Atlanta baker Sarah Dodge has worked as a caterer, photographer, food stylist and pastry chef, with stints at Octopus Bar, Little Tart Bakeshop, Ladybird Grove and Mess Hall and the Preserving Place.
But she’s probably best known and beloved for making simple cookies, cakes and other goodies that combine technique with rich flavors and rustic homemade appeal.
Nowadays, Dodge can be found at 8ARM, a lively Virginia-Highland cafe and bakery, where she’s been filling the pastry cases with muffins, turnovers, cinnamon buns and quiche. And her perfect buttermilk biscuits are on the daily menu in the form of sandwiches, loaded with the likes of bacon, eggs and pimento cheese.
“I got into baking for a whole lot of reasons,” Dodge says. “But one of the main reasons was because it soothed my mind. I would get in the kitchen and start making things and I was instantly calm.
“I had really great mentors, like Sarah O’Brien at Little Tart Bakeshop and Rob Alexander at H&F Bread Co., and I learned that baking is to feed people. That’s what I really value. Here at 8Arm, we want people to come in and feel really satisfied and comforted. That’s where I like to go with my baking.”
Dodge, who has been known to teach classes on baking, stresses mastering basic formulas as a means to create a variety of recipes.
“I hear a lot of people talk about how stressful baking is and I just want to shush them,” she says. “The thing about baking is learning formulas so that you understand the technique. Once you gain an understanding and appreciation for the technique and tradition, the possibilities become endless and the recipes become your own, a blank canvas that allows you to create what you want.”
When we asked Dodge to share a few recipes with us, she balked at giving away the secrets to her biscuits. But she did offer three favorites that have become 8ARM dessert staples.
Her buttermilk cake is one those base formulas she changes with the seasons, adding fruit, and for different occasions baking it in different pans and adding layers.
“It’s incredibly versatile,” Dodge says. “The options are endless. It’s such a good formula to have in your repertoire.”
Dodge calls her whole wheat double chocolate chip cookies her “favorite cookie recipe on the planet.” And she likes to pair it with her creamy rich, custard-based vanilla ice cream.
“Like a bowl of ice cream and a cookie, some of the best desserts are so simple,” Dodge says. “Growing up, I was jealous of all the kids getting their soft batch cookies. My parents never let anything like that in the house. I was destined to make a cookie that realized my childhood soft batch crush.”
These dessert recipes from Sarah Dodge of 8Arm cafe and bakery in Atlanta combine tradition and technique with rich flavors and homemade appeal.
Whole Wheat Double Chocolate Chip Cookies
“This is my favorite cookie on the planet. I learned the glory of using whole wheat working for Sarah O’Brien at Little Tart Bakeshop. The whole wheat adds a fullness and robustness that makes the cookie so much more. Molasses adds a richness in flavor that is unmatched. I switch up the chocolate and do white chocolate and dried cherries or pecans and caramel. When making cookies, it’s important that all of your ingredients are the same temperature or else they won’t bake evenly or consistently.”
3 sticks (12 ounces) butter at room temperature
2 cups whole wheat flour (300 grams)
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (176 grams)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (6 grams)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda (4.5 grams)
2 1/4 cups light brown sugar, lightly packed (268 grams)
1 cup granulated sugar (208 grams)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon blackstrap molasses
2 whole eggs plus 1 egg yolk, room temperature
2 cups good quality dark chocolate, such as Valrhona 70% dark, chopped in chunks
1 1/2 cups good quality milk chocolate, such as Valrhona 40% milk, chopped in chunks
Course sea salt to taste
Preheat oven to 325 degrees, on convection setting, if available.
Add room-temperature butter to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. In a mixing bowl, whisk to combine whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, salt and baking soda. In another mixing bowl, combine brown sugar, granulated sugar, and molasses. Mix sugars and molasses with your fingers, ensuring the molasses gets broken up. In another bowl, crack eggs and set aside. In a final bowl, combine chocolate pieces. You want everything ready to make the final mix super easy.
Once everything is ready, turn your mixer to medium and mix the butter until light and fluffy. Slowly add the sugar mix and mix until almost white in color, about 4 minutes. The butter is absorbing the sugar, eating it, and that’s what’s going to give you the good texture. Next add the eggs one at a time, beating well in between each addition. This is also going to ensure good texture. Once well beaten, turn mixer to low. Add the flour mix and mix on low, just to combine. It’s OK if you still see a little bit of flour, you don’t want to over mix. Finally, fold in the chocolate pieces.
Spoon out dough to a parchment paper-lined sheet tray. I scoop out my dough with an ice cream scoop; it’s uniform and easy.
Bake 12-15 minutes, rotating after 5 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned and the center is set. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely. Sprinkle with course sea salt, if desired.
Makes approximately 2 dozen cookies
Per cookie: 371 calories (percent of calories from fat, 46), 4 grams protein, 49 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 20 grams fat (12 grams saturated), 60 milligrams cholesterol, 209 milligrams sodium.
Vanilla Ice Cream
“Ice cream intimidated me for a long time. I also have very high expectations for it. There is nothing better to me than a perfect bowl of creamy cold ice cream on a hot day. Or really any day. You can make any flavor of ice cream. I love putting herbs in ice cream, especially lavender, rosemary, or basil. This recipe is for traditional vanilla, so good vanilla bean is a must. Splurge on it.”
4 cups heavy cream
2 cups milk
1 1/4 cups sugar (250 grams)
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
2 large eggs
10 egg yolks
Prepare an ice bath bowl and sieve. Always have your end landing pad ready when making ice cream. The end goes quickly so you want to be prepared.
Combine heavy cream, milk, sugar, and vanilla bean seeds and pod into a large sauce pan over medium heat. Whisk while heating to dissolve sugar and break up vanilla bean. Bring to a simmer, cut heat, and let sit covered for at least 30 minutes. This is what ensures maximum flavor whether it’s just vanilla, herbs, zest, or other flavors.
While the cream base is resting, combine eggs and egg yolks in a medium bowl. Whisk to combine. You want the eggs to be close to room temperature. Introducing hot milk to cold eggs will not turn out well. Return the cream mixture to medium heat, whisking constantly. Milk burns easily and even the slightest burn will ruin your batch. This is not a time to go check laundry. Stay with your cream, don’t leave it. Bring to a simmer and slowly pour cream mix into your eggs, whisking constantly. This is tempering, a term you will see a lot in baking. You’re adding a hot liquid to a cooler egg to bring the temperature of the egg up to prevent scrambling of the egg or curdling of the cream.
Pour combined custard back into sauce pan, stirring constantly with spatula. Cook the custard for about 3-4 minutes until the custard coats the back of a spoon or spatula. Immediately remove from heat and pour though sieve into prepared bowl.
Allow ice cream mixture to cool until ready to churn in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Store ice cream in the freezer until ready to serve.
Makes 6 cups or just under 2 quarts.
Per 1/2-cup serving: 441 calories (percent of calories from fat, 72), 6 grams protein, 25 grams carbohydrates, no fiber, 36 grams fat (21 grams saturated), 327 milligrams cholesterol, 68 milligrams sodium.
Buttermilk Cake With Apples
“I love this cake. It’s incredibly versatile. Depending on the season, I switch up the fruit. Depending on the occasion, I switch up the pan. I use it for upside down citrus cakes, strawberry cake with ice cream, or just straight up with a caramel or maple glaze.”
For the cake
2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour (390g)
1 full teaspoon baking powder (6 grams)
1 full teaspoon baking soda (6 grams)
¾ teaspoon salt (4.26 grams)
1 ½ sticks butter, softened (168 grams)
2 ¼ cups light brown sugar (438 grams)
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoons citrus zest
3 eggs, room temperature
1 ½ cups buttermilk
For the apples
3 cups apples, cored peeled and diced small
1/4 cup water or apple cider
1/4 cup sugar (52 grams)
1 teaspoon cinnamon (6 grams)
In sauce pan, cook apples over medium heat until soft and most of the liquid is absorbed. Reserve at room temperature.
Preheat oven to 350.
Prepare a 9-inch baking pan by greasing well. I butter, flour and parchment line the pan, especially if I have fruit at the bottom. There is nothing worse than making a beautiful delicious cake that doesn’t make it out of the pan.
In a medium bowl, combine all-purpose flour, baking soda, and salt and set aside. Measure out buttermilk and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine butter and sugar. Mix together on medium until light in color and creamy like whipped mayonnaise.
Add eggs one at a time, beating well in between each addition. Add vanilla and zest and mix well to incorporate.
Alternating flour, buttermilk, flour, buttermilk, flour combine all your ingredients, mixing on low and making sure not to over mix.
In the final mix, fold 2 cups of the apples into the batter until just combined.
Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and set. Test by ensuring a knife or cake tester comes out clean when you insert into the middle.
Serve in slices with whipped cream or creme fresh and reserved cooked apples.
Makes one slightly overfilled 9-inch cake. Double the cake recipe to make a layer cake.
Per serving, cake only: 384 calories (percent of calories from fat, 31), 6 grams protein, 61 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 13 grams fat (8 grams saturated), 85 milligrams cholesterol, 446 milligrams sodium.