As Rosie Alyea’s career as a baker started to take off, she realized she needed to find a way to keep her young daughter busy while she worked. Before long, she had two little girls to keep occupied – and “interactive” baking was born. She created edible “paint” and “chalk,” which her daughters could easily handle to decorate whimsical cakes and cookies of their own. You can find ideas and recipes for these – and more than 70 others – in her recent book, The Sweetapolita Bakebook, published by Appetite. We talked to Alyea, who launched her Sweetapolita recipe blog five years ago, about the challenge and joy of baking with kids – and her most epic baking disaster – from her home east of Toronto.
How did you discover you had an interest in baking and creating beautiful things in the kitchen?
I came across a cake decorating book called Confetti Cakes by Elisa Strauss and it was an ‘Aha!’ moment. I needed to know everything about cake decorating. I got the book and signed up for courses. My initial plan was to create wedding cakes but I found, especially with a small child, the demands to be gruelling. So I started to explore food photography and decided to take my whole baking gig online and start a blog. And from there came the cookbook.
Your background is connected to cake of a different sort. How did being a co-creator of bath and body company Cake Beauty influence what you are doing now?
Cake Beauty came from a place in my mind that is a really fun, happy, pastel place, like my baking. There is also a lot of overlap with experimenting with the research and development of a product. We made our products to mimic baking, so to speak. So, for example, we would use a mixer to make lotion to include lots of air and make it have a texture similar to frosting. My experience with Cake made Sweetapolita possible.
Your baked goods border on being works of art. Where do you get your inspiration for your designs?
I look to basically anything other than fellow cake designers. That’s a dead-end road. Cake design is such a personal art form and especially when presenting your designs among many others, you want to embrace your own creativity. I am always inspired by my daughters’ art work and colour combinations. I also look to art and jewellery.
Clearly, you are a perfectionist. Can you tell me about a time things didn’t go so perfectly?
I was doing cake for my blog last Christmas. It was a chocolate cake with six layers. I was doing frosting for the filling but also flat discs of baked meringue in each layer. I was determined to have it done by the end of the day. I rushed the process. I stacked it all up on a cake stand and between the cake stand height and height of cake it was two feet off the counter. I started to frost the outside and went to do something else and came back and literally the entire cake was upside down in my sink. I didn’t even try to do that cake again. I took an Instagram, and then I just let it go.
Does it ever pain you to eat a creation you’ve spent three days perfecting?
I can’t say I’ve ever not wanted to eat something. I taste everything I make. And the surprise factor of what’s going on inside a cake – anything from the contrast of fun colours to neat textures, like adding macaroons – adds real anticipation to cutting into cake, even if it took hours and hours or days and days.
Baking with your daughters is a central theme in your book. Is it tough, especially as a self-professed perfectionist, to bake with kids?
I am a perfectionist, there’s no denying that. If you have high standards and do it as perfectly as you can, it just feels good. But as a mom, I’m much more laid back. When they were really young, I’d just sit them on the counter and give them their own bowl and one of everything I had. That way they could go crazy and the perfectionist side of me could focus on my project. And when your five-year-old says, ‘Mom, can you pass me shortening because my fondant is drying out,’ I can see how much they’re really watching and learning. A lot of my best ideas have stemmed from their ideas.
Secrets to success - Alyea shares decorating tips:
How to get the perfect cupcake swirl
Fit a large pastry bag with a large decorating tip, fill two-thirds full with spreadable frosting and, holding the bag directly over the top of the cupcake and working clockwise, pipe around the top of the cupcake working from the outside in. Release pressure when you get to the top and then pull the bag up and away to achieve the appealing ‘swirl peak.’
How to get the perfect cake drizzle
Always start with a chilled, smoothly frosted cake and cooled, fluid glaze. Pour just enough glaze on top of the cake so that it approaches the perimeter, and use a small offset palette knife to spread and smooth the glaze, pushing it gently over the edges until it begins to drip down the side of the cake. Once the glaze is spread evenly, chill the cake for about five minutes, and then repeat the pouring and spreading until you have achieved the desired look.
How to decorate the side of your cake with sprinkles
Start with a chilled cake on a cake board and frosted in your favourite buttercream. Fill a medium bowl with two cups of sprinkles. Hold the cake over a cookie sheet with one hand, and begin gently pressing the sprinkles into the cake with the other hand, starting from the bottom and working to the top. Let the excess sprinkles fall onto the cookie sheet. Go back and fill in any empty spaces with more sprinkles.
This interview has been edited and condensed.