Cakes, glorious cakes

Creations from Upper Crust Bakery & Eatery are almost too beautiful to eat

Emily Zimmerman performs each step of decorating a wedding cake, from layering to icing.

Emily Zimmerman performs each step of decorating a wedding cake, from layering to icing.

Photo By meredith j. cooper

Sweet tooth’s friend Upper Crust Bakery & Eatery is located in downtown Chico at 130 Main St. In addition to cakes and pastries, the café serves up everything from quiche and specialty sandwiches to soups and salad. For more info, visit

Several ingredients go into good professional cake decorating: creativity, passion, care and lots of time. And for Emily Zimmerman, one of the most important tools to get her creative wheels spinning is coffee—a lot of it to keep up with the cake ideas swirling around in her head.

As a cake decorator at Upper Crust Bakery & Eatery, Zimmerman knows each day is different and she must expect the unexpected.

Zimmerman was hired fresh out of her training at Western Culinary Institute about two years ago and started as an early morning baker. She’d always enjoyed decorating cakes on the side for friends and family, so early on she began helping with cake decorating, and eventually was hired as a full-time decorator.

Though she’s never had any formal art training or experience, the spirited Zimmerman said her job requires an artistic perspective. While some clients are very specific about their needs, others give her free rein to be imaginative—what she loves most about her job.

“I just love having the freedom,” she said. “It allows me to get all the creativity out of my system.”

Photo By meredith j. cooper

The Upper Crust has long been one of the go-to places in Chico for cakes, so when owners Lori Powers and Rebecca Shadd took over the bakery from the previous owner in 1993, they wanted to expand on the outstanding cake reputation the bakery had earned over the years.

“We have always tried to keep the integrity of the cake business, because it is such a great foundation,” Powers said.

Sixteen years later, the business carries on the confectioner’s tradition, offering delicious cakes in flavors such as chocolate peppermint, chocolate espresso rhapsody, coconut cream, strawberry kiss and many others—made fresh daily for any special occasion. Each creation is delicately embellished by Zimmerman or Jessica Robinson, the bakery’s other decorator.

Being creative can sometimes be challenging, as Zimmerman found out when she received an unusual request from a customer who had just graduated from veterinary school: “[The client] wanted a dissected cat,” she said. “I had never done anything like that before. She e-mailed me some pictures from when they dissected cats in school for me to work off of.”

Photo By meredith j. cooper

Zimmerman used fondant—a cream confection used for cakes—to sculpt the shaved body of the cat, along with the intestines, liver and heart. The inside was a rich and sweet red-velvet cake. This celebratory sweet, she said, was her most challenging work to date.

Of course, some creations are hard to let go. Topping the list as her all-time favorite masterpiece is a smooth white wedding cake stacked three tiers high, iced with vanilla butter cream and covered in hand-crafted black fondant leaves and black scrolling.

“Wedding cakes are the most delicate; I just like weddings in general,” Zimmerman said, adding that dropping the cake off at the reception and seeing how it fits into the surrounding décor is one of the most rewarding steps in the cake-decorating process, even though she’s not around to get her clients’ reaction.

“I prefer when they don’t look at the cake while I’m there,” she said. “I’m very critical of my work.”

Photo By meredith j. cooper

Zimmerman said being her own critic allows her to improve upon each cake. She recalled being pleased with a baby shower cake she made—a jungle-themed confection donned with a brightly colored giraffe, a monkey hanging from a tree, and a happy swimming hippopotamus—but she thought of many more things afterward that she would have liked to add.

“There’s something I would’ve done different on most cakes,” she said, sounding like a true artist. “But I learn from each one, so the next time I do something similar it comes out a little better.”