Maddie Ziff '13 caters events with her homemade desserts
Published: Monday, January 23, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 01:01
Miniature Oreo red velvet cupcakes dipped in chocolate ganache, cupcakes with chocolate mint frosting, mini lemon meringue pies, chocolate toffee truffles, purple and orange checkerboard cookies and cake pops covered in chocolate and sprinkles. Drooling yet? These are just some of the delicious delicacies that Maddie Ziff '13 bakes.
Ziff began her official baking business with a website and business cards this past summer. While she had previously been selling her baked goods on and off to friends, Ziff now takes orders for her delectable desserts. She launched her business after a family friend made her a user-friendly website, iliketobake.com; one of Ziff's friends made her business cards; and another friend lent her a good-quality camera for the year. "I've been learning to use photography to capture [my baked goods], because once you eat them, they're gone," said Ziff.
Throughout high school, Ziff took various art classes and received a scholarship for a weekly art program at the University of Southern California. "It gave me a really good background in colors and shapes," Ziff said.
Now, Ziff's artistic concentration lies in baking. As Ziff puts it, "I bake because it makes me happy." Her love for baking began in high school when she started reading baking blogs, such as bakerella.com and bakeat350.blogspot.com. "I started to realize that if I enjoy sweets so much, I should just make them. And if I went to a restaurant and ate something, I would say ‘I can do that!'" she said.
"Sometimes I'd watch the cake shows with my mom, ... and that was always fun, … but I learned mostly from food blogs and websites," Ziff said.
Instead of searching for a recipe from the get-go, Ziff usually stirs up an idea for a baked good herself. She will think of a dessert, such as a regular tart with chocolate pastry cream, chocolate ganache and raspberry marshmallow on top. She may find the crust recipe from one blog or website and pastry cream recipe from another and adjust both.
"I usually work off a recipe I find online, read the reviews and make my own changes and see what feels right and kind of put them together in my own way," Ziff explained. "I do a lot of brainstorming and think of flavors I want to combine." In order to make the intricate and detailed cookies, Ziff comes up with some of her own ideas or finds clip art that she likes from the Internet.
This past summer, Ziff embarked on an undertaking that she described as "incredibly intense."
"I worked at a summer camp a few summers ago; and at the end of the summer my boss said, ‘I'm getting married. Let me know if you're in town for my wedding. You can make cupcakes.' And we were both kind of like; ‘Haha, ok.'" To her surprise, Ziff received an email last February from her boss saying, "So? Cupcakes?"
"We had a few meetings and I talked her into a giant dessert table. It was at the end of the summer so I spent all of last summer preparing—testing recipes and gathering supplies," she said.
Ziff made 450 individual desserts and a little cake for the 150 wedding guests, a difficult project because baking can't be done far in advance. As a result of this challenge, she learned how to structure her time, combine the correct proportions of ingredients and then transport all of the baked goods to the wedding hall about an hour away from her house.
"The week before the wedding was absolutely crazy; probably upwards of 18 hours of baking a day for four days straight," Ziff said.
Together, Ziff and her mother, who often bakes with her, set up an entire dessert table while sporting their matching hot pink "I Like to Bake" t-shirts.
Over this past winter break, Ziff took on yet another baking challenge. She built a luxury sports-car cake. "A friend of mine was throwing a James Bond party and he asked for an Aston Martin [cake]. It was my first carved cake, so I was very careful," Ziff said.
"It was a giant block of cake that I made, and I took a knife to it. It was nerve-wracking, but I'm very happy with how it came out." Though she was somewhat familiar with carving from watching food shows on television, she had never actually done it herself until that point.
In addition to the intensive time and labor that it takes for Ziff to complete her works of art, not having a kitchen impedes Ziff's ability to bake while at Brandeis. "I'll wander into the Village when I need to, and I'll make a batter in my room and use the Village ovens," she explained."
"I have a friend off-campus so I'll go [to her house to bake] sometimes. But I don't get to bake nearly as much as I would like, … maybe a couple of times a month. … It seems like a lot, but when I'm at home, it's like every day there is something new in the oven," she said. Another factor that makes it more challenging for Ziff to bake at school is that she doesn't have all of her baking supplies and utensils.
However, if she does bake in school, one baking supply she does not need is a set of measuring spoons.
"I feel comfortable with my batters and I can taste it and see when something's off, or if the texture looks weird when I stir it. I have some recipes that I make over and over again," she said.
Ziff's advice to an aspiring baker is to do your homework. "Find a good recipe, and until you know it well enough to become comfortable deviating, just stick with it and then see what you need to change," Ziff said. "There are a couple websites that let you comment and rate [the recipes]. That's usually a good starting place because you can see what other people have done," she said.
Ziff receives about an order a month at Brandeis from students or members of the community. "Usually at Brandeis, people want smaller things, like tarts or cookies for no particular reason. They just hear that I make treats, get excited and order something," Ziff said. When she is home for the summer, Ziff receives about an order a week, usually for birthday cakes.
As for now, Ziff sees her baking hobby as a "pretty consistent side thing."
"That's what makes me happy, but as far as a career, I'm really not sure. I love it so much. I'd hate to find myself not liking it if I turn it into a job— something that I have to do every day. Now I do it because I want to, and that's different."
Another benefit of Ziff's desserts in addition to the sweet taste and occasional profits? The stress relief.
"Some days I'll be feeling anxious and not know why. And I'll realize, ‘Wait a minute, I haven't baked in a week.' So I bake cookies, put them in the oven, and everything's okay."