Local food blogger and baker Alexandra Stafford is offering up comfort and community in the form of online cooking classes.
Based in Niskayuna, Stafford runs Alexandra’s Kitchen, a popular food blog which she began more than a decade ago after she’d stopped working in the restaurant business.
“When I started the blog it was really just for fun. I didn’t care if anybody was reading it; it was mostly just a personal journal,” Stafford said.
But several years later, a few of her posts started getting a lot of traffic, particularly one about her mom’s peasant bread recipe. After becoming a stay-at-home mom she decided to put more time into the blog, and really engage in the community. It paid off and today she has more than 84,000 followers on Instagram alone and a cookbook called “Bread Toast Crumbs: Recipes for No-Knead Bread & Meals to Savor Every Slice.”
Over the last few years, especially since her book was published in 2017, she’s taught cooking classes locally at Spoon & Whisk and the Vischer Ferry General Store among other locations.
During the pandemic this summer, she started holding virtual classes to raise money for BIPOC communities.
She was hesitant to use the virtual format at first and was worried people might be too Zoom-fatigued to really enjoy the experience. The opposite turned out to be true.
“The whole thing has been such a surprise,” Stafford said. “There are people I have connected with over the years, via my blog or Instagram and I’ve never been able to connect on a face-to-face level and that is what the Zoom format has allowed. So it’s been such a nice way to connect with readers who I’ve just emailed or messaged with on a much more personal level.”
Since the classes are live, she’s able to quickly answer questions from rookie chefs and bakers.
“The most recent class I did was on butternut squash lasagna, and you have to make a béchamel during the process. Mine thickens up right away and for a number of people [in] the class they were like ‘Mine isn’t thick enough yet. What should I do?’” Stafford said.
She was able to offer up some simple solutions and get everybody on the right track again.
“If you’re at home and you’re alone and you don’t have somebody to ask that question you might think you’re doing something wrong but in a Zoom format you get immediate feedback,” Stafford said.
She recently started a subscription series with the classes because she noticed the people were signing up for multiple sessions. Participants can attend two online classes per month, one usually focusing on bread and the other on something savory.
So far, people from all over the country have attended, and some families have even used it as a way to gather.
“Some people will take the classes as a group of friends. So there’ll be six friends taking the class together and Zooming in from various parts of the country. Recently, there was a mother with her two daughters who were all in different parts of the country Zooming in. [It’s] a way for them to connect doing something that they love,” Stafford said.
With so many people spending more time at home this year, she’s noticed that more people are cooking and baking.
“During the height of the quarantine, it was crazy the number of people who were cooking. I mean, a lot of people were cooking out of necessity because restaurants weren’t open . . . Then I think there’s a comfort component to it where people are finding a lot of comfort in baking. Bread has this high-maintenance reputation, that you need a lot of time to do it. I think people found themselves at home suddenly with a lot of time, so it was their chance to take a stab at baking bread,” Stafford said.
Her classes are scheduled out through June and she plans to add more for the second half of the year.
“Who knows what 2021 will look like? We may be stuck at home again a lot and hopefully, something like a Zoom cooking class [and] having something to look forward to twice a month brings people some sense of community,” Stafford said.
The subscription series is $29 per month and includes two live classes a month as well as access to an archive of past classes. A portion of the proceeds goes to charity. For more information and a look at the schedule, visit alexandracooks.com.