The winning touch – sisters triumph on TV

Bill Althaus

Jessica Washburn and her sister Stephanie Jarstad are bringing home the dough this Christmas. 

Jessica Washburn, left, and her sister Stephanie Jarstad listen to instructions as they compete on the NBC series ‘Baking It.’ Washburn, a chocolatier who owns Bliss Chocolatier in Blue Springs, teamed with her sister to win the $50,000 first-place cash prize.

Well, actually, the Blue Springs resident, and owner of Bliss Chocolatier in Blue Springs, and her sister, a photographer in Oregon, earned the title of “Best in Dough,” in the first season of “Baking It” streamed on Peacock. 

They won the $50,000 first-place prize, which the sisters will split 50/50. 

“Baking It,” a six-part competitive series, featured eight teams of home bakers, consisting of friends, spouses and siblings, including Washburn and her sister. 

Each team had to create savory and sweet items for each program, which were hosted by “Saturday Night Live” alumni Maya Rudolph and Andy Samberg. 

“It was an incredible experience,” said Washburn, who is now back home with her husband Alan and their six children, ages 6 to 20. 

“With Amy Poehler (another former ”Saturday Night Live” and “Parks and Recreation” star) producing it and Maya and Andy hosting it, it was like – if ‘The Great British (Bake Off)’ and ‘Saturday Night Live’ had a baby, it would be ‘Baking It.’ It was just so much fun,” she said. “And we met the greatest people on the show. 

Jessica Washburn, left, and her sister Stephanie Jarstad take a break in front of Studio 26 on the Universal Studios lot while competing on ‘Baking It.’

“Stephanie and I are now close friends with all the other baking contestants. We visit over social media almost every day.” 

Each program had a theme: Holidays Your Way (small deserts and reveal cakes), Baking Memories (baking a three-tiered cake), Gifts and Games (bakers are divided for their first team challenge), Gingerbread Hopes and Dreams (creating a gingerbread house), Holiday Hacks and Pies and Christmas Fest (edible Christmas ornaments), in which Rudolph and Samberg crowned Jessica and Stephanie as the “Baking It” champions. 

The show offered its contestants a touch of home, as Rudolph and Samberg would bring video messages from their family members, as the competition, which was taped on the Universal Studios lot, took about two and a half weeks. 

“I don’t cry, but those videos from our family back home made me weep,” Washburn said. “We all missed each other so much, but it was such a tremendous experience, one I will treasure my entire life.” 

A contestant casting agent contacted Washburn about a possible television appearance a few years ago. 

“That never panned out,” she explained, “but I got another call back in June or July, and they asked me if I would be interested in joining with a partner to be on ‘Baking It.’” 

“And I thought about it and said, ‘Sure, why not.’ I sent a video of me baking and was on a Zoom call, and never thought much about it until they called me back in August. It was August 5th, and they wanted our clothing sizes for all the themed programs.” 

The show was holiday themed but had to take place way before that. 

“We left August 12th – right when school was getting ready to start – and were in Hollywood two and a half weeks,” Washburn said. “It was like going from Tae Kwon Do classes and buying school clothes to this Hollywood, dreamlike life.” 

“It was all so surreal – it’s even more surreal now that I am back home and thinking about it. And it wouldn’t have happened without my family members and friends who really came through.” 

The final episode allowed Jessica and Stephanie to think outside the box as they created a dozen edible Christmas tree ornaments with photos of their families. 

“That was just the best,” Washburn said. “I think that really put us over the top, although I am really proud of all the things we baked.” 

She said Chocolate Bliss was never mentioned on the show, and because of COVID-19 protocols, they were not allowed to sample the wares of the other contestants. 

“I feel like I’ve gained new family members in the other bakers, and Stephanie and I grew so much closer,” Washburn added. “It was like a baking dream come true.”