Queen of cakes
Cake artist Emily Zimmerman opens Lovely Layers
As Emily Zimmerman stood in her sunny kitchen talking about her cake-making business, she stopped mid-conversation and casually walked over to the oven and removed several fragrant rounds of perfectly done Red Velvet cake.
“I have a mental timer,” Zimmerman said. “I just know when it’s done. It drove my employers crazy.”
She doesn’t have to worry about what employers think of her techniques anymore. A year ago, Zimmerman put her love and talent for baking to the test and opened Lovely Layers Cakery. Now, the energetic 28-year-old is a solo operation. She likes things that way, doing everything herself—the baking, the decorating and, of course, running the business (with some help from her husband).
“I’m my own boss with no employees,” she said.
Her talent and her passion are obvious. Not only has she developed a natural feel for the timing of baking, but the cakes, cupcakes and other confections she creates are astounding to look at. Browsing the gallery of her work on her website (www.lovelylayerscakery.com), it’s hard to believe some of the picture-perfect creations are actually cakes. Using malleable fondant icing on many of them, she sculpts realistic replicas of things like a circus tent, a client’s dog, even a can of Skoal. The cake version of a digital SLR camera is utterly realistic, right down to the textured thread of the strap and the F-stop reading on the tiny gold screen.
Zimmerman challenges people to think outside boxed cakes and cake mixes and demand something more compelling when it comes to birthdays, weddings, graduations and showers. “People should expect delicious cake, with more gourmet ingredients,” she said.
Zimmerman has come a long way since she made her first wedding cake—for her own wedding, when she was just 19, to her eighth-grade sweetheart. She rolls her eyes thinking of it.
“It was a white cake with strawberry buttercream frosting. It was ugly, but everyone said it tasted good. One of the layers caught fire in the oven. I was afraid it would be a bad omen.” But it turned out not to be (for her marriage or her cake-baking abilities)—Zimmerman and her husband, Ryan, have been married more than eight years.
Zimmerman grew up in Paradise, and enrolled in all the home-ec classes available at Paradise High. After graduation, she attended a year-long program at the Western Culinary Institute (now Le Cordon Bleu) in Portland, Ore., then went on to work as a baker and decorator at the Upper Crust Bakery and Eatery before eventually setting out on her own.
She credits her parents for her entrepreneurial spirit, and enjoys working for herself. “It was in my blood. My dad owned his own business since he was 30, doing custom cabinets.” Her mother is a quilting instructor and her sister, Jenny Skibo, is a professional photographer in town and owns Passion for Life Photography. “I’m from a very artsy family,” Zimmerman said.
Most days Zimmerman says she’s up at 5 a.m. to hit the gym for an hour. Then she goes to work for six hours with the Healthy Lunch and Lifestyle Project, where she’s the kitchen manager/chef making mid-day meals for local school children. That’s followed by four to six hours of baking for her business. She admits 12-hour days and seven-day workweeks are part of it.
For the Taste of Chico event coming up this weekend (Sunday, Sept. 11), Zimmerman plans to make 2,000 mini-cupcakes in two festive flavor combinations: A piña colada, with pineapple-coconut cake soaked in rum, topped with a cream-cheese frosting; and a Cadillac margarita cupcake, with lemon-lime cake drenched in tequila, finished with Grand Marnier and Swiss meringue buttercream.
Zimmerman said the business is doing well, and she’s receiving lots of custom orders, but any money she makes she pours back into the venture. She said she is looking forward to cautiously growing her business.
“I’d like to have a van, and someday my own storefront. I’d like to keep it small, so I can relate one-on-one with the customer.”