Photos by Rachael Lee Coleman*
My friend Rachael and I arrived at Allie Herrera’s Miami Beach apartment last Monday knowing few things about her.
We knew that Allie, who is just starting out her cake business (the reason we were there to meet her), had been baking for more than 10 years and we knew she worked for a non-profit. With these tidbits of information, we each formed our own ideas of who we were about to meet, but neither of us pictured who greeted us at the building lobby: a warm and expressive 24-year-old.
Born in Los Angeles to Ecuadorian parents, Allie got an early start in baking.
She asked her mother for an Easy Bake oven at age 3 (her request was denied because her mom wanted her to learn how to bake for real); she baked her first carrot cake by herself at 9; and says she’s really been baking since she was 13. Now, aside from managing a $10 million account at Best Buddies — where she has worked for two years — she provides all baked goods for staff birthdays, Christmas baskets and meetings. In fact, the idea for her business started brewing there, as coworkers who tasted Allie’s treats urged her to sell them.
I heard about Allie from someone who tried her cakes at a party and was curious to learn more. After a few email exchanges, we arranged to meet. At her apartment, four munchkins, as Allie likes to call her four-inch cakes, awaited us atop a wooden lazy Susan. There was chocolate, red velvet, coconut and carrot, four of the six flavors she offers (vanilla and tres leches are the two others).
Allie speaks of her cakes lovingly with an almost childlike delight, associating each to a childhood memory or person in her life. Her family’s influence and support is evident throughout our conversation: all of her cakes are made from family recipes; her aunt sends her care packages with new ingredients for her to try; her step dad made her the wooden lazy Susan holding our cakes; and her family in Ecuador sends over the vanilla that Allie claims is the secret to her baking.
“Desserts are all about being a kid,” she tells us. “It’s about childhood memories. I love to watch people eat them.”
To Allie, cakes are home.
I go for the chocolate first. It’s rich in taste but not too sweet. Fresh raspberries hidden in the ganache between its three layers were a nice surprise and they cut nicely through the richness of the dark chocolate. Allie uses organic ingredients as much as possible and tries to be health-conscious choosing oils that are healthier and using less sugar where she can. Although she doesn’t know how to decorate, learning is among the things she’s doing to get her business rolling.
Next I move on to the red velvet cake. Allie says she perfected this recipe with the help of her college sorority’s cook, a true Southerner who taught her the key to a good red velvet cake. “It’s all about the cocoa you use,” she tells us. I’m no red velvet expert, but I like what I taste.
Unlike many carrot cakes, Allie’s — which is made from her mother’s recipe — is not overly sweet or spicy (from the cinnamon). She prepares it without nuts or raisins.
“I don’t like nuts,” she says. “It’s a picky kid thing.”
Last, I take a few bites of the two-layer coconut cake, which is topped with Allie’s cream cheese and coconut cream frosting — believe me, I would’ve eaten the whole slice had I not already eaten three others. This one had to be one of my favorites. It was moist and fluffy.
Before we go, we order a chocolate cake for a friend’s upcoming birthday party. And we leave convinced that Allie is well on her way to her dream of owning a cake business.
Allie can be reached at email@example.com.
Munchkins (4-inch) – $7
8-inch – $30 (chocolate, carrot and red velvet); $35 (coconut and tres leches)
* Need a little more sugar? See Rachael’s There’s No Cake Like Home Flickr photo set.
[tags] There’s No Cake Like Home, Allie Herrera, cakes, baking, miami beach [/tags]