Amy Ho started baking as a casual hobby while she was completing her master’s degree in psychology at UBC a few years ago. When she prioritized making a cake over finishing her research paper, she realized baking was more than a pastime—it had become her passion.
She’s the founder of the popular blog Constellation Inspiration, which features pretty cakes and baked goods that look almost too perfect to eat. She also shares bits and pieces of what she bakes on her Instagram account, which has amassed a substantial following and attracted plenty of attention, including from an American publishing company.
For the past two years, she hasn’t had a social life offline. Between balancing a full-time job in public relations and the hours spent managing her blog and social handles, she has barely had time to dedicate her remaining energy to creating recipes, baking, and photographing her baked goods for her new cookbook, Blooms and Baking: Add Aromatic, Floral Flavors to Cakes, Cookies, Candies and More.
“I was [recipe] testing on the weekdays, and then baking and finalizing the final product on a Thursday or Friday night, to shoot it on the Saturday or Sunday,” she explains. “I told myself I had to do at least two to three recipes per week for me to stay on track and be ahead of my deadlines. But it was still a very enjoyable process—stressful but enjoyable.”
Her forthcoming book highlights mouthwatering recipes like elderflower-strawberry buttermilk cake, jasmine-and-vanilla bundt cake, cherry blossom sablés, peach galette with lavender whipped cream, and lilac-vanilla cupcakes, among many others. Readers will also find decorating tutorials on how to create buttercream flowers and make candied petals.
While every one of her original recipes features floral elements, the Vancouver-based author emphasizes they aren’t strictly necessary for making delicious treats. “The lavender hot-chocolate cupcakes is a really good recipe even if you don’t have the lavender. I would still make it and be proud of it.”
Besides creating novel recipes that are different from her online blog, Ho says the hardest part about writing a cookbook was predicting what kind of baked goods would be popular two years from now, and how her book could stand out from the rest.
One could argue Blooms and Baking is launching at an ideal time. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, most of us are staying home with a lot more time on our hands, Ho included. She’s been baking items using pantry essentials that don’t require multiple trips to specialty culinary shops.
“I started doing a lot of basics like cookies and very simple one-layer cakes. I feel like I’m baking a lot more simple recipes that are freezer friendly, but still bring joy and comfort when you have it,” she says.
Her background in psychology also means she’s at least somewhat qualified to give an analysis of the massive #quarantinebaking trend that has seen grocery store shelves emptied of flour, baking powder, and yeast over the past few weeks.
“I feel like both the process is comforting and the product you come up with is something that can be enjoyed,” she explains. “I think that’s one reason why I started baking. You feel the sense of accomplishment when you get a very successful cookie or cake, and that small joy might be something you need during this time.”
Flipping through Ho’s new book, readers may be forgiven for never guessing she’s a self-taught baker with no professional pastry training. She simply wants to share her love of baking and flowers, and teach other sweet tooths how to make those impeccably piped cupcakes and beautiful floral-themed cakes at home.
“I hope that people like the book and that they find inspiration to start or continue baking during this entire COVID thing,” she says. “I just love seeing people bake and getting creative in their own kitchen.”
Dark and White Chocolate-Lavender Cookies
Yields 16 cookies
½ cup plus 2 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup plus 2 tbsp brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 large egg, at room temperature
1¾ cups plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
¾ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp culinary-grade lavender, finely ground
2/3 cup coarsely chopped dark chocolate
2/3 cup coarsely chopped white chocolate
Maldon sea salt flakes, as needed
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter,brown sugar, and granulated sugar on medium speed until they are smooth,about 1 minute.
Add the vanilla and egg to the butter mixture and mix on medium speed until they are fully incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and lavender. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in two batches to the butter mixture, and mix until the ingredients are just combined, about 1 minute.
Add the dark chocolate and white chocolate, and mix until they are just incorporated with the dough, about 30 seconds.
Cover the dough with plastic wrap or place it in an airtight container, then refrigerate it for at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
With a standard ice cream scoop, form balls of dough and place them about 2 inches (5 cm) apart on the baking sheet. Bake the cookies for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the cookies are browned and caramelized along the edges and the centres are just set.
Top each cookie with a sprinkling of the Maldon sea salt flakes. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.
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