MMMMM CAKE! mmmmmmm cake!
In an unassuming subdivision on the eastern fringe of town Alita Scales bakes old-fashioned, homemade cakes and pies in a converted two-car garage.
Practically speaking, it’s a pretty good workspace with natural light seeping in through the sets of French doors, spotless white walls and an unblemished vinyl floor. A sidewall is braced by two standard kitchen ovens and a refrigerator of the type you’d find in any household kitchen. An industrial stainless steel sink runs along the other wall, next to a small hand-washing sink.
Alita stands at a wheeled worktable in the center of the room this morning assembling the components of a red velvet cake as the voices on her small radio switch from Brad and Britt to Neal Boortz.
Compared to most commercial bakers she’s getting a late start, but when Alita brought her business into her garage in September she said goodbye to baking bread before the sun broke the horizon and rolling pastry at 5 a.m.
Now she sees her kids off to school in the morning, spends time with her husband before he goes to work.
And then she’s in the garage to fill custom orders and make enough product to stock her stand for Saturday morning at the Farmers’ Curb Market on Yanceyville Street, in the shadow of the crumbling old stadium.
“I think in the future you’re going to see a lot of chefs own their own businesses,” she says.
She’s got the first layer of red velvet down on the lazy Susan and she’s layering a thick coat of cream cheese frosting on it.
“Bakers don’t worry about the first layer of frosting,” she says. We call that the ‘crumb layer’ – that’s where all the crumbs come off.”
She finishes it off; white icing as thick as the paint on a Van Gogh.
“I tend not to do many French or Italian cakes,” she says. “‘Genoise’ they call it, because those are like sponge cakes. You have to saturate them with liquid to make them moist. I start with a moist cake to begin with. I tend to do things the old-fashioned way. I don’t use any margarine or any shortening – I use real butter”
She’s got her culinary degree from GTCC hanging on the wall next to her junior membership certificate from the American Culinary Federation and another designating her as a Joseph Bryan Jr. Scholarship recipient. But Alita’s education in cake-making started when she was just a young girl in Eden helping out in her mother’s kitchen.
“We made pecan pies,” she remembers, “coconut cake – those are so Southern – coconut custard pies and, of course, red velvet cake.”
Before her, the third layer of deep red cake disappears beneath a heavy smear of cream cheese frosting.
“These are very Southern,” she says. “People love it especially around the holidays. It’s basically a chocolate cake with coloring. This is the only cake I use dye for.”
At the market she moves a lot of pound cakes – a lot of pound cakes – and these perfect squares of carrot cake, each with a pecan half pushed perfectly into the center of the icing on top.
This is how Famous Amos got started. Papa John, too.
Likewise, Alita dreams big. She uses the word “entrepreneur” a lot and talks about the next phase in her business, outfitting her garage bakery with more ovens and workstations and eventually moving into a bigger space, making more cakes and pies and selling them to restaurants and specialty shops. She knows it will be hard work.
“A lot of people go into this business because they think it’s glamorous.” This makes her laugh a bit as she spins the three-layer cake on the lazy Susan and smooths out the frosting.
The cake is almost done.
“I’m just gonna finish this off with sprinkles,” she says and then grabs a shaker of chocolate sprinkles, the kind you get at the grocery store. She begins tossing them on top of the cake. “It’s just an indicator that it’s chocolate inside,” she says.
She casts a critical eye on the dessert and nods approvingly.
“A lot of people like these cakes that look homemade.”
To comment on this story, e-mail Brian Clarey at firstname.lastname@example.org.