In today’s Student Spotlight, we’re bringing you Jen Lee from Miss United Cakes! Jen currently works as a product marketer for Facebook, so her baking is currently as a hobbyist baker/blogger.
Jen baked a lot in college when she got hankerings for sweets in her dorm room. She’d make rice cereal marshmallow treats using her dorm room microwave and bake cakes in the communal dorm kitchenette! Cake design brings her great joy and she loves to bake cakes that delight her friends and family and engage all five senses.
Her favourite cake elements include marbled buttercream, buttercream flowers and succulents, kintsugi, wafer paper flowers/foliage, painted buttercream, and ganache / whipped cream drips. She also loves to reference pop culture and picturesque scenes in her cakes!
What's your business?
Where are you from?
California, United States
What's your background?
What role does cake design play in your life?
Cake design is a hobby that brings me great joy 🙂
How do you find working with buttercream in your climate?
It’s challenging for sure! My climate in Northern California is very dry, so any kind of temperature change results in a lot of “dew” droplets forming on buttercream. Also, working with buttercream in the summer is a nightmare.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Hands-down, my biggest achievement in life has been bringing my son, Nico, into the world. I love him so much; it’s hard to articulate into words. I’m very excited to bake with him when he’s older (assuming he’s interested – if not, I’ll still bake *for* him).
Cake design-wise, I’m proud of the relationships I’ve developed with other bakers, and I feel star-struck when I get to interact with seasoned bakers like @from.flour, @stylesweetdaily, @butter_and, @thepancakeprincess, @constellationinspiration, and @lokokitchen, among many other super talented and creative bakers.
How has Covid-19 affected the way you make cakes?
The Covid-19 pandemic and its ensuing lockdown have given me more time at home to experiment with slower processes in the kitchen, e.g. making wafer paper flowers, decorating cakes with sculptural German butter cookies. I also auditioned for the Great American Bake-Off during the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced me to branch outside of cakes and into the realm of breads and pastries. I now feel comfortable incorporating more non-traditional methods to make cake decor and enhancements.
Where do you see the future of your business (or cake-making)?
Because I now have a baby boy to take care of, I need my stable tech job, and I plan to continue pursuing cake-making as a hobby for the time being. Eventually when I retire, I want to develop recipes and publish my “Miss United Cakes” book!
Any cake disaster story?
One of the earliest times I tried baking my signature strawberry buttermilk cake, I was so worried about the cake being dry that I took it out of the oven too early, and the cake was still raw batter in the middle. The cake was for my father’s birthday, and to my horror, the cake sank completely in the middle and all the frosting dripped off the sides before we could even stick candles into the cake.
Another time I baked the same cake, I put too thick a layer of passion fruit curd in between the strawberry cake layers, which made the cake very fragile. It was for a friend’s going-away party. The cake completely collapsed in the car on the way to the party. You can see for yourself here (swipe for the “after” photo).
Do you have a favourite cake you've designed?
I’m proud of my seasonal cakes. The most recent one was a holiday showstopper chocolate cake topped with a mini mid-century modern gingerbread house, shortbread cactus cookies, a snowy whipped cream drip, and a shiny sugar dome that shaved years off of my life to create.
Last year, I also did a series of cakes that were sculpted like white pumpkins and stuffed with colorful buttercream succulents and wafer paper leaves that I was proud of.
Additionally, I’m proud of a painted cake that was inspired by a cafe in Brooklyn called Bakeri – I visited the cafe right before everything shut down for the COVID pandemic, so the cake is a visual reminder of that era to me personally.
How about a favourite cake decorating style?
My favourite cake elements include marbled buttercream, watercolour buttercream, buttercream flowers and succulents, kintsugi, wafer paper flowers/foliage, painted buttercream, and ganache / whipped cream drips. I love to reference pop culture and picturesque scenes in my cakes.
Besides cakes, what other types of bakes do you enjoy creating & decorating?
I love making yeasted breads like milk bread because they make the house smell so amazing, and they’re practical for sandwiches during the week. It’s hard to carve out time for making desserts when you’ve got a baby to take care of.
What made you decide to take an online course?
I love using courses to build a foundation for the basics, e.g., how to bake and layer a cake, how to make meringue buttercream, and then “jam” on the basics in my own kitchen.
I have always loved the modern aesthetic and clean lines of Thao’s work, and I was eager to learn her techniques. Additionally, the prospect of making meringue buttercream with whole eggs grabbed me.
I’ve taken several in-person baking courses at Baking Arts back when it was located in San Francisco, and also at their current location in San Mateo, California. They offer courses in macarons, cakes, chocolate, pie, buttercream flowers, wafer paper flowers, croissants, and more. I also took one in-person session with @g.g.cakraft in Seoul, who is AMAZING at piping buttercream flowers. I loved getting hands-on practice for a very niche skill with an expert. I learned so much from her in just a few hours!
What DTC course have you enrolled in and how have they helped you?
I’ve taken the Buttercream Cake Mastery and Salted Caramel courses. Both have been so helpful for me to understand how to level cakes and get that sharp edge and smooth sides. I also loved learning Thao’s trick for perfectly dripped caramel that doesn’t get too runny or melty on cakes.
What advice do you have for people starting out in their modern cake making journey?
Keep at it! And enjoy the process. At the end of the day, you will still have a delicious cake to share with others.
Check out Jen's work
Connect with Jen
Courses Jen is enrolled in
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