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Baked Interview Series : Meet a Pro Recipe Developer/Tester (while she makes doughnut holes)

March 11, 2014 / By Matt

Over the next few months, I will do my best to showcase and highlight some of the “behind the scenes” talents (food and prop stylists, testers, photographers, managers, editors, etc…) of our food world. First up, I am pleased to introduce you to good friend and uber talent, Jessie Sheehan. We (Renato/myself) have been working with Jessie for many years. She started in our Red Hook kitchen, evolved into one of our very first recipe testers, and finally spun off into the unique world of recipe development. We chatted about food and development over her fab recipe for Dirt Bomb Doughnut Holes…enjoy:

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Jessie Sheehan

Tell me the story of how you ended up coming to work at Baked!

It was 2006 and I just had my second baby…I was a lawyer and I hated being a lawyer. I realized I needed to do something else…something I loved. Slowly, I had come to the conclusion that my love of sweets was morphing into making them…it was a “calling” so to speak. So I swung by Baked and begged you guys (me/Renato/and Kristine – our then pastry chef) to let me hang out one day a week in your kitchen to learn/intern. Six months later, I was a paid staff member. Then a few months after that you approached me about testing your first book…

You kind of fell into testing our first book, Baked: New Frontiers. It was like cookbook fate. Fond memories I hope…?

I remember the first test was for your Maple Walnut Scones. And I was nervous because I was reducing maple syrup for hours [ed note: we ended up using maple extract for the book recipe per testing feedback] and nothing seemed to be going according to plan, but I realized…right then and there…that while I like working in a bakery kitchen, I love working at home more. [ed note: we always test our recipes on homes ovens for an apples to apples comparison]. I am a homebody. Recipe testing suited me well.

I knew you enjoyed it. And we (Renato/myself) were so thrilled that you continued working at Baked while testing our follow-up book, Baked Explorations. So let’s talk development. You ended up helping us develop a good portion of recipes for our third book, Baked Elements, and our upcoming book (publishing this October).  Can you discuss recipe development in general?

Well, developing for Baked was easy because I felt that I understood your aesthetic – I know you each well enough to know what you were aiming for while discussing vague concepts (i.e. a lemon cake to end all lemon cakes, etc…). It is very important as a recipe developer to be aligned with the person you are developing for. I can certainly help develop recipes for things I don’t feel compelled to cook, but it would be a more arduous process.

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It is sometimes scary how well you know us. Can you describe your work method?

Well, there are a few ways of working. For your third book, you gave me very specific parameters (i.e. I want a corn soufflé with cheese), but for your fourth book (and this is more fun for me) your parameters were a little more vague (i.e. what does Easter mean to you?) and therefore a little more creative. Regardless, I’ll take an idea and craft a base recipe that fits well within the Baked parameters and start tweaking it and playing with the science (more egg yolks, less sugar) and doing general internet research. Overtime something starts to develop that feels unique and special.

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Okay, most difficult recipe you had to develop for us?

Those damn Peanut Butter Chocolate Whirligigs. It was something so specific in my head that I couldn’t execute as dreamed. It took me more than 10 tries and I still think it should be made with milk not dark chocolate.

Favorite/easiest recipe so far?

The lemon Bundt cake for the upcoming book. I aced it (thankfully) on the first try.

It is a phenomenal recipe that looks so scary at first….so many lemons.

That was fun and fast, but the average recipe takes a few days to develop. I can spend up to a whole day doing research alone.

The internet is a black hole and I am obsessed with The Food Timeline. And I feel like once the new book comes out we should do an entire post about the Salted Caramel Souffle. It was the recipe that almost broke each of us.

It was one of those recipes that worked fine and then didn’t and those are  the type of recipes that make you want to scream.

Wait, enough about Baked. Let’s talk about your bourgeoning career.

Well, I just finished co-authoring my first book, Icebox Cakes (due in 2015). It is all about the wonderful world of icebox cakes…all varieties…all shapes and sizes. And I am developing recipes for other people and authors and corporations. And I still test. I still love testing.

Thanks Jessie. Can’t wait to see the book (I tasted a few of the recipes in development and they were amazing). And folks, please feel free to comment here or on Jessie’s site if you have questions about recipe testing, developing, or doughnuts.

Jessie Sheehan, recipe developer and tester, will eat almost anything. Her website is here. And you must make her Dirt Bomb Doughnut Holes. Recipe here.

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*interview was condensed and edited.

About The Baking Society

The National Baking Society is dedicated to preserving American baking standards,techniques, ingredients, ideas and recipes. In less extravagant ornate prose, The National Baking Society is a blog from the folks at Baked.

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