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TV shows like “Cake Boss” and “Cupcake Wars” showcase the latest trends for custom cakes and cupcakes. The shows also encourage creativity, and some of that creative spirit can be found among local custom cake makers.

Katie Senft, owner of Katie Cakes Cakery in Cleona, is a trained pastry chef. She said she’s had people call her “the Cake Boss of Cleona” because of her creative cake designs.

“People will bring me some examples from Pinterest. I’ve made some funky cakes, but I also do some traditional ones as well,” she said.

She graduated from Johnson & Wales University with a B.S. in baking and pastry arts in 2008.

“My mom baked for local restaurants including The Hearth. She would make cakes from home for her customers, and she was Italian so she made delicious food for us. I took an interest in cooking — I loved it — but I decided to become a baker,” she explained,” I didn’t know going into it that I would fall in love with making cakes, but that soon became my focus.”

She came back home after Johnson & Wales and worked at Hotel Hershey for 15 years while making cakes as a sideline. “I started to slowly build my business. At first I made cakes and cupcakes for family and friends then I participated in bridal shows and gradually built up a customer base,” Senft said.

She went full-time with the business in 2015, opening a licensed home-based bakery. Her focus is cakes, cupcakes and cake pops. She also offers dessert tables with cookies and bite-size brownies for weddings, but stressed that that’s only offered for weddings or events.

A dessert table laid out by Katie Cakes. (Provided photo)

When deciding on a name she wanted to include Katie Cakes; it’s a nickname given to her by a friend at Johnson & Wales.

“The name ‘Katie Cakes’ was already taken by another business, so I brainstormed and decided to add ‘cakery’ — it’s catchy and I don’t have all the offerings of a traditional bakery,” Senft explained.

Her favorite cake/cupcake flavors include carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, apple spice cake with caramel butter cream frosting — both of these are made using family recipes. Senft said chocolate is a popular flavor in the area, particularly chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting.

She said flavors also change seasonally with fruit flavors in the spring and warmer flavors like pumpkin and maple in the fall.

“Wedding trends change over the years. A tiered cake was the tradition for wedding cakes, when I started out but over the past few years there’s been a shift to a single tier for the bride and groom to cut and then cupcakes to share with guests,” Senft said, “During the COVID-19 pandemic, people were celebrating special events in their homes and weddings were scaled back so people wanted smaller cakes. Now I’m getting more requests for large tiered cakes and dessert tables. But a single tier with cupcakes remains popular — couples still want the cake for the cake cutting photo.”

One of Katie Cakes’ tiered cakes. (Provided photo)

Sadie Eisenhour, the owner of home-based Sweet Sadie’s Custom Cakes, sees a similar trend with a single-tier cake for the couple and cupcakes for guests, but she said “some clients go big and have a four- or five-tier cake.”

“Cupcakes were really popular during COVID since they’re an individual serving,” she said. “Prior to COVID, cupcakes were trending — they’re an easy grab & go item, and they’re the perfect treat size.”

Both Eisenhour and Senft said “naked cakes” are trending. “With a naked cake, you leave the frosting off the side, so the cake layers and filling is exposed. It’s a bit of a rustic look,” Senft said.

“Some of my clients add fresh flowers to the cake or a cake topper,” Eisenhour added.

Sadie Eisenhour of Sweet Sadie’s Custom Cakes. (Provided photo)

A 2012 Lebanon High School graduate and a graduate of Lebanon County Career & Technology Center (CTC), Eisenhour launched Sweet Sadie’s Custom Cakes about two-and-a-half years ago. The business’s Facebook page indicates “Sweet Sadie’s Custom Cakes believes in love at first sight and bite! Our mission is to create custom, tasteful cakes and cupcakes to satisfy all celebratory events, as well as your everyday craving.”

“My great-grandmother was a baker, and as a kid I had a huge sweet tooth. I spent some time in the kitchen with my mom and grandmother growing up, but didn’t really think of it as a career until I visited CTC and learned about the pastry program. It’s very hands-on and creative and that really clicked for me,” she explained.

She furthered her skills in pastry arts at York Technical Institute and spent nearly a decade in the industry working for places such as Hollywood Casino and Elizabethtown College.

“Even working at Dairy Queen as a cake decorator helped me improve my skills,” Eisenhour said adding that she decorated cakes on her own as a “side hustle”.

Originally the business was named Sweet Sadie’s Cakes & Bakes, but instead of focusing on all desserts, she honed her focus to cakes and cupcakes and rebranded as Sweet Sadie’s Custom Cakes. “I focus on the custom aspect of cakes and cupcakes. Customers share their vision for the cake and/or cupcakes for their event, and I bring it to life,” she said.

Both Eisenhour and Senft have online order forms on their websites and social media, and they reach out to customers to confirm details and will meet with couples for cake tastings. Eisenhour said the growth of special events venues and the events industry has helped spur demand for custom cakes since “now there’s a more aesthetically pleasing look and feel for events, and people are looking for something that’s more customized and unique”.

Cakes by Moraima & Café opened its doors at 443 Cumberland St., Lebanon, in July 21, The business operated by Moraima Gonzalez began as a home-based business when she began making custom cakes as a side business while working fulltime.

“I wanted to open a small coffee shop to help sell cakes,” she explained, “Since the café opened I have more clients for cakes, cupcakes and desserts.”

Read More: Cakes by Moraima & Café open for business on Cumberland

Moraima González poses by the menu in her café. (LebTown file photo by Emily Bixler)

The café’s menu features coffees, all-day breakfast items and sandwiches as well as single serving desserts and drinks. It’s a family business, and Gonzalez said the menu is kept small so she has time for custom cakes.

“I’m the first one in my family who’s a professional baker, but my grandmother baked for the family,” Gonzalez said.

“We offer the traditional flavors of Puerto Rico with pastries like tres leches and quesitos and unique cake flavors as well as ‘island’ flavors, but we also offer traditional flavors like carrot cake and red velvet cake,” she said.

One of Moraima González’ custom cakes displayed in the café. (LebTown file photo by Emily Bixler)

Gonzalez said her cakes have some unique filling flavors. “Some clients don’t like butter cream frosting, so I offer a powdered sugar topping and a guava filling. It’s really tasty, and we offer it every day in the café,” she said.

She also offers a vanilla cake with a pineapple filling, which she described as a pineapple jam. Marble cake or cupcakes and a marble cake with a selection of vanilla and chocolate cupcakes are popular for weddings or other special events.

“People are looking to personalize their event, but they also think about their guests, which is why a mix of cupcake flavors is often requested,” Gonzalez said.

One of her specialties is Disney-themed birthday cakes. “I need about a month’s notice for those — they’re so detailed and everything is hand-made,” she stressed.

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Rochelle Shenk

Rochelle A. Shenk is a writer with over two decades experience. Her work appears in regional business publications and lifestyle magazines as well as area newspapers. She writes about business and municipal sectors as well as arts and entertainment, human interest features, and travel and tourism. Rochelle...