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Cake-Maker Extraordinaire

November 01, 2013 - 6 minute read

Lindsey Sinatra making cake

From a bright and airy bakery in Orange County, CUI alum Lindsey Sinatra ’07 has become one of the premiere cake-makers in California. “My cakes are whimsical and have a lot of movement and small detail to them,” Sinatra says. “I’m known for the diversity and the fun nature of my cakes. They can be anything from a beautiful fashion cake to a fun, sculpted giraffe.”

Sinatra has made spectacular cakes for movie premieres, celebrity birthday parties and many other special occasions. Her work has been featured on TV shows such as Food Network’s “The Challenge” and WE’s “Amazing Wedding Cakes.” “I’ve gotten into projects and not known what I was undertaking, but that’s part of the challenge,” she says. “You’re never doing the same thing. I’m in it for the fun of figuring out how we’re going to do it. Every week is a new challenge. I’m happy I discovered cakes because it’s such a social job.”

Sinatra was attending a community college when she discovered CUI through her sister’s recommendation. “I toured the campus and was really drawn to it,” she says. She enrolled and “loved my experience at Concordia, especially campus life. I really enjoyed my friends and activities. I was a peer advising leader where you lead freshmen orientation. I had really good professors in the art, English and psychology departments. It was the perfect school for me.” She was passionate about art, but wondered if she could make a career of it. That led to a defining moment with CUI professor Niclas Krüger.

“Professor Krüger took a strong interest in my art and very much encouraged me as an artist,” she says. “He helped me with my confidence. I always thought my art was cutesy and not serious, but he said that it has whimsy and tells a story like children’s literature. He said I should think toward children’s literature and illustration. That gave my art more of a purpose. He helped me find who I am as an artist.” Sinatra looked into becoming an art teacher or doing art therapy for children but kept being drawn back to her first love: 3-D art. In the middle of her senior year at CUI she saw a show called “The Challenge” on the Food Network where competitors have eight hours to create a cake. “I’d never seen cake art before and I flipped out,” she says. “I have always loved cooking but didn’t want to be stuck in a hot line in a kitchen. This was the perfect combination of food and art.”

The next day Sinatra showed up at the winning bakery, which happened to be local, to find out how to break into the industry. She brought her art portfolio from one of her classes at CUI and was offered an internship on the spot. “It was completely amazing because within two days I’d gotten what I wanted,” she says. “It became the passion of my life.”

While finishing her degree at CUI she went to work at 4:30 a.m., then attended classes and went back to work from 2 to 7 p.m. Nights were spent working on her senior portfolio. “I was taking eighteen units and working five days a week, but I was so stoked on life,” she says. “Being busy gave me energy because I loved it.”

For five years she learned everything she could about baking, decorating cakes and running a small business. Then she launched out on her own and A Wish and a Whisk was born. “It was terrifying,” she says. “I was making cakes out of rented commercial kitchen space or bakeries that would let me use their kitchens at night when they were closed. My car was basically a running bakery.” But the skills learned studying sculpture at Concordia translated well to cakes, she says. She decided she would be a specialist, making cakes by appointment only, no retail or walk-ins. And she would focus solely on cakes — no cookies, brownies or dessert stations.

Within months she was hired to make a 6-foot long Paris Opera House replica cake for the closing of the world tour of Phantom of the Opera in Los Angeles. Three weeks later she was hired to create a 10-foot-tall cake for the world premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 in New York. Both gigs came from television exposure. A Wish and a Whisk had competed twice on “The Challenge” and Sinatra had appeared on the Food Network with her previous bakery.

Now she faced a tall order. “They gave me a picture of a cake from the Harry Potter movie and said, ‘Replicate this,’” she says. “I was completely unprepared for it. I was scrambling. They gave me ten days to make it and get it to New York City.” She created a steel and plexiglas structure, built the cake around it, packed it in pieces on a truck in dry ice and sent it to New York. The cake took nine buckets of fondant (a kind of cake icing). “They loved it,” she says. “It was right in the center of the room.”

Since then, A Wish and a Whisk has churned out specialty cakes, each unique, for everything from weddings to corporate events. “I enjoy the thrill of seeing it come together and the fact that you’re giving it to someone to celebrate a big moment in their life. It has such a purpose,” Sinatra says. “A cake becomes a showpiece for that wedding or event. People love taking pictures with it, talking about it and eating it. I hear from clients, ‘People talked about my cake more than my wedding.’”

A Wish and a Whisk moved into its own bakery in 2011, a shop full of windows and a skylight which brings natural light into the workspace so Sinatra and her employees can see true color when they work. The atmosphere is usually “six laughing girls,” she says. “I’m very picky,” says Sinatra. “I hire happy, spirited girls who are not competitive and who work as a team.”

Before starting on a cake, she sits with a client for an interview, learning key details such as how a bride and groom met, or favorite hobbies. “My cakes tell a story,” she says. “I try to involve aspects of my clients and represent them as much as possible. That ties back to the art I did at Concordia. I find out what’s significant about this person’s life or this couple’s relationship and try to hide little elements of their story in the cake.”

A wedding cake she made last year bore a number of tastefully hidden elements: a globe with two suitcases, golf clubs hidden in the flower arrangements and a film reel to symbolize that the couple had met at film school. “It’s not in-your-face obvious,” Sinatra says. “It looks like a wedding cake, but when you get closer you see these things.”

Her cakes are labor-intensive, requiring 25 to 85 hours and costing as much as $16,000. She sketches the cake in pencil, outlines the sketch in black pen and finishes in watercolor and colored pencils. Fine elements, called “sugar details,” are made ahead of time out of sugar paste which has the consistency of Play-Doh but dries quickly as hard as a jawbreaker. The cakes themselves are made of Italian merengue buttercream with whipped egg whites, heated sugar and butter. Cakes are refrigerated and pulled out for an hour or two at a time to be shaped and covered with details. Unlike some decorative cakes, Sinatra’s actually taste good. “To me, if your cake doesn’t taste good I don’t see the point in creating it,” she says. “I take a lot of time and pride myself in my cakes tasting really good. They are all made from scratch with the highest quality ingredients. All my flavors are spins on classic comfort flavors.”

Sinatra was hired to create 300 mini-cakes for the NBC televised ninetieth birthday of Golden Girl Betty White at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. “I got called by General Mills with less than two weeks’ notice,” she says. “We had to match their very specific colors. I only had two employees at the time and we did an assembly line and plowed through it. Everyone I knew was in here the last days painting pearls and boxing cakes. It was a lot of fun.”

Sinatra says she has done just what she was aiming for when she started A Wish and a Whisk: “I’m living what I was going for. I’m not looking to achieve some TV show. I just wanted to have a successful bakery where I could create my cakes, so I’m really quite happy.”

As seen in CU Magazine, Fall 2013

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