Baking pans, fondant, powdered sugar and gum paste are not typical topics one might consider discussing with a 16-year-old boy. For Oakdale High School junior Jonathan “JT” Vizenor, however, they are not only topics of interest, but pertain to a hobby he is passionate about — baking.
“He’s always been our little baker,” mom Alicia Vizenor said of her son’s passion and talent.
“Nick always cooks,” JT said of his older brother and project accomplice. “I always bake cakes.
“I love cake, in general … the food,” he added. “Cutting cake and eating cake. It’s yummy.”
The junior’s eight-layer creations are not only delightful to the eyes, but to the stomach as well.
Inspired by Duff Goldman of the Food Network’s “Ace of Cakes,” JT first took on the challenge two years ago after searching for a quirky cake of his own.
The academic achiever shared his interest in baking such extreme and unique cakes came after searching for one locally. Two years ago, he expressed an interest in hosting an ‘Anti-Prom’ party to his mother.
The student explained that the timing of Prom just prior to AP (Advanced Placement) testing, prompted the idea for the party, indicating that he and many of his friends spend much of the time prior studying and preparing for the tests, allowing little time for Prom planning.
As he and his mom searched Central Valley bakeries for a unique ‘topsy-turvy’ cake, they continuously came up empty. The idea of baking a cake that was intentionally leaning was not one many pastry chefs wanted to take on.
So, with the guidance and the knowledge he had gained from Duff and the Food Network and a little help from Google, JT gave it a try. Now, what began as a quest for a non-traditional edible treat has evolved into a trademark hobby. One, which the teen admits, does not require a special occasion for him to be summonsed to the kitchen.
“Whenever we feel like it, we are always like, ‘Let’s make a cake’,” JT stated. “Because it’s fun.”
With a little inspiration, planning and a lot of cake mix, the high school student creates edible wonders. He shared that he has been known to find inspiration from school studies, a friend’s birthday or a national holiday.
Regardless of the occasion, he said his older brother Nick usually has his hand involved in the process, as well as a ‘guest’ chef also helping out from time to time. If a friend expresses an interest in seeing how the cakes are made, they are usually invited to fill the ‘guest’ seat.
While the creations are impressive and the process extensive, the actual product is pretty basic. Several boxes of cake mix, a homemade butter cream frosting, topped with a homemade marshmallow-based fondant and accents made of gum paste are the key components to the creations.
According to JT, people are often shocked to learn the cakes are made from a boxed mix and not from scratch. He cited the moistness as something that separates them from most other extreme cakes.
“A lot of people slightly over bake them, so they stack better,” the baker said of large creations. “But it’s not just about the presentation. It gets back to me being a foodie.”
Often times chefs will use Styrofoam layers and large dowels to support their creations, but JT doesn’t like to go that route.
“I like everything on the cake to be edible,” he explained. “It’s kind of a challenge for myself to make everything edible.”
But just making it edible is not enough, either; the cake must also be delicious. That’s a fact that becomes evident upon tasting JT’s homemade fondant. Fondant, a smooth finish, which highlights the beauty of the cake, is viewed by many in the profession as more of a visual aspect than an edible one. Some have even been known to suggest peeling back the layer and eating the cake, which is revealed.
JT’s anti-prom cake was the one and only cake covered in store bought fondant.
“It was horrible,” mom Alicia said of its taste.
Resourceful and determined, the student turned to the Internet and found a recipe that makes fondant just as good for eating as the cake itself.
“You learn from mistakes,” JT said, now with two dozen cakes under his belt following his initial creation. “I also learn from watching the show (Ace of Cakes) and practicing different stuff.
“I guess you could call it a passion,” he added. “I love it. I absolutely love it. It’s usually a family event. Nick is the thinker. He helps with a lot of the creative ideas.”
Once the cakes are baked and frozen, the student shared a cake can take as much as an entire day to construct, allowing for a few breaks.
“I’m definitely sick of it by the end of the day,” he said, referring to snacking on shavings throughout the building of the cake. But, he admitted, he’s never too full to taste a sample days later, when the creation is presented.
“It’s just something I do for fun,” he stated, when addressing the potential business opportunity. “It gets my mind off of school. It’s a break from my AP class load.”
As for his future plans, JT’s interests are as varied and interesting as his cakes.
“I’m interested in Culinary Arts,” he said. “It’s always been an interest of mine. But I’m also interested in Mortuary Science. It’s kind of an odd combination.”