A Sweet Experiment
Taste of Home|August - September 2021
This busy mom and neuroscientist finds balance outside the lab with her creative twists on classic desserts
By Mandy Naglich

FOR ZAINAB STORMS, THERE’S ONE EVENT THAT SIGNALS THE ARRIVAL OF FALL: SPENDING THE DAY APPLE PICKING.

“And I need to have on a nice sweater and boots, or it just doesn’t feel right,” she says.

She makes the trip out to a farm every year with her husband, Justin, or girlfriends, and when her son, Elliott, was born, she brought him right along. “He was only 3 months or so, and we have this picture of me wearing him in the orchard.”

Today, Zainab’s daughter, Emma, comes apple picking, too. Those cozy autumn memories and the love for family traditions are part of why Zainab bakes this cozy apple cake after apple picking each fall.

Zainab wasn’t always able to take the flavors of fall and translate them into a delicate dessert any hostess would be proud to serve. In fact, she was already in grad school for neuroscience when she realized she didn’t have a clue how to bake.

“I noticed in college everyone had this nostalgic feeling—‘Oh, I miss my grandmother’s dish,’ or ‘My mom used to make that,’” she says. Most of the recipes people longed for were baked goods. Even her husband reminisced about his grandmother’s chocolate chip cookies and tender apple cake. She set a goal to learn how to bake and write her own recipes that she could one day pass down to her children and grandchildren.

And she did just that. Not only did she finish her rigorous schooling with a doctorate, she did it while teaching herself to make everything from scrumptious cupcakes to intricate tarts. She had achieved her goal and could have stopped there, but the PhD and self-taught baker has never been one to settle.

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