EyeSwoon

I was first introduced to Britt Maren at Williamsburg’s hottest new eatery, The Heyward. One of my oldest NYC friends is one of the owners and as chance would have it, Britt’s husband is the chef. After having a swoon-worthy dinner cooked by her man Chef Derek Orell, I met Britt who was in the dining room eating with friends. I didn’t know it yet, but I had just met another swoony, food lovin’ soulmate. You meet, you chat, you follow on Instagram and the next thing you know it’s abundantly clear that you’re more than like-minded. While Britt just so happens to be a highly in demand model, she’s also an accomplished baker who admits being in the kitchen makes her not only smitten, it makes her euphoric. So naturally, we had to bake together!

I arrived at Britt’s gorgeous Bklyn home and entered a kitchen prepped to perfection. Everything was laid out and measured and I knew she was a girl after my own heart. One who can’t get enough of life’s sweet indulgences like dessert, baked goods and breads. While she may be proud of her Texas roots, her current culinary style could not be further from the border. But don’t worry she’ll make something sweet with a Texas peach any chance you give her! As we started to get to work we found out we have more in common than we even knew. Not only does a sincere love of baking bring us both a sense of calm and the accomplishment of creation, we were both married at the crazy young age of 23 and have spent many years since perusing food blogs for inspiration. The result is a baking style that is both decadent and adventurous as Britt experiments with recipes to bring out their healthy side. The vegan chocolate salted caramel layer cake we set out to make is a true example of Britt’s better-for-you baking put to work. Did I mention we coated it in toasted coconut?! Totally swoon-a-licious!

Britt shared some of her tried and true baking tricks. Like, creating a crumb layer of frosting which is just a thin coating that’s not pretty or even, but covers the cake. Then you can let it sit in the fridge for 20 mins before doing your actual frosting, so that nothing crumbles! Dipping your spatula in a glass of warm water also helps ensure you get a smooth layer. Pro-tip: when you put your cake on a platter, trim the bottom edge with parchment paper so that when you’re done frosting you can remove it and be left with a clean as can be serving platter!

As we baked I asked Britt what it was like to be married to a chef – imagining her and Derek in the kitchen in a pottery wheel moment a la Ghost – but because of the realities of the restaurant industry Britt admitted she often eats alone and enjoys it. A independent spirit after my own heart! It’s amazing how therapeutic cooking can be, and how satisfying it can be to nourish yourself with healthy food you’ve made for just that purpose. That’s not to say she doesn’t cook for her man here and there, Britt swears by her killer breakfast burrito. And just like me she knows the first rule of being a sous chef to a top chef, cleanliness! Second rule, have a super sharp knife. And third rule, don’t clean up while the chef is still cooking (sorry Derek)!

Photography by Chloe Crespi

Britt Marren

swoonisms

  • on baking & food

    • CAN YOU SHARE WITH EYESWOON WHAT YOU DO?

      I live in Brooklyn, NY and work as a model. Whether I’m shooting a campaign in New York or walking a runway in Paris, it always keeps me on my toes, which makes for an exciting career. I love getting to travel the world- experiencing new cultures and meeting new people is something I will always cherish. My husband is a chef, and I have a passion for baking!

      WHO AND WHAT FIRST INFLUENCED YOUR LOVE OF BAKING? 

      Growing up, my mom would cook and bake for us all the time. We were lucky enough to come home to home-cooked meals on a regular basis. It was fun for me to partake in the baking process and get to learn from her. She is really a great cook!

      BAKING MAKES YOU FEEL……. 

      Smitten. Euphoric. Satisfied.

      AS BOTH A MODEL AND THE WIFE OF A CHEF, HOW DO YOU BALANCE A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP SURROUNDING FOOD? 

      This is probably the question I get asked the most. Everyone is like, “How do you not weigh 500 lb? You must have amazing food around you all the time! Does he cook for you every day?”.  It’s a common misconception though. In truth (and unfortunately), we really don’t get to see each other as much as we’d like. He is definitely not home cooking for me every day, because he is at his “second home”, The Heyward, running a successful restaurant! I love to cook as well, and although it’s not as fancy or impressive as when my husband cooks, it’s simple and delicious. Cooking can be quite therapeutic, and it’s nice to come home after a long day’s work and cook something healthy & nourishing all for me. I always say that I could easily live off of vegetables and sweets/baked goods. So overall (minus my sweet tooth), I eat quite healthy- I love vegetables, fruit, nuts, fish, etc. and I drink a ton of water! Good bread (whether it’s whole grain chock full of nuts/seeds/dried fruit, fluffy naan or pita, Neapolitan style pizza) is a must as well. I could never be paleo or low carb. It’s all about balance!

      I also work out regularly, and think it’s super important to stay active. I started taking Pure Barre classes this past summer, and fell in love! It’s a great workout- high intensity, but low impact, with lots of small isometric movements.

      DOES DEREK EVER BAKE WITH YOU? DO YOU EVER COOK WITH HIM?

      He’s usually at work when I’m in the kitchen, so not that often. I cook for him some mornings before he goes in, but it’s just super simple stuff. The satisfying meals he loves, and that he could easily make himself, but since he is constantly cooking at work, sometimes it’s nice to have things cooked for him instead. Breakfast tacos are my specialty 😉 When he does have a day off and is in the mood to cook, we will go to the market so he can get inspired/see what looks fresh. He usually doesn’t have a plan in his head until he’s already cooking, so I’m not always much help. I’ll be his sous chef though, helping him prep here and there. And I always clean up. It’s a good deal.

      HOW HAS BEING FROM TEXAS INFLUENCED HOW YOU EAT?

      I’m definitely not your typical Texas girl when it comes to eating. I don’t crave BBQ, steaks, or Tex-Mex (other than chips & guacamole). I don’t love my food smothered in cheese. Sorry Texans, don’t hate me. So overall, I’d say it hasn’t really influenced my style of eating. I’ll take a good Texas peach when they’re in season! Oh! But there’s an amazing place called Brooklyn Kolache Company in Bed-Stuy, and it’s amazing. They make homemade kolaches, which are a Czech/Texan delicacy (I am both Czech & Texan, and I promise they’re delicious- look them up!). They seem a bit more refined to me than the ones I get back home, and use seasonal and unique fillings. I love the slightly sweet yeasted dough! Maybe New York and all the other places around the world I’ve gotten to travel to (and eat in!) have made me a bit snobby 😉

      FAVORITE CHILDHOOD FOOD?

      Ranger Cookies (with oats, corn flakes, coconut, and pecans) are a childhood favorite of mine. They always remind me of my family’s home in the Texas Hill Country.

      ALL TIME FAVORITE SWEET YOU CAN NEVER SAY NO TO?

      Carrot Cake (it was even my wedding cake!)

      DO YOU SPEND TIME DEVELOPING OR RESEARCHING BEFORE YOU BAKE?

      I rarely follow recipes to a T anymore. Once you have a good baking foundation, and are comfortable enough to stray from a recipe, it’s fun to experiment. I do follow several blogs from which I get inspiration. I love browsing them to get ideas, and the photographs are beautiful! These bloggers/bakers are really amazing, so sometimes it is just easier to do exactly what they do, to ensure you get a delicious final product. Some of my favorite blogs are- Oh, Ladycakes, My Name is Yeh, Hummingbird High, How Sweet It Is, Top with Cinnamon, The First Mess, My New Roots, and Vegetarian Ventures, among others!

      ALWAYS IN YOUR FRIDGE?

      Almond milk & almond butter (sometimes homemade, sometimes not), kale, fruit (currently clementines & apples), dark chocolate, hummus, eggs, Sriracha. Leftover baked goods in the freezer for emergency situations 😉

      BREAKFAST ROUTINE?

      Derek and I get to go out for breakfast more often than we do for dinner, because he is always busy at the restaurant in the evenings. Our neighborhood go-tos for a fun breakfast out are either Cafe Colette or Cafe Mogador. We go at least once a week, and our orders never change (for me- Butter Bean & Kale Stew at Colette; Middle Eastern Eggs at Mogador). We love the atmosphere and people at both places, and it’s fun to go out for breakfast on a random weekday! A great cappuccino doesn’t hurt either…

      YOU’D BE LOST IN THE KITCHEN WITHOUT……

      Cleanliness! Or maybe I wouldn’t be lost, but it would drive me crazy. I like to keep things clean, either while cooking or right afterwards. I occasionally get in trouble with Derek while he’s cooking if I start cleaning bowls or utensils that he was still using. Oops!

      A PERFECT WEEKNIGHT MEAL IS…..

      We have an awesome dual fuel grill on our rooftop, so when the weather is nicer, we love to sit outside and grill (or Derek grills and I watch). I’d say some kind of grilled fish, whatever looks fresh at the market, along with seasonal grilled vegetables. Maybe a fresh salad, and some good bread. Plus wine and dessert, of course!

      FIVE INGREDIENTS YOU COULDN’T LIVE WITHOUT?

      Coconut oil, cinnamon, fleur de sel (I always bring back a great one from Paris- right now we use Fleur de Sel de Guerande), fresh herbs (we have a garden on the roof where we grow herbs and greens), good quality extra virgin olive oil (another one I bring back from my travels- currently using one from Spain).

      ALL-TIME FAVORITE RESTAURANTS IN NYC

      Oh gosh- too many!!!! Estela, Narcissa, Roberta’s, The Heyward (I may be biased), ABC Kitchen, Marta, Aquavit, Levain Bakery, Buvette, Jean Georges, Meadowsweet, Cafe Colette, Isa, Di Fara, Lafayette Bakery (pastry chef Jen Yee).

      Dying to try- Cosme, Betony, Per Se (dessert tasting menu!), Le Bernardin, Glasserie, Semilla, Nomad, Eleven Madison Park….

Chocolate & Toasted Coconut Cake with Salted Caramel

Britt Maren

  • Ingredients

    • Cake:

      • 2 cups unsweetened almond milk, at room temperature
      • 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
      • 1 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
      • 2/3 cup coconut oil, melted
      • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
      • 2 cups + 2 tbsp whole wheat pastry flour
      • 1 cup cane sugar
      • 1 cup cocoa powder
      • 1 tsp espresso powder
      • 2 tsp baking soda
      • 1 tsp baking powder
      • 1/2 tsp salt

       

      Buttercream:

      • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened (can substitute vegan butter)
      • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
      • 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
      • 2 tsp vanilla extract
      • 2 cups unsweetened coconut flakes, for topping

       

      Caramel:

      • 1 can full-fat, unsweetened coconut milk
      • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
      • 1/4 cup coconut palm sugar
      • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
      • 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
      • 1 tbsp unsalted butter (can substitute vegan butter)
  • Method

    • Make the caramel ahead of time. Combine the coconut milk, maple syrup, and coconut palm sugar in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down and cook, whisking frequently, about 20 minutes until mixture has thickened and is a dark amber color. Turn off heat and whisk in the vanilla, salt, and butter until smooth. Cool completely, and then store in an closed jar in the fridge for up to 1 week. This will make much more than you need for this recipe. Feel free to drizzle some over each individual slice, or over ice cream!

      For the cakes, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two 8 inch round pans with parchment paper. Spray the parchment paper and dust with cocoa powder.

      Add the vinegar and milk to your stand mixer bowl and let sit for 5 minutes. Next, add in the applesauce, coconut oil, and vanilla extract and mix until just combined.

      In another bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Turn your mixer to low and slowly pour the dry ingredients in until everything is incorporated. Turn the mixer speed up to medium-high and let run until your batter is evenly smooth and no lumps remain.

      Divide the dough between the two prepared pans and let bake about 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean in the center. Remove from oven and let cool.

      While the oven is still heated, place coconut on a lined baking sheet and place in oven to toast. Bake for about 10 minutes or until most of the flakes have browned.

      While everything is cooling, remove the coconut caramel sauce from the fridge to come to room temperature. Beat together all buttercream ingredients, and set aside.

      To assemble, place the first layer of cake on a cake stand, removing any domed area to create a flat surface. Add a layer of coconut caramel on top, and sprinkle with toasted coconut, if desired. Top with the second layer of cake, making sure the layers are even. Using an offset spatula, spread the buttercream all over the outside and top of the cake, smoothing out any rough patches. Immediately sprinkle the toasted coconut all over the sides of the cake so that it sticks to the buttercream.

      Serve and enjoy!

      *Can also be made as 3 layers using 6 inch cake rounds. Increase baking time to 30-35 minutes.

      **Adapted from recipes from Minimalist Baker, Vegetarian ‘Ventures, and An Edible Mosaic.

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