Ever since pastry chef Lani Halliday landed on the cover of Cherry Bombe magazine last year, I’ve been fascinated by this artist who is as vibrant as the food she creates. Based in Brooklyn, Lani runs a bakery, advocates for causes she supports, and is an engaged mother of two pre-teens. Suffice it to say, there’s never a dull moment in Lani’s world at the moment. Her gluten-free cake and pastry company, Brutus Bakeshop, is famous for its graphic, eye-catching cakes. And like most great things, it was born of necessity: two decades ago, Lani developed a wheat allergy as a baker and was advised by her naturopath to remove gluten from her diet. Recalling that decision, she says, “The constellation of digestive and health issues I was having went away. I never looked back, and it has informed the path of my life.
It felt so miserable at the time, but it’s really an incredible gift.”
Lani invited us into her Brooklyn apartment for a morning of baking, and we talked books, creativity, and how she manages to stay so chill amidst the hustle. And she shares some really wise words about pursuing your passions on the road to carving out a career.
How did you learn your culinary artistry?
Baking and making art-as-food was my avenue to express my creativity. My path hasn’t been linear: I was out of the workforce for six years and came back in because I separated from my husband and needed to support myself and my kiddos. I went to pastry school to jumpstart my career, and have been running with every single opportunity I’ve created for myself since then.
I really love making pretty things, and I needed to make money, so I started by selling cakes as a side hustle while working as a manager of Ovenly (a wholesale bakery in Brooklyn.) I’d practice a LOT. I really focused on teaching myself skills that distinguished my work. I learned a ton via youtube and paid videos on technique. And I had FUN. It’s a joy to create.
Practice + Focus + Fun. Those are the moves.
What does “baking outside the lines” mean to you?
It really just means that life is messy…and that’s what it’s actually about! One of my favorite creations, The Thicc Mints, came from overbaking (but not quite burning) a batch of Miso Chocolate Chip Cookies. Instead of throwing them out, I threw together a batch of vegan chocolate mint ganache and dunked the heavily frenched cookies, and the Thicc Mints were born. And they’re honestly GORGEOUS.
I love playing with color, pattern and line work in my cakes. One of my favorite screw-ups that turned out even more amazing that I could have imagined was a 90’s tribal design cake I made for Greg Krelenstein. I had covered it with black fondant the day before and stored it in the fridge. When I took it out to finish and deliver it, it quickly got covered in condensation and I started FREAKING out because it was ruining the design, nevermind melting before my eyes. I had a stroke of genius and dusted the entire thing in charcoal powder which gave it a stunning matte-velvet finish which made the cake look even better than I had originally designed and was totally on-brief for the aesthetic of the cake. Greg LOVED the look of it and was especially into the finish I had achieved. I was pretty proud of that one.
Describe your home in Brooklyn.
I live in an apartment that I’ve dreamt about living in since 2006. It’s got a balcony that overlooks Prospect Park and when I’m in bed (which is my favorite place!) with the back door open, I’ve got the most incredible view of the park and lower Manhattan. It’s like a hammock in the sky, but with a memory-foam bed top. I feel successful when I get to recline there, drink coffee, and run my business from my laptop.
How has motherhood changed you?
I’m more empathic, organized, patient, and driven. It inspired transformational positive shifts in the relationships I have with my own parents, and it just generally makes me a better person because I’m not in my own self-centered self-will 24/7. It has focused me.
Motherhood has also made me less squeamish about being a human being, and more in touch with my body and its strength. I never would have thought that being nearly 40 with two kids is when I’d feel my most beautiful, sexy and powerful… but here we are.
What has it been like as a single mother of two during the past few months?
YO, it’s a struggle. No scratch that – it’s a juggle. Its really a lot, and when I reflect I definitely give myself credit for the bandwidth that I have. I do intentionally spend time getting friendly with the feeling that creeps in that I’m not doing a good enough job at any of the things I do, which is there to guide me. That negative thinking is a habit, and it can be a helpful sign post if I’m open to tuning in and listening to what it has to say. I also rely on my team to take things off of my plate, don’t overschedule myself (SUCH a challenge) and I remind myself to have patience, acceptance and gentleness with myself and “reality.”
Describe a typical day for you.
A typical weekday this past summer has looked like rising about 6:30am and straight out the door with my Pit/Lab mix, Hazelnut, for a run in Prospect Park. I’m back making breakfast and running the burr grinder for french-press by 7:30.
By the time the nanny shows up at 9am, I’ve already been on email and social media. I work for myself so the entire day is “work,” but that could mean anything from running to the wholesalers in Queens for supplies to running to B+H (the mega-camera store) or Union Square Farmers Market in the City (or ALL of the above.) I’m definitely liaising with my team via email or text all day, and executing my to-do list which will be both work and personal tasks.
I do try to make time for my boyfriend during the day by cruising by his place for coffee or seeing if he can join me for a task or two while I’m running around. Home time is 7pm – either I collect the kiddos from their dad’s place, which is only 5 blocks away or the nanny is home with them and we do dinner (often take out from the dumpling shop or an impossible burger from Bare Burger.) Then baths, teeth, stories. We all read and cuddle together in my bed. It’s our opportunity to connect and laugh and just BE together. I send them to their bunks and pick the house up. My neighbors probably don’t LOVE that I run the hoover at 10pm but hey, that’s life. I love being in bed by 10 but it’s usually more like 11. Jeez, I’m domesticated.
What do you drink when you wake? And what’s for breakfast?
In all honesty, I feed them, but I don’t typically eat breakfast myself. I wake up around 6:30 for a run, and hydrating is a must both before and after. NYC tap water is notoriously great, but I do keep a glass carafe at room temp on my bedside table further filtered with my japanese charcoal filter. I also really love Hi-Ball. It’s an all-natural flavored sparkling water plus caffeine.
Breakfast during the week for my babies is usually quick stuff: fruit + bagels + nuts or oatmeal with peanut butter and coconut oil. Depends on how much of a rush we’re in.
How are you staying healthy during the pandemic?
I’ve come to the realization that all parts of my health really hinge on my mental/spiritual health. I definitely HAVE to move my body.
I’ve taken up running during the quarantine, but of equal import is keeping my sleep on point, turning down the lights in the evening to keep my circadian rhythm humming, hot baths, burning candles and palo santo in the apartment, and fresh flowers.
I do meditate and pray daily, and I’m really clear that all of the wonderful successes that I experience in my life are results of my spiritual work and fitness. It’s important to chase that, and not drive drive drive myself to work harder. All of that, plus lots of therapy and great sex with a beautiful man that I’m in love with.
What are your beauty must-haves?
SLEEP! WATER! SUNSCREEN! I use Supergoop’s Glow Stick sunscreen all day long. I keep one stashed in my car and one in my bag at all times. I don’t typically wear makeup everyday, but when I do it’s super fast and simple. By Terry CC Cream has beautiful sheer coverage, Kevin Aucoin The Volume Mascara has the best brush and formula for my naturally skimpy lashes, I go for a drugstore black eyeliner on my upper waterline and maybe spot concealer. I love the coverage I get from It Cosmetics Bye Bye Under Eye and Kat Von D’s Everlasting Liquid Lipstick under my mask if I’m feeling it.
Doing a chemical exfoliant mask 1-2x per week keeps my skin fresh. Right now, The Ordinary’s “Blood Mask” AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution is my current favorite but I do like trying different things. CeraVe is a great, inexpensive, gentle yet through cleanser and moisturizer for my face both morning and evening. I love a combo of cedar essential oil and Jo Malone’s Oud + Bergamot perfume in lieu of deodorant. For years I’ve used one of those “dry brushes” instead of a washcloth in the shower for an intense daily exfoliation and Everyday Oil for post-shower rehydration.
Any tips on packing school lunches for kids? I’m always looking for new ideas…it’s so easy to get into a lunch rut!
Boy I really get stuck too! I let the kids’ desires and what’s in season at the farmers market guide me. I insist on the framework but let them decide the details. They HAVE to have protein and veggies and enough calories and water, but what that exactly looks like is up to them. I keep a variety of lunch-appropriate things in the fridge, and mine are old enough to pack their own. I don’t mind if it’s the same veggie or sandwich all year long as long as it’s balanced. Plus always a treat! I love treats and they’re just such an easy and consistent little love bump.
What are your favorite cookbooks?
Tell us a few things we’ll always find in your refrigerator?
Sparkling water, Hi-Ball, cold brew concentrate, oat milk. I love Blank Slate Chili Oil and Kewpie Mayo and Castelvetrano olives too, and I’ve always got them on hand.
Fill in the blank: “A perfect meal should _______.”
Be joyfully enjoyed with loved ones. Nourish body and soul.