How gorgeous are the cakes of supreme baketress Maggie Austin? So gorgeous, that you will want to have your cake and eat it too! Austin, who is a graduate of the L’art de la Pâtisserie program at the French Pastry Schoo,concocts flower design-heavy creations that are so stunning, so unique and so distinct that they command admiration as much as they inspire appetite.
With her babyface and soft stare, Austin looks more like a ballerina than a baking maven, but so be it. Austin’s cakes gained her fame in the Virginia-D.C.-area and her fame has since spread nationally. She’s done luscious cakes for elite weddings and to some of the most premier events in the area, making her one of the few newly graduates to jump in straight into success as opposed to sweating as an apprentice.
Her clients love the fact that the cakes she makes for them aren’t likely to be duplicated elsewhere at another event. A Maggie Austin cake screams ingenuity and thoughtfulness. Most of all, each cake is a product of a combination of hard labor and imagination.
Q & A
When you’re meeting your clients for the first time, and they learn that you’re the face behind Maggie Austin Cakes, do they usually look at your cake and back at your face?
My photo is all over the place, so most people already know my face, but some of the parents have told me that they expected me to be older. I suppose I should enjoy that while I can!
Do you remember when you baked your first cake?
I’ve always loved baking, and I think my first cake was most likely Funfetti from a box! My explorations got more ambitious later in life, but the magic of watching a liquid turn into a fluffy, moist cake still enchants me.
Your cakes are so unique. One of a kind without a doubt. Obviously you get your clients input. But sometimes even the ones with the most ideas of what they want, let you have free rein on creating a cake for them. Where do you find the inspiration for them?
I certainly incorporate the clients’ aesthetic into each design, but there are some clients who just want me to do my thing. I always find a thread of inspiration- maybe a color choice, fabric swatch, or a flower. Needless to say, I love to play! No matter what, it’s vital for the design to be a cohesive part of the event itself.
Give us a glimpse at a typical work day for Maggie Austin.
I live upstairs at my studio, so I’m lucky to have a very short commute. My travel to Australia late last year has made good coffee a priority, so I make myself an Aussie-style “flat white” with my Nespresso machine and then start working. In the kitchen, it’s myself and a couple of interns and together we work through the week’s production schedule- usually a combination of cakes, tastings with clients, magazine photoshoots, and interviews.
Have your parents been pretty supportive of your career choice?
Absolutely. Maggie Austin Cake is truly a family company. My sister Jess handles all the administrative work, our parents are a sounding board for all our Big Picture ideas, and my nieces—ages 4 and 7—give me design feedback. We’re from New England, so we were raised with the classic Yankee work ethic, thriftiness, and dogged determination.
When your schedule allows it, you actually offer classes in cake decorating. What advice do you have for new bakers?
I teach sugar flowers at my studio and I’m thrilled to offer a Fondant Frills class on Craftsy.com. Teaching is such a huge part of my life as a designer because interacting with people with similar interests is inspiring. My advice would be to make sure you don’t get trapped in your own bubble. Reach out and connect with other cake designers. It’s a great community!
Any words of wisdom for entrepreneurs who want to get into the baking business?
Do your homework and work with your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC). The SBDC is a federally -funded agency that offers free hand-holding for small businesses. My sister worked very closely with our local center and we are eternally grateful for the sage guidance and support they continue to give us.
Personnel can make or break a company, or so one reads in business magazines. In terms of staffing, how do you select them?
I don’t have a staff! Instead, we have an internship program. It’s comprehensive because interns work on every aspect of the cake production during their three to six month stay. This fulfills the educational outreach goal of our company and gives up-and-coming designers a full arsenal of technical skills so they can go out into the world with their own artistic voice. As a mentor, nothing is more rewarding than seeing graduates opening their own studios and creating their own designs. As far as selection goes, Jess [her sister] tells me it’s more akin to dating- she sorts through hundreds of applications and interviews dozens to find the few that will be a good fit for our intimate working environment.
Who was the best baker you knew growing up?
I have fond childhood memories of a Portuguese bakery down the street from our house in Massachusetts. It had the most amazing smell and there was spool of red and white string hung from the ceiling to tie up boxes of goodies. You haven’t lived until you’ve eaten real Portuguese sweet bread.
Attending and completing L’art de la Pâtisserie program at the French Pastry School must have been pretty intense. But you graduated with honors. What do you attribute your success at the school to?
I had spent my entire childhood and all of my adult life in a ballet studio. The training of a classical ballet dancer is rigorous, constant, and unforgiving. It’s the only way I know how to work, and that drive to pursue unattainable perfection in combination with a very thick skin proved to be major assets both in school and when I was interning at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago.
While we’re on the subject of school, do you think baking can actually be taught? That someone with absolutely no background in baking can learn baking to perfection?
Yes. Formal education is a good fit for some, but many people learn independently. In the world of YouTube and Craftsy, it’s also easier than ever to learn at you own pace at home. That being said, a solid formal educational background can be a determining factor for a small business loan or a prime job in an outstanding restaurant.
With all you have going on, how do you maintain a sense of balance in your life?
While our weeks are full, we keep our volume very low so we’re not killing ourselves or working crazy hours. My husband-to-be is instrumental in helping me to hit the “off” button. We take long motorcycle rides, explore new restaurants, or just stay home and fold laundry. Having a partner who supports my emotional needs is the best gift I could ever hope to receive.
Do you like to cook as well?
Oh, yes. My preference is on the savory side and I am always working on a new dish. I make a mean tarte flambée.
Why do you think your clients are so enamored with Maggie Austin cakes?
My clients are very self-selecting, so they’re coming to be because there’s something about my work that speaks to them. They might love the fondant frills or the painting, but the adjective I hear the most is “simple”. My goal is for a design to be easy for the eye to appreciate. It also helps that the cake is delicious!
You started Maggie Austin Cake back in 2010. What do you wish you had known then?
When we launched the website in late 2010, we had no idea of how quickly things would progress. In just over two years, we went from hourly kitchen rental to planning overseas teaching tours, making cakes for A-list clients, collaborating with top magazine editors on features, and working with Craftsy. In fact, we’re currently working on a publishing a book! Jess and I are so process-oriented that we need to force ourselves to look back at how it’s all happened. Retrospectively, I wish I had known that this journey would not only make a career for me, but would also bring incredibly supportive, encouraging, and positive people into my life.
Maggie Austin Cakes can be viewed here.