oakland, California, if I’ve ever seen one.

Bakesale for Japan_5088

The moment I walked into Pizzaiolo, my fears of Samin’s grandiose goals were erased. At the front of the restaurant, there was a lovely display of baked goods spread across four wooden tables-for-two and a talkative queue, fifteen or so deep, waiting to peruse the goods before making their donations to Peace Winds Japan. I walked to the back of the restaurant to drop off my cupcakes in the staging area and was met by the most astounding array of sweets I’ve ever encountered. Perfectly crackled ginger molasses cookies, grapefruit and plum jelly-filled grapefruit halves, Seville orange, ginger, and dark chocolate ganache tarts, chocolate-dipped lemon cake pops, and coconut vanilla mochi bites all filled just one of six heaping tables. Individual vanilla and chai crème brûlées donated from a local bakery sat next to dozens of plump Ziploc baggies with handwritten tags that read: “Pecan meringues.” As I nestled my cupcakes between pastry boxes stacked six high, all filled with professionally made cupcakes, I felt like a kid who spent all night making a great volcano for the science fair, only to show up the next morning to see she’s stationed right next to the NASA booth. But hey, there weren’t any other vegan, gluten-free orange-rosemary or cookie surprise cupcakes in the room; they’d find their niche market eventually.

Bakesale for Japan_Bakesale staging area 1

Bakesale for Japan_Bakesale staging area 3

After dropping my cupcakes and fears of getting lost in the crowd, I got to work running new treats to the front of the restaurant as stock ran low. My fellow volunteers and I were so busy that we didn’t even get a chance to introduce ourselves to each other for two hours! People came to the bake sale in droves, some buying a treat to eat with their morning coffee while others bought an array of sweets to present after dinner that evening. It was consistently busy and everyone was thrilled with the turnout, but still, we didn’t imagine there was going to be any way we could sell all of the thousands of baked goods that continued to arrive as the day went on. Lo and behold though, by 2:30 p.m. only a handful of goodies were left unsold. And yes, my cupcakes did end up finding their audience. One vegan, gluten-intolerant girl was so excited to find something at a bake sale that she could eat that she bought three of each! At three dollars suggested donation per cupcake, my thirty-six cupcakes ended up bringing in at least $108 for Peace Winds Japan. Not too shabby for just a few hours of baking time.

And that’s the thing about bake sales. With just a little time and effort, great things can happen. The guiding quote for the Bakesale for Japan was from Howard Zinn: “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”

Setting that inspirational quote in the setting of a bake sale makes change all the more attainable. Bake sales are a time-honored American tradition. They have the wholesome appeal of a child’s lemonade stand, but they also appeal to our sense of humanity, supporting a larger cause on a very local level. Bake sales are a way of taking something much larger than us, like a tremendous natural disaster, and giving us a way to help from afar. We band together with our whisks and measuring cups to make a difference.

Samin, and all of those who have organized bake sales before her, found a way to turn time, talent, and sweets into a substantial pot of cash. It was a privilege to participate in the event. At last count, the bake sale raised $76,000 and was still waiting to tally up the numbers from online donations as well as sixteen of the forty-two bake sale locations. Donations can still be made here:

Now, where’s that Vegan Chocolate Frosting recipe…?

Recipes from Gluten-Free Cupcakes by Elana Amsterdam

Read more about the ways Peace Winds Japan has been helping on the ground in Japan.

See Genny’s entire photo album on Flickr: Gluten-Free Cupcakes: Baking for Japan.