Stress baking—for some, it results in dozens of chocolate chip cookies or a new interest in sourdough bread. For Jessica Van Hemert, it resulted in a business: Haute Chocolate, a wholesale baking company that supplies local eateries with fresh baked goods.
Van Hemert first started baking as a way to relieve stress from her 70-hour weeks as a senior program manager overseeing IT projects. “My stress relief has always been baking,” she says. “I would bake and bring in cookies for teams because nothing makes people get along like chocolate chip cookies.”
Although the cookies and other treats helped to relieve some of the stress, it ultimately led to health issues. So, after 10 years, she left that role—but continued to bake.
Van Hemert and her husband moved to Woodbury in 2015, and Ze’s Diner was looking for someone to come in and bake for them every once in a while.
“I thought, you know what, this could be fun,” Van Hemert says. “And so, I started going in, and eventually, it just kind of evolved itself into a business.”
Van Hemert, who now supplies goods to Nina’s Coffee Café in St. Paul and other local Twin Cities businesses, didn’t get to be succesful without a few baking fails along the way.
“My [baking] background is growing up, like so many people, watching their mom or their grandma cook, trying it themselves, and having things flop and then trying again,” says Van Hemert. “The IT part of me asks, ‘If this flops, why? What can I do, so it doesn’t happen again?’ I will do my research into why it happens.”
Many at-home bakers know the experience of a baking flop: Cookies that won’t rise, brownies that are overbaked, sunken-in cakes, the list goes on. Avoid these common baking problems with Van Hemert’s tips.
For flat cookies: Van Hemert recommends letting the dough chill before baking, so the fat in the dough will melt less and the cookies will spread less. If thinner cookies are more to your taste, go low and slow. Bake your cookies at a lower temperature for a longer period of time allowing them to spread more.
“Don’t be afraid to try a test cookie,” says Van Hemert. Cookies offer a great opportunity to play around—feel free to make adjustments to each sheet of cookies you bake.
With both cookies and brownies: Van Hemert warns against overbaking. Keep in mind that once out of the oven, the baked goods will continue to cook internally for a couple of minutes.
“I take my cookies out wet and my brownies out when they look about 90 percent of the way done,” says Van Hemert. That’s one secret tip to perfect brownies.
For brownies: “The center shouldn’t be gooey, but the brownies should still a little bit under,” she says. “A good way to test that is to put a toothpick in about two inches from the bottom of the pan. If that comes out clean or just a little bit wet, it’ll set really nicely.”
For sunken cakes: Van Hemert says to get creative. Try crumbling it up and rolling it with frosting to make individual cake balls—cake pops are trending, after all!
While there’s usually always a way to salvage a baking mistake, sometimes you have to think on your feet.
“The best way to do that is to always have on hand ice cream, whipped cream or even Jell-O,” Van Hemert says. “Because if you, for example, take out your cookies, cake or brownies and they’re overdone, all you have to do is crumble the [dessert] up into chunks and layer them in a pretty glass bowl with whipped cream, Jell-O or ice cream, and call it a trifle.”
If trifle isn’t your cup of tea, turn an underbaked dessert into an ice cream sundae: Portion it out into bowls, warm it up in the microwave and top with a scoop of ice cream.
“Sometimes the flops end up being the best thing ever,” says Van Hemert. “[Sometimes] you make a mistake, you pull it out and go, ‘This tastes better than anything I’ve ever had.’ So, I just roll with it and go.”
Mistakes are how we learn, better ourselves, and baking is a great way for people of all ages to learn and have fun—not to mention, you always end up with a sweet treat.
“You can really use it as a learning experience and a teaching tool,” says Van Hemert. “With younger kids, you can say, ‘We need this many cups of flour,’ and have them count that out. If they’re older, give them the recipe and have them read it out to you, that reinforces a reading experience.” And don’t be afraid to get out of the kitchen.
“With older kids, let them take charge,” says Van Hemert. “You’d be surprised at how kids, ages 10–13, rise to the occasion. [Parents can] be the sous chef, or let them take care of dessert completely.”
As to what to bake, “You have failsafe recipes,” says Van Hemert. “Things that are no-bake, things you can supervise like Rice Krispy treats or chocolate chip cookies. Start with the box mix, and let the kids put the ingredients in.”
Have fun with it, and don’t stress out too much! “I think that [baking at home is] the best way to learn,” says Van Hemert. “Because you learn from a place of love.”
Ultimate Fudge Brownies
These brownies are thick, rich and amazing. They’re easy enough for “little helpers” to help with and can be adapted easily. —Jessica Van Hemert
- 1 cup butter, melted
- 3 cups white sugar
- 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
- 4 eggs
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking dish. (I like to line the baking dish with tin foil, and spray/grease the foil for easy cleanup.) Combine the melted butter, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each, until thoroughly blended. Sift the flour, cocoa powder and salt in a bowl. Gradually stir flour mixture into the egg mixture until blended. Do not overmix. Stir in the chocolate chips. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared baking dish. Bake in preheated oven until an inserted toothpick comes out clean, 35–40 minutes. Remove, and cool pan on wire rack before cutting.
Notes: To keep chocolate chips or add-ins from sinking, toss in a little flour before incorporating. Feel free to play with mix-ins: white chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, nuts, etc. These brownies are a very dense and rich dessert and the perfect treat for days when only chocolate will do!