Senior Kathryn Gao is a passionate baker who specializes in complex cakes. Opposed to selling her baked goods as a business, Gao’s hobby is fueled by the joy of sharing her creations with family members and fellow Lowellites.
Can you describe how you first got into baking?
I first started baking in sixth grade, using those Safeway cake mix boxes. The person that inspired the start was Rosanna Pansino. She’s a Youtuber who makes baking videos recreating a lot of characters from games and shows. I’m the first one in my family to get into baking and when I first started I only had a hand mixer and maybe a few mixing bowls. I didn’t have a lot of baking supplies, so I slowly accumulated stuff every time I wanted to make something new.
What is your favorite cake you’ve made, and can you describe the process of making it?
My favorite cake was galaxy mirror cake I made last summer. It’s one of those cakes where the inside doesn’t really matter, and on the outside you use water, condensed milk, gelatin and sugar, to make a glaze that’s supposed to be reflective. That was a hell of a mess in my kitchen. I dyed the mixture five different colors and poured it on the cake. It wasn’t very mirrored but it turned out looking really pretty. I saw the technique from a bunch of Youtube videos; it was popular for awhile, and I just really like the galaxy pattern.
How often do you bake, and how long do your projects usually take?
I bake every time there’s a special occasion, always on birthdays. I know a lot of people with birthdays really close in February and March, so I bake a lot. Another busy time is around holidays like Christmas. And sometimes I just find something inspiring I want to make, a new recipe, and I just make it for no particular reason. The time depends a lot on the cake. Usually for a regular cake it takes me two days. I like to bake the cake, chill it in the fridge overnight, then decorate it the next day. The decorating is my favorite part, I like to make the cake pretty.
Do you only bake cakes? If not, what else do you bake?
I also make a lot of cookies around the holidays. And sometimes my friends will feel like eating something and just request for me to make it. Like my friend, out of nowhere, said, “I really want snickerdoodle cookies.” So I just made a bunch and brought it with me to school, the whole day I just gave them away.
Do you ever sell your baked goods? Why or why not?
I try to sell sometimes, but I mostly give out a lot of free food. I just really like giving my stuff to friends and they’re really happy to have it. I did have this one girl [in] freshman year ask me to make a cake for her sister’s birthday. Her sister wanted a rainbow cake with seven different colors inside of it. I custom made that for her. Growing my baking into a business was a dream for awhile, but not right now, I don’t really have the time. Maybe when I’m 40 I will open a bakery. I want to be one of those very relaxed old grandmas with her own bakery.
Can you tell me a little more in detail about the cake your brought today?
It is a tiramisu cheesecake, which has a combination of cream cheese, mascarpone cheese and also coffee in it. It didn’t take that long to make, I would say maybe an hour and half. I did have to get up earlier today before school to finish the decorating because that shouldn’t sit overnight.
How did you build up your skill level to be able to make such advanced desserts?
I think just practice. I still remember the first cake I ever made for my friend, it was a birthday cake. It was so dry and the frosting wasn’t very good. Now every time I make a new one, it gets much better. There are so many directions you can go with baking, you really just need practice. I’ve never taken baking classes, but I really want to so that I can make traditional Chinese pastries.
You give a lot of your food to the people in your life, does baking help strengthen your relationships?
Yeah, I really think so. I had a job last year at a restaurant, it was my first job ever, and I brought some baked stuff to work. The people who were there were a lot older, in their 20s and 30s, and I was pretty nervous working, so I guess I was trying to start off a good relationship. And when I bake for the people around me who are important, I put a lot of time and energy in my cake. I try to always make new ones that are not repeated. I put [in] a lot of time and thought, and I think they can tell.
Why do you think baking isn’t a more popular hobby with your fellow students?
Well, baking is a lot of work, like afterwards you have to clean up the kitchen and do all the dishes. It might not be for everyone, because sometimes you fail at making something. But I think it’s still a good hobby, you get to eat your labor which is rewarding at the end.
Overall, why does baking bring you so much joy?
I think the part that brings me joy the most is when I give the finished product to someone, and I see the look on their face. Like, I have a very close friend who I’ve made cakes for since sophomore year. A lot of our friends have different classes so we don’t see each other a lot anymore. So his birthday, when I make a big cake, is an excuse to grab everyone that we’ve known from freshman year, and middle school and get together.