Jessica Merchant of What Sweet Eats Chats with Bakepedia
Jessica Merchant is beloved by her readers who flock to her blog, What Sweet Eats, which, in her words, is “for people who, like, totally love food”. It is filled with her irreverent but uber-friendly tone, inviting you to share in her food adventures. Not culinary adventures – food adventures. As Jessica might say, “It’s food, people!” Let’s not take it too seriously, she would admonish, while at the same time urging you to try a recent find, just like your BFF would. Her new book, Seriously Delish, is hitting the shelves and we chatted about moving from blogging to book writing, her creative process and how she is expecting two babies.
Dédé Wilson: Hi Jessica! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me!
Jessica Merchant: I love your name! (She is out of the gate with enthusiasm).
Well, thank you!
You must get “DeeDee” all the time.
Yes, I do. I try to use the accents but they don’t always work. I will answer to both! Are you so excited about the book finally arriving?
I am so excited! You know it has been so long…it’s been 2 years in the making. In some ways it feels weird that it’s finally here.
But wasn’t it amazing to hold it in your hands for the first time? When you got to hold the first copy?
It’s pretty crazy! All these writers told me, you just wait, and then my editor sent just a couple of the books and said unless you run into Oprah don’t you give these away to anybody! OMG it’s like baby!
It is! And with a longer gestation! (We both laugh). Tell me about your creative process, especially when it comes to baking and desserts.
With baking, that’s where I started with my Grandmother and my Mom and they love to bake…I like it, but I love to eat sweets! I am more of a cook because I like to change things up and not follow directions…but when it comes to baking it is nostalgic for me and it gets the biggest response from my followers.
I never had any interest in being a chef. I want to cook and share food with the people I love. I end up baking as much as I do because I get to share with my friends and family! It isn’t what I am the best at…to make it work I go for old comfort food that I love that gives me that sense of nostalgia, but then I give them a twist…
Like with the cheddar crisp, I thought, what could I do? You see recipes with the cheddar in the crust or just melted on top but I love apple crisp and crumble even more than pie and I thought, how could I make it different, but classic and use the cheddar at same time? Something easier…I can be intimidated…I don’t have a lot of patience for the perfect pie crust or fancy layer cakes…I want to make food relatable, for people who aren’t as skilled.
Talk to me about the editing process. You know, I went from print to digital, so I was used to being severely edited and having to throw out whole sections of things I wanted to write about and now on Bakepedia I can use the space as I like and I realized, you are used to having that expansive approach coming from blogging, but now you have a book. Do you feel like the design and format of the book was constraining?
You know, I was concerned. I struggled as I started to write because I thought OMG it has to be professional and I can’t use made up words! My first drafts of a proposal were all like that and my agent and others said, this doesn’t sound like you! So then I just wrote like I was doing blog posts and I was expecting them to edit the crap out of them…they were going to be like oh-my-gosh we can’t print this and in truth they didn’t say that! They said we aren’t editing it down; we will lose your voice.
How lucky for you that you had a publisher and an agent you understood your voice and wanted to preserve it!
I know! Seriously like 95% they didn’t edit. It could have gone the other way with a different publisher! Readers love the recipes but they love and come for my voice and my writing. We have a community where we are friends…and even in promotion the publisher has been helping it be organic. They aren’t asking me to do anything that doesn’t fit with who I am.
Will you bring treats with you to your signings?
Yes, I hope to, but it depends on the location and I am expecting so…
So you are expecting two babies! A book and a real little one! Any food cravings since becoming pregnant?
No cravings yet, and I want them! I want to be able to ask my husband to go out late at night because I just HAVE to have something…hopefully some weird combination.
I never had cravings as much as aversions. Before I even knew I was pregnant my body decided it didn’t want coffee.
That happened to me too! I really want the cravings though. It’s so much fun to eat; I’m loving it. And I don’t have to hold in my stomach! So I don’t know about bringing treats to signings, but I am teaching locally.
What do you like to teach?
Oh, I have a class on gourmet grilled cheese, one on different kinds of burgers – a vegetarian burger, seafood burger, and a classic bacon burger with tons of toppings. I do a brunch class and I think there will be one centered on the book. My classes tend to be about 3 hours long and combine a little savory, a little sweet, maybe a cocktail…tie it all together. Some healthy, some indulgent.
I like that about your book, too. There is a blend of healthy and over-the-top. Do you have a favorite dessert in the book?
Oh-my-gosh! Yes, they change constantly. It’s like asking me to choose a favorite movie! I do like the Pistachio Cream Cake with Chocolate Ganache. It’s like a real pistachio cake, not made with pudding. It doesn’t have an ultra-sweet flavor. I grind up the pistachios like you would an almond flour, mixed in with all-purpose flour…
You have to check out the Pistachio Butterballs on Bakepedia; they sound right up your alley! They are a classic ground nut buttery cookie, like a Mexican Wedding Cake Cookie, covered with confectioners’ sugar and they are pale green from the pistachios and so elegant and delicious!
Oh, those do sound good. I will! Speaking of websites, I just want to point out that really at least 95% of the book is new. I didn’t want the book to just be the same content as you find on my blog. What I did was I took inspiration from the blog, so for instance, I might have fruit crisps on the blog, but nothing like the one in the book with the melted cheddar cheese!
Do you have some words of wisdom for the bakers on Bakepedia?
One of my main points is to not be afraid to make things your own. Like with the crisps. I knew that my readers love crisps and I started thinking about how I could make one that was just a bit different, but still easy and accessible. My desserts aren’t as precise as many (dessert recipes) and a lot of them allow you to swap things in and out…it’s all about trial and error; that’s how I learned to bake. So don’t be afraid!
It’s so true. Thank you for the encouragement, Jessica. Well, the book offers so many enticing recipes, both savory and sweet and I know our audience is going to love them. I mean, just look at the picture of those brownies!
Thank you, Dédé.
And good luck with both your babies!