Expert Interview Series: Jodi Rhoden of Cake Ladies and Short Street Cakes About Cake-Baking and Running a Bakery

Jodi Rhoden lives, writes, and bakes in West Asheville, North Carolina, where she founded popular bakery Short Street Cakes and wrote Cake Ladies: Celebrating a Southern Tradition. We recently sat down with Jodi to discuss her life as a...

Cake baking

Jodi Rhoden lives, writes, and bakes in West Asheville, North Carolina, where she founded popular bakery Short Street Cakes and wrote Cake Ladies: Celebrating a Southern Tradition. We recently sat down with Jodi to discuss her life as a bakery owner, and to learn a few cake-baking secrets.

Give us a brief synopsis of your background. Why did you fall in love with baking cakes?

For me, cakes have always epitomized celebrations. They symbolize those little extra things in life that you don't necessarily NEED, but that make life more beautiful. I also find the process of baking to be calming, and the magic of transforming raw ingredients into a beautiful cake so rewarding. And cake makes people happy!

Regarding your book: what are some qualities of "cake ladies" that have little or nothing to do with baking cakes?

I find that cake ladies are women who leverage the skills and the resources that they have available to lift themselves, their families, and their communities up. Cake ladies are not afraid of hard work; but most importantly, they care a great deal. I've been so inspired by the cake ladies I met in my travels throughout the American South. They have become mentors to me of strength and resilience.

What was the most challenging aspect of opening up Short Street Cakes in 2008?

The most challenging aspect of opening Short Street Cakes was getting enough sleep! But seriously, the work was non-stop. I had to learn how to manage my employees, my marketing, and my bank account while I was scaling up my baking enterprise. There was simply not enough time in the day. I had to get through that challenging time to get to the other side, but now I'm so glad I did.

What do you think makes Short Street Cakes unique?

People say you can taste the love, and I really believe that is true. As a small local business, we always strive to support the local food and agriculture economy as well as other local businesses. We know our neighbors and we donate to community projects. Loving our community and each other is the foundation of the work we do, and I think that comes through in the cakes.

Since you're an avid coach and consultant for budding entrepreneurs, what advice would you give to someone who wants to open a bakery of their own?

I really encourage everyone to take a business class to learn their "break-even point." So many bakers and artists are coming from a place of just loving to bake and maybe aren't so good at the numbers. You have to balance both to make it work. But I would also say don't let anybody tell you that you can't live your dream. If you can dream it, you can make it happen.

Could you share a recipe of one of your favorite cakes that accurately reflects the "Southern tradition?"

This recipe, my late great Aunt Tissy's Italian Cream Cake, is one of my favorite Southern cakes. It's classically Southern due to its copious use of coconut, pecans, and cream cheese!

You Will Need:

A stand mixer with a paddle attachment and a large bowl

3 9-inch round cake pans

Parchment paper

Vegetable oil cooking spray

A rubber spatula

A sifter

A separate bowl for the dry ingredients

2 ½ sticks (1 ¼ cup) unsalted butter, softened

3 cups sugar

7 large eggs, at room temperature, separated

1 ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 cups plain all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

¾ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cup buttermilk

1 ½ cup flaked coconut

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Prep the Pans:

Spray the bottom and sides of the pans liberally with non-stick cooking spray. Place your pans on a sheet of parchment paper and trace three circles the same size as the bottom of the pans. Cut the circles out and place in the bottom of the greased pans.

Make the creamed mixture:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, stopping the mixer twice during mixing to scrape down the paddle, bottom, and sides of the bowl. Add the egg yolks to the mixture one at a time, stopping the mixer to scrape down the bowl after each addition. Beat the egg yolks into the creamed mixture for five minutes or until they are fully incorporated and the entire mixture is light in color and texture. Add the vanilla and mix until combined.

Sift together the dry ingredients:

Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt together into a separate bowl and set aside.

Combine the dry and wet ingredients with the creamed mixture:

Beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk, blending on low speed just until the ingredients are fully incorporated.

Whip the egg whites:

Using the whisk attachment on the stand mixer, whip the egg whites in a clean bowl until they hold a stiff peak. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the whipped egg whites into the cake batter in three parts.

Fold in the coconut.

Bake the cake:

Gently scrape the batter into the pans, dividing the batter evenly between the three pans. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 22-26 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the cake layers comes out clean and the sides of the cake have pulled away from the sides of the pan. Allow the cakes to cool for twenty minutes before removing the layers from the pans and setting them on a wire rack to finish cooling.

Cream Cheese Icing:

You Will Need:

A stand mixer with paddle attachment

An offset spatula

2 packages (1 pound) cream cheese, softened

1 stick (1/2 cup) salted butter, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 cups powdered sugar

2 cups of chopped pecans, toasted

Cream the butter and the cream cheese together in the bowl of the stand mixer on low speed:

Beat until the mixture is smooth and creamy, and no lumps of butter remain. Add and combine the vanilla. Add the powdered sugar one cup at a time, blending on low speed until fully incorporated. Using the rubber spatula, scrape down the paddle, sides, and bottom of the bowl. Beat the mixture on medium speed until light and fluffy.

Trim the layers:

When the cake layers are completely cool, trim off any uneven areas from the tops of the cake layers with a serrated knife.

Assemble the cake:

Invert the first layer onto a cake plate, so that the parchment side is up. Carefully peel the parchment off of the cake and throw it away. Spread the cream cheese icing on the top surface of the cake with an offset spatula, pushing the icing over the edges of the layer and creating an even coat of icing. Place the second cake layer on top of the first and repeat the process of removing the parchment paper and spreading the icing. Repeat with the third layer, and then cover the sides with the icing.

Garnish:

Use your hand to press the toasted pecans into the side of the cake. Repeat all the way around the sides of the cake, creating an even coat of toasted pecan garnish.

Italian Cream Cake can be kept covered at room temperature for up to a week.

Now that you've sold Short Street Cakes to your business partner, do you have any plans to continue your cake-baking activities?

I have found that I do much more baking now that I don't own the shop! I have the time now to use fruits and vegetables from my garden to bake, like making chicken pot pies or muscadine and fig tarts. I've been so thankful to have time again to make cakes for friends who are visiting or for birthdays. It's really perfect, because I started the business 10 years ago because of my love of baking at home. Now, I'm back at home baking, but for fun rather than profit!

But I do hope to continue writing about food. In fact, I am currently at work on a book called My Life in Cake that is a memoir of that very special time that I spent traveling the South and meeting cake ladies.

When you were baking cakes at your shop, what were some of the most important kitchen utensils, tools, and items that you used on a daily basis?

A good offset spatula is essential to cake decorating, followed by a rubber spatula for the mixing process. The lightness of the cake depends on the even distribution of the ingredients and the ability of the batter to incorporate air. If you don't scrape the bowl down frequently while you are mixing, you won't be able to get consistent results.

For pie baking, I love a good bench knife. Simple wooden spoons are necessary for cooked icings. I could go on and on!

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