Jennifer McHenry of Bake or Break
Her grandmother’s love for baking serves as continuous inspiration for Jennifer McHenry of the delightfully and delectable blog, Bake or Break. It was during her childhood that she developed an appreciation for homemade desserts, and fell into a sweet and life-long love affair with baking. I had the pleasure of learning more about the Mississippi-bred gal, as she answered my questions about her live-in taste-tester and another Martha that you may have heard of.
MM: The cool autumn air was the inspiration behind Fall Baking, a collection of your dangerously delicious recipes (attn readers: you have been warned!). What inspires you when constructing these I’ve-died-and-gone-to-heaven recipes?
JM: I like to use a mix of my own recipes and recipes from other bakers. Generally, I like to keep things simple. I’m inspired by beloved flavors or whatever’s at the market or something I enjoy in a bakery or restaurant. I keep a notebook of ideas, and, honestly, there’s more in it than I’ll ever get around to baking. But, it’s a great tool to have when I’m feeling uninspired. I just ask past me what sounds good.
MM: When reflecting on your childhood in Mississippi, memories of your grandmother’s baking serve as the inspiration and appreciation you have for home-baked food. Is there a particular recipe or method that you attribute to your Grandmother, and how has it helped you to evolve as a baker?
JM: It’s not so much baking skills I learned from her as it was just the love of baking. The thing about my grandmother was that she always had some homemade cake or other dessert in her kitchen. At some point, I remember thinking that I want to be that person that always has homemade dessert in her kitchen. And now, I guess I am!
MM: Bake or Break was hand-selected by Martha Stewart editors and is among the exceptional sites and blogs that are showcased in Martha Stewart’s official advertising network, Martha’s Circle. As your site was developing, did you actively pursue marketing initiatives or did you let the recognition happen organically?
JM: I didn’t pursue that at all. I am so fortunate that it just kind of happened. Once I got going with Martha’s Circle, then some other things sort of fell into place. I started my blog at the urging of my husband, Quinn. It gave me a creative outlet (wow, that sounds cliché) that I just wasn’t getting with my job. That was over 6 years ago. Now, my blog is my job. That still astounds me.
MM: Your husband, Quinn, occassionally contributes to your site. I particularly like the Garlic Knots post, in which he admits that next time he’ll reserve a little less dough, as 30 garlic knots for only two people was perhaps a bit much (sounds like my guy!). Having the support of those around you is invaluable. Do you frequently bounce recipes off and rely on tasters, like your husband, to hone your craft?
JM: Quinn has to listen to ideas all the time. I don’t think he minds that much because he is also my #1 taste-tester. I generally ask him things like, “would flavor X go well with flavor Y?” before I start working on a recipe. Then, with the finished product, I quiz him mercilessly about flavor and texture and anything else I’m trying to figure out. I also rely on others to test recipes and also to try things I’ve baked so they can offer feedback to help me try to make things better.
MM: If you could only work with one baking tool for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
JM: Now, that’s a tough one. My answer would likely change depending on what I’m baking. I love my cookie scoops and Silpats and, well, I could go on and on. But, over the last couple of years, I’ve grown to love my KitchenAid 9-speed hand mixer. A few days ago, I made some brownies and used nothing but a bowl and a spoon. It felt so strange not to get out my mixer! I used to be completely reliant on my stand mixer, but I honestly just don’t use it that much anymore. Don’t get me wrong; I still adore it and wouldn’t dare part with it. But, from an everyday baking standpoint, that hand mixer is invaluable.
All images courtesy of Bake of Break. All rights reserved.