Jessie Sheehan, author of November's Book Club pick, 'Snackable Bakes,' sits down with us for a little sweet talk.
You could describe Jessie Sheehan and her deliciously divine bakes the same way—joyful, over the top, and completely delightful. A bout of excitement and infectious energy, her playful social media presence over the pandemic made many fall in love with her (and her sweet treats.) Living the sweet life (don’t worry, this piece contains puns ‘a plenty) in her Red Hook, Brooklyn, apartment with her family, she’s an actress turned lawyer turned professional baker, recipe tester, and recipe developer. It’s her many titles, can-do attitude, and approachable, laid-back vibe that have influenced her latest cookbook, a perfect pick for the harried hustle of the holidays.
Snackable Bakes made the cut for our November Book Club pick, because, let’s face it, this time of year is painful enough—so let’s make the treats simple and delicious. But wait, back up a little…wtf is a “snackable bake”?
Recommended Fodor’s Video
Jessie defines them as “easy, peasy” type recipes that rely heavily on pantry staples and minimize prep and dishes. Like her Orange Buttermilk Olive Oil Morning Muffins or her Salty Snack Fudge (hello, potato chips as an ingredient!). There are big, beautiful pictures to accompany every recipe, subs and swaps galore, and everything feels easy and approachable. As our Lord and Savior Ina Garten once said, “Now how easy is that?”
Learn more about Jessie’s resume, her favorite holiday travel destination, and what recipes from Snackable Bakes we should devour this season.
FODOR’S BOOK CLUBWant to read more interviews like this? Make sure you’re signed up for Fodor’s Book Club. You’ll be reading our monthly picks alongside thousands of Fodor’s readers, be entered into exclusive giveaways and contests, and get more fun book-related content delivered straight to your inbox.
FODOR’S: What do you think is the biggest mistake people make when baking?
JESSIE SHEEHAN: I think people tend to mismeasure their flour when they are measuring by volume, rather than weight. There are several different ways to measure flour. Some people use a spoon to fill a measuring cup, some people fluff and scoop to fill one, and some people don’t fluff at all (the horror). Each technique results in a different amount. Because baking requires precision, adding even a little too much or not adding quite enough can negatively impact the final product. In short, though I hate to encourage the purchase of additional kitchen items, a scale can dramatically improve your baking.
The other biggest mistake (because I believe there are two) is that people are baking in ovens that are not properly calibrated, meaning they are either running too hot or too cold. When an oven is too hot, cakes overbake and are dry, and cookies burn. And when it is too cold, the outside of a baked good might look perfect, but the inside is often raw. Bottom line: buy an oven thermometer.
The third biggest mistake (sorry, I realized there are three) is that people overmix their batters and doughs. Once flour is added, the key is to use a gentle touch either with your spatula if you are mixing by hand or by lowering the speed on your mixer.
What three ingredients do you think people should always have on hand for baking besides the obvious (sugar, flour, etc.)?
I think sour cream is the most wonderful addition to cakes and even to biscuits and scones and muffins. I love the tang and richness it imparts, and you can often substitute it for milk in a recipe.
I think it is nice to have some bread flour on hand because you can substitute it for some of the all-purpose flour in your cookie recipe, resulting in the chewiest of textures.
I adore sweetened condensed milk and like to add it to my Rice Krispies Treats and coconut macaroons, and it is essential when making no-churn ice cream. It lasts forever, so can be kept in the kitchen cabinet for a long time.
Oh, and I also love heavy cream because I am extra and love adding additional fat and richness to my bakes (sorry haters).
Do you have any early baking memories?
What are the top recipes from Snackable Bakes you’d recommend for the holidays?
The Vanilla Cranberry Buckle is fabulous on T’giving morning; the Devils Food Snacking Cake with Marshmallow Frosting and the Grasshopper Whoopie Pies (but with the Candy Cane twist, which is included in the book) are both perfect around Christmas. And I love the Tiny Lavender Shortbread Bites for cookie swaps. The Pumpkin Snacking Cake with Chocolate Buttercream is a great option instead of pumpkin pie for turkey day, and the Butter Cracker (aka Ritz Cracker) Brittle with Toffee and Chocolate and Pecans is excellent for munching on with a glass of champagne on NYE.
Red Hook is such a great neighborhood, and we love joining you from your kitchen there. Where are your favorite spots in the neighborhood for eating and hanging out?
I adore Good Fork Pub (run by my pals and neighbors Sohui Kim and Ben Schneider). I adore Grind Haus (run by my friend Erin Norris) and Billy Durney’s restaurants Red Hook Tavern and Hometown (and Billy is also a pal). I’ve lived in Red Hook a long time and am happy to call the restaurateurs here my friends. I live near Valentino Park, and it is an awesome spot to check out an epic view of the Statue of Liberty. Oh, and Court Street Grocers sells delicious sandwiches–buy one and head to Valentino.
If someone only had a weekend in NYC, where would you recommend they grab sweet treats from?
Tell us about your time at Baked in Red Hook and what it was like to make such a big career transition.
My time at Baked was so special as I not only learned the baking and sweets-making ropes there, but I also discovered a passion for making treats that I didn’t know I had. I had worked as an actress, a lawyer, and a stay-at-home mom before I went into Baked and asked them to teach me the tools of the trade, and although they were a little put-off at the request (random moms don’t tend to walk in off the street, offering to work for free in exchange for baking training), they acquiesced, and the rest is history. Moreover, I made great friends at Baked, one of whom tested all the recipes for Snackable Bakes AND has a cookie named after her in the book (Epic Snickerdoodles for Stephanie). The career transition was indeed major, but it ended up being so right for me personally and professionally that it hardly seemed daunting. Plus, the work at the bakery led directly to working on cookbooks as the owners of the bakery were writing their first book when I arrived. And so the experience of working there led to more than just a love of sweets-making; it led to a love of working on cookbooks–from testing to developing recipes for them to writing my own a few years later. Seems like some kind of crazy delicious kismet that I walked in there that day to ask for a job and ended up with a career that I adore.
You’ve also spent time as a recipe developer. Please tell us what that is like! We’d love to know what your favorite recipe from Snoop’s cookbook is, too (Jessie did R&D on his cookbook, From Crook to Cook).
I love recipe development, and it is really the bread and butter (or cake and frosting) of what I do as I still develop recipes for a variety of online sites (like Food52 and The Kitchn) as well as the Washington Post, among others. And, yes, I have also developed recipes for cookbooks other than my own, like the Baked books and Snoop’s cookbook. I developed several recipes for Snoop’s cookbook, but I think the Gimme S’more Pie is my favorite of the bunch.
Why do you think so many people took up baking as a hobby during the pandemic?
Now it sounds like a bit of a cliché, but it truly is a comforting and often nostalgic pastime that can give you all the feels when you are not quite yourself emotionally. Because I do it for a living, I don’t exactly feel all warm and cozy when I bake, but I definitely understand how the experience of making pie dough by hand or biting into a still warm and melty chocolate chip cookie or being handed a plate with a huge slice of layer cake iced in billowy American buttercream frosting, can be super calming. It can settle and center you in a way lima beans are never going to be able to–and I have nothing against beans. I’m just here to recognize and pay homage to the magical power of the sweet treat.
Since we’re a travel publication, tell us about one of your recent vacations or favorite vacations and why you loved it so much. What did you eat?
Every other Christmas for the last three years, I have gone to Uruguay with my husband and two boys, and some family friends. We stay in Jose Ignacio, a chic, bohemian, laid-back little beach town, and it is not only an incredibly beautiful place to visit—both the landscape and the people are just gorgeous—but the food is off the charts, particularly for those of us that love meat. Francis Mallmann has a restaurant in Garzon, a nearby town where everything is cooked on an open flame. The meat and vegetables are spectacular. The seafood is particularly incredible at La Huella in Jose Ignacio.