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At Luminary Bakery, baking is synonymous with sisterhood. The London-based bakery serves as a space where women champion other women through the lens of seeking independence, employable skills, and stability by whisking cakes and twisting dough into massive cinnamon rolls

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On the outside, Luminary Bakery may simply look like that—a bakery buzzing with pastry chefs slipping slabs of brownies into the oven. But in fact it supplants the dictionary definition of a bakery: Founded by Alice Williams, the social enterprise works with marginalized women, teaching them a number of skills to get them back on their feet, all the while selling the very same pastries that these women make.

“Luminary Bakery was founded by a group of women who saw a lack of opportunities available for women that had experienced extreme disadvantage, and wanted to do something to change that,” Kaila H. Johnson, the communications officer, explains. “We use the therapeutic nature of baking to help create a safe space for women to feel empowered to reach independence.”

Many of these women have come to Luminary Bakery following gender-based violence, poverty, human trafficking, or had done time, seeking ways to care for a young child, for example, or study a trade. For many of Luminary’s students, this trauma often gives them a serious disadvantage in the job market—but becoming employed and financially independent is pivotal in changing their circumstances.

Luminary Bakery

“For this reason, the focus of our programs is employability and entrepreneurship, equipping [the women] with transferable skills for the working world,” Rachel Stonehouse, Luminary’s bakery trainer, says.

Luminary Bakery works holistically with trainees for two years. The program includes learning to bake and work-related skills, preparation for employment, guidance in building a positive future, and trauma-informed support. Each program includes two stages: the 6-month Employability Program, which focuses on professional baking and transferable life skills, and the 18-month Progression Support Program, which offers those graduates another year and a half of training geared toward the working world.

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This coalescence of baking and job training is no accident. “We use baking as a tool to process the past and work towards a positive future,” Kaila says. “Through our training and trauma-informed support, we see healing take place, second chances arise, community developed, and opportunities explored for furthering potential.”

Matt Scheffer

For the women, these parallels in experiences allow for a more united and empathetic community. Monica, one of Luminary Bakery’s graduates, shares that, “Because of my past, I wasn’t able to believe in myself. Now, I’m with women who understand my background and who believe in me.”

Since launching in 2014, Luminary Bakery has trained 66 women, with another 26 trainees expected to graduate in October. After graduation, these women often go on to other jobs in London bakeries or caretaking roles. Others set up their own catering business or continue on with their education by attending college. Luminary Bakery has become so beloved and well-known that royals and baking stars alike, including Megan Markle and Benjamina Ebuehi, have notably supported the cause.

Rising Hope: Recipes and Stories from Luminary Bakery, $26.99 on Amazon

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For those who call London home, a stop into Luminary Bakery can result in a palm-sized cinnamon bun; vegan cherry and coconut brownies; cheese scones; and soaring layer cakes, dotted with fresh herbs and fruit. But if visiting is impossibile right now, Luminary Bakery just released its first cookbook, “Rising Hope: Recipes and Stories from Luminary Bakery,” where home bakers can replicate some of the bakery’s beloved pastries and read a slew of testimonials from program graduates. Baking recipes include roasted garlic Irish soda bread, lime leaf lemon bars, and espresso-laced shortbread cookies. 

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Luminary Bakery

To give you a taste of the cookbook and Luminary Bakery, try out this recipe for vegan chocolate and sea salt cookies. Once you’ve combined all the ingredients, Rachel advises chilling the dough, which makes it much easier to roll into balls and produces a thicker and chewier cookie. If you’re looking for perfectly uniform cookies, she also suggests wielding a scale to weigh out the dough into equal-sized pieces. If you don’t have a scale on hand, grab an ice cream scoop instead.

Ozeri ZK14-S Pronto Digital Multifunction Kitchen and Food Scale, $13.96 on Amazon

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Because these cookies are vegan, they might not appear crispy when you pull them out of the oven, but trust the timing. “They might look undercooked in the middle,” Rachel says, “but will give you a gloriously chewy center once they’ve cooled.”

Mim’s Vegan Chocolate and Sea Salt Cookies Recipe

When Mim joined us, she not only brought a wealth of cake-decorating experience and a kind and caring spirit, but a passion for making exquisite vegan treats. Mim says this recipe is inspired by all the women she has worked with in the kitchen over the years—resilient, strong, and incredible. You’ll savor every bite of these lightly salted cookies!

Vegan Chocolate and Sea Salt Cookies

Ingredients
  • 4 fluid ounces olive oil
  • 2 fluid ounces cold water
  • 7½ ounces light brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8¾ ounces all-purpose flour
  • 1 ounce unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon fine salt
  • 6 ounces vegan dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids) chips or a bar cut into ½ -inch chunks
  • Sea salt or kosher salt
Instructions
  1. Mix together the oil, water, sugar, and vanilla until the mixture is thoroughly combined and looks like caramel.
  2. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. Tip the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix to fully combine and create a soft dough.
  4. Add the chocolate chips and mix until equally distributed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill for 30 to 60 minutes until firm.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line 2 large baking sheets with baking parchment.
  6. Use a tablespoon to scoop out balls of dough onto the sheets, spacing them 2 inches apart to allow for spreading. Alternatively, weigh out balls of dough at 2 ounces each, and roll them in your hands before placing on the sheets. Top each cookie with a pinch of salt.
  7. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until the cookies have firmed up around the edges.
  8. Let cool on the sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Header image by Thomas Rose.

Amy Schulman is an associate editor at Chowhound. She is decidedly pro-chocolate.
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