Colavita: Let’s start with something general. How did you get into baking?
Jessie Sheehan: I never baked as a child, nor did I grow up around home baking, but I have always had a voracious sweet tooth. And after working as an actress, then a lawyer and then as a stay-at-home-mom, I was ready for a change. I still loved sweets and thought that maybe it was time to learn how to make them. So, I went into a bakery in my neighborhood and asked if I could work as an apprentice of sorts, and learn the ropes – and they (surprisingly!) agreed. Honestly, I think they were a little freaked out, because how many moms with no skills walk into a bakery in Brooklyn and ask for a job? Not too many, I’m thinking, but they took a chance on me and I am so grateful!
C: More specifically what drew you to the baking of the 1920s-1960s that inspired The Vintage Baker?
JS: I have always loved nostalgic, old-school baked goods – and the first bakery in Brooklyn that I worked at, specialized in just such Americana desserts. Big cakes with lots of frosting and chewy cookies with lot of chips and buttery, over-the-top scones and coffee cakes with lots of crumb – and that has always been the kind of desserts that appealed to me the most. And when it came time to think about writing a second book, the idea of writing about such desserts was just top of mind for me.
C: Why is olive oil your oil of choice when making baked goods? What makes it a good alternative to melted butter in baking?
JS: I love olive oil for the subtle grassy flavor it imparts to baked goods, and for the moisture and texture it gives cakes, breads, cookies and so much more. I believe the texture of sweets made from olive oil is superior to those made from regular vegetable oil. Cakes made with olive oil last for days and have the most wonderful velvety crumb. They are always ultra-moist and are the kind of cakes that do not even need frosting due to how rich and flavorful they are. They also never seem to dry out (and to me, there is nothing worse than a dry cake!). Melted butter is lovely in terms of flavor, but it will never give you the moistness that a cake made with olive oil will give you (and apologies for using the word “moist” so much – I know it is a controversial word!).
C: Are there any recipes that olive oil can’t be used for?
JS: I mean there are certain cakes in which you might just want a buttery flavor and cookies where you might just want the texture and flavor that only creamed butter can bring. But it’s always nice – I think – to add a mixture of butter and olive oil – so you get some of the buttery flavor, but also some of the moisture and texture that the oil brings.
C: Let’s get into the mug cakes! What was the inspiration behind these individual treats?
JS: Oh gosh, to be perfectly honest, it was Elana’s [Colavita’s Marketing Director] idea. she knows me so well and the kinds of treats I enjoy, and she could not have been more right on with choosing them. I had actually never made a mug cake before and had so much fun developing the recipes and doing loads of research to figure out the best ingredients and the best ratios in which to use those ingredients, as well as the best flavors.
C: Can these be made with regular all-purpose flour? Any wiggle room for people with dietary restrictions like gluten-free or dairy free?
JS: They can definitely be made with all-purpose flour, but you will have to add leavening, as well as salt, if you choose to do so. I specifically chose self-rising flour, so there would be fewer ingredients in the cake. If you are gluten-free, you can certainly use the gluten-free flour of your choice, but again you will have to use a smidge of leavening and some salt as well. And you may need to practice once or twice before you get it perfect (I recommend starting with ¼ tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt). The good thing about a mug cake is that if you mess it up the first time, it is easy to try it again. As for dairy free, I think you can substitute dairy free milk, etc. for the liquid in the cakes, but I have never done it before .
C: Baking can be intimidating to some. What’s some advice you’d give to someone just starting to venture beyond the box cakes and into homemade baking
JS: There are so many fab, easy-peasy recipes out there and I guess I would just say, start with something simple, master it and move on. Read the recipe through to the end before getting started, and make sure you have all of your ingredients before beginning. Also, buy an oven thermometer, as everyone’s oven is a little off and do not overmix or overbake!
C: Last but not least, we have to know … what do you do with all the baked treats at the end of a photoshoot?
JS: Oh, gosh. When I am at home baking, I try to force all of the leftovers off on my family members or my neighbors. Or I send them to an organization in my neighborhood that works with kids who go to school in the area. And as a final resort, I wrap them carefully and put them in my freezer in my basement for a rainy day!