Jessica Divis is the Head of Adult Services at our Bainbridge Branch. She has been with Geauga County Public Library for 5 years. Along with being a terrific librarian, she is a great baker and often shares her delectable treats with the staff. Co-worker and Bainbridge Branch Manager Eric Coulbourne recently interviewed Jessica about her baking passion. Happy Tasty Tuesday!
Q: When did you start baking? What got you interested in it?
A: I’ve been baking for a long time. My mom worked in a bakery for parts of my childhood and learned how to decorate cakes during that time. She practiced a lot and baked other things, so it was something that I just grew up around. I did cooking projects in 4-H and got to try new foods and methods as I progressed. I get a lot of satisfaction from sharing what I make, and I think that’s sustained my interest in it. Q: What is your favorite thing to bake?
A: My favorite thing to bake is cookies. I spend a lot of time trying to get things just right, and I’ve made so many adjustments as I work on things. I have notes on recipes that say what temperature and cooking time to use based on what apartment or house I was living in at the time. Now that I have children it’s the easiest thing to involve them with when they want to help. The mess has increased in the kitchen, but now my chocolate chip cookies have sprinkles on them.
Q: What is your fondest baking memory?
A: My sister and I helped my mom bake for the farmer’s market the summer after I graduated from college. Mom brings all kinds of baked goods to the market and often we would be up past midnight the night before finishing up the cinnamon rolls. We talked a lot that summer and had so much fun together while Lady Gaga blared in the background.
Listen to Lady Gaga while you bake on Hoopla!
Q: Do you have any secret recipes you won’t share with anyone?
A: I do. My mom got her pie crust recipe from a lady who swore her to secrecy, and I have always felt that I needed to keep my lips sealed about it. That’s really the only one that I keep close.
Q: Do you have a favorite celebrity chef and/ or show that you love to watch and why?
A: I have two favorites. I love watching Steven Raichlen on PBS, whether it be on Project Smoke or Project Fire. I do not smoke or barbeque food and I rarely think that I’ll attempt what Raichlen is making, but I love his enthusiasm for what he does and find his techniques interesting. Another person I really enjoy watching is Kevin Belton on his New Orleans Kitchen program, also on PBS. He gets so excited about what he is making, and when things don’t go the way he wants or expects them to he rolls with it. He talks about his family and how he came up with some of his recipes and I’ve found that he’s perfect for ending my day on a happy note.
Q: If you could give a beginning baker one tip, what would it be?
A: When you’re making something for the first time, don’t rely on the baking time the recipe gives you. Set the timer for less than what the recipe says and monitor the situation in the oven. Add more time as you need it. Pillsbury cake mix (my go-to for white cake, don’t judge) bakes a lot quicker for me than the box suggests it will.
Q: Can you share a time that something you baked went extremely wrong?
A: I volunteered to make a cheesecake for someone who was leaving our team at Bainbridge a few years ago. As I was removing it from the pan it cracked, and a small piece fell off. I wasn’t worried about the crack because I was going to decorate the top with whipped cream anyway, but I tasted the piece that fell off and could tell right away that something was wrong. It turned out that I had not added any sugar to the batter and there was no way to salvage it. I couldn’t just make another for the party the next day because of the extensive cooling down process. I had written down my dad’s recipe as he gave it to me over the phone and either he didn’t tell me how much sugar was needed or I didn’t write it down. I had made the recipe before and apparently added sugar to that cake because it turned out great, but completely forgot this time around. I felt horrible about it, but the rest of our team chipped in and there were plenty of sweets for my co-worker’s going away party.
Q: Can you share a time that you surprised yourself baking something?
A: I’ve been trying to push myself with the cakes I’ve been baking over the last year or so. I made my son a construction-themed cake with crumbled brownies as dirt and found little construction vehicles to put on it. My daughter wanted a rainbow party for her birthday this year and I make a six-layer cake with the colors of the rainbow that surprised her when we sliced it. And recently one of my coworkers retired and I made her a cake that had M&Ms spill out of it when it was cut into. These all turned out really well, but I always wonder if I’m being too ambitious.
Q: Is there anything you hate or refuse to bake?
A: I haven’t come across anything yet. I think that I would try anything at least once.
If you would like to see people pushed to their baking limits check out The Great British Baking Show on Hoopla! Also available on DVD- call your local branch to place a hold!
Q: What is one baking utensil you cannot live without?
A: My offset spatulas. They make frosting so much easier to work with.
Q: Do you like to be alone when you are baking or do you like to do it with friends or family?
A: It depends on the situation. I enjoy using baking as a distraction for my kids when we’ve got a couple of hours to kill and I love baking with my mom and sister if it’s for fun. However, if I’m working on decorating a cake I need to be left alone. I’m kind of a perfectionist when it comes to decorating and get frustrated when I’m interrupted.
Q: What is something that you have wanted to try to bake that you have not tried yet?
A: I’ve always wanted to try to make a souffle. I saw Jacques Pepin make one on one of his shows and he beat his egg whites using a copper bowl. My father-in-law got me my own copper bowl for Christmas a couple of years ago and we haven’t found a good time to try it out yet. I don’t even know if I like souffles!
Check out the souffle recipes in Slow Cooker Desserts on Overdrive.
Q: Can you share some of your favorite cookbooks?
A: I use my Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook a lot. I enjoy the cookbooks that come out of America’s Test Kitchen and like how I can easily get recipes from magazines through OverDrive.
Check out the cooking and food magazines on Overdrive here!
Q: Do you have any favorite blogs or Youtube channels you follow?
A: I don’t really follow anyone, but I’ve used YouTube quite a bit when trying to learn new decorating techniques. I like seeing different ways of doing things and figuring out what works best for me.