3 Super-Chic NYC Bakers Indulge Our Sweet Tooth

It's getting chilly, and with the furs and riding boots comes the pressing urge to curl up with a glass of wine and some seriously yummy indulgences. Yes, we tend to go into hibernation mode as the temps go down (we can't be the only ones, right?), and these three hot NYC bakers aren't slowing down the journey to our nooks. They each serve up a pretty mean batch of cupcakes, cake balls, or gluten-free products, and since they've had a hand in the fashion game, they do it all in style. We're not suggesting you hide under baggy sweaters all season, but we think it's worth noting that if you're gonna do it anyways, you might as well be munching on the masterpieces of these super-chic culinary New Yorkers who seem to have the recipe down for looking and feeling good. Plus, there's a promise that, "you don't get fat from eating desserts," which debunks your permanent desire to trim that waistline by staying off the sweets, (but, yes the trim-down is on our to-do lists, too, right under "learn to play guitar," and "befriend Ryan Gosling" —we'll keep you updated).
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Click through to see these girls in their groove and try an exclusive WaveCake recipe so good, you'll ask for a glass of milk!
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Maayan Zilberman

Maayan Zilberman has degrees in Sculpture, Ceramic Studies, and Art and Design. She founded (our favorite!) lingerie and swimwear line, The Lake & Stars in 2007 and launched WaveCake, a bakery concept soon to be packaged dessert and boutique. We know, we now feel lazy, too.

What is your proudest creation?
"A commission from David Zwirner Gallery for their Holiday Party a few years ago—it was a seven foot-long replica of one of the Dan Flavin pieces they had on view at the time. I used neon tubes encased in styrofoam so that it would be food-safe. Aside from the feat of assembling on-site (which is always a risk), I'm most proud of how it tasted—I used a chocolate ganache inside that I learned how to make in Mexico, and it came out perfectly."

What was your messiest cake disaster?
"I like to use a lot of food coloring (thankfully nowadays there are a lot of natural and safe ones), and one time I overdid it on the blue... everyone at the event I catered was walking around with a bright blue mouth all night. That's a mess I couldn't clean up..."

Photographed by Dan McMahon
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How do you see the intersection between fashion and food? 
"For me its my attitude toward the two. With The Lake & Stars we're taking away the prissiness of the product and approaching it with a neutral/unisex outlook. Same goes for WaveCake... with this concept I'm trying to have a unisex approach, where the branding (like in fashion) is about cultural references rather than gender.

What's your ideal baking wardrobe?
I like to have bare arms so I can move easily, and I like to have a waist-apron with lots of durable pockets. Wearing prints in the kitchen is ideal so batter and stains aren't noticeable. For my bakery concept, I am working on designing aprons based on those worn by the priests in the Old Temple, and those I'd love to wear in the kitchen.

Photographed by Dan McMahon
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Who would you love to feed?
"I love feeding children. They are the most appreciative, and it's nice because I can't offer them any of what I do in my other job."

 What's the most common baking mistake our readers can avoid?
"A mistake everyone can avoid (and one I make to this day if I am not extra careful) is using unsalted butter without compensating for the salt with actual salt in the recipe. We forget that salt brings out the flavor in almost everything we bake, and without it our baked goods run the risk of tasting like cardboard. A pinch of salt can make your creation unforgettable—sometimes it really does come down to this.

How do you stay so in shape while around cakes? Is there such a thing as a low-cal cake?
"You don't get fat from eating desserts. You get fat from eating too many desserts. Everyone can enjoy cake so long as you don't overdo it, and you "eat it in the morning" as my partner likes to say, 'so your metabolism gets to work on it.'"

Top, bra, and swim top, The Lake & Stars; skirt, Club Monaco from high school; shoes, Isabel Toledo

Photographed by Dan McMahon
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Erin McKenna

Erin McKenna left her job as a fashion assistant at a magazine six years ago to pursue the bakery of her dreams, BabyCakes NYC  which now has locations in NY, L.A., and Downtown Disney. She has written two cookbooks, BabyCakes and BabyCakes Covers the Classics. Erin lives in the West Village with her husband and can be found on Friday nights cruising the lipstick aisle at Rite Aid.

BabyCakes, 248 Broome Street (between Orchard and Ludlow streets); 212-677-5047.

What is your proudest creation?
"The baked donuts with chocolate glaze. They taste just like Pop 'Ems!"

What was your messiest cake disaster?
"The third cake I frosted crumbled to pieces as I was frosting it. The customer was waiting in the bakery for it to be finished while I simultaneously had a pop-in visit from an investor. I had to maintain my poise while my world was crumbling, quite literally! Now I feel like I can overcome any cake catastrophe."

Photographed by Dan McMahon
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How do you see the intersection between fashion and food?
"When I opened the bakery six years ago, there wasn't much of a correlation between food and fashion, but because of my background in fashion, I naturally infused it into the bakery. It seems like more and more people in fashion are gravitating toward the food world and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that food is art and can be so aesthetically stimulating as well as delicious! I'm hoping it has to do with models finding it ok to eat again, too!"

What's your ideal baking wardrobe?
"Any sort of smock which is why I adore our Built by Wendy uniforms. They are so cozy but still cute."

Photographed by Dan McMahon
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Who would you love to feed?
"I would love to feed Shirley McClain. She is so cool and such an appreciator."

What's the most common baking mistake our readers can avoid?
"Making substitutions in a recipe before they try it out as written. You must follow a recipe to the letter the first time around, play around the next time!"

How do you stay so in shape while around cakes? Is there such a thing as a low-cal cake?
"There may be such a thing as a low calorie cake but no such thing as one I would eat! The job is very physically taxing so it balances out all the spoonfuls of frosting I'm sneaking all day."

Shop uniform, Built By Wendy

Photographed by Dan McMahon
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Julie Tran-Lê

By day, Julie Tran-Lê is the fashion librarian at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is also a self-taught baker and owns Sweet Jewels Cake Balls. And, like a culinary super hero, by night she bakes her cake balls for clients such as Todd Oldham, Susan Sarandon, Jessica Seinfeld, Amy Sedaris, and designers such as Anna Sui, United Bamboo, Peter Jensen, and (Maayan's) The Lake & Stars—looks like the fashion and cooking communities are closer than we thought!

What is your proudest creation?
"My signature red velvet cake balls will always be the most popular, but I’m also proud of my ice cream concoctions as of late: Vietnamese coffee ice cream swirled with condensed milk ice cream. Sometimes I will have a small scoop of ice cream in the morning in lieu of a cup of coffee!"

What was your messiest cake disaster?
"I had a special order for custom-colored cake balls for a Halloween Party in a castle inspired by Marie Antoinette. It was my first experience custom-coloring cake balls. I dyed white chocolate in light pastel colors and used red velvet cake as the center. The castle was humid in the inside and the red velvet bled though and my treats looked bloody. If it weren’t Halloween, this would be so inappropriate! Luckily, they were a hit and no one seemed to mind how bloody-looking their balls were!"

Photographed by Dan McMahon
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How do you see the intersection between fashion and food? 
"I am drawn to fashion for the same reasons I am drawn to food—food can be made beautiful through its presentation and packaging. I personally love all things that are colorful, have a unique design element, and are beautifully styled. I like to present my balls as if they are edible pieces of jewelry, oftentimes wrapping them in brightly colored foil in elegant glossy black boxes and ribbon or stacking them on a cake stand in a pyramide of balls."

What's your ideal baking wardrobe?
"I have a baking uniform inspired by Minnie Mouse. A black dress, a red apron with white polka dots (that my mother made me), heels and, of course, my omnipresent red lipstick."

Dress, Vanessa Bruno; tights, Wolford; shoes, Christian Louboutin; bracelet, vintage; lipstick, Lipstick Queen in Saint Red

Photographed by Dan McMahon
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Who would you love to feed?
"My balls have been in the mouths of some of the most creative New Yorkers. I adore Amy Sedaris and when she asked me to be a part of her book, Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People , I was elated and thought my career as a cake baller could end on that note."

 What's the most common baking mistake our readers can avoid?
"It’s okay not to follow the recipe or use exact measurements. In fact, I am horrible at traditional baked goods - I could not bake a classic recipe cookie or a pie to save my life."

How do you stay so in shape while around cakes? Is there such a thing as a low-cal cake?
"Bikram yoga - my favorite place to practice is Tricia Donegan’s studio in the Lower East Side. I also only eat sweets one week out of the month. I don’t believe low-cal cake or desserts are an indulgence so I don’t believe in cutting out all the stuff that tastes delicious."

Photographed by Dan McMahon
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1. Separate eggs; Measure egg whites, adding or removing whites as needed to equal 1-1/2 cups. Place in a mixing bowl; let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

2. Sift confectioners' sugar and flour together; set aside. Add cream of tartar, extracts and salt to egg whites; beat on high speed. Gradually add sugar, beating until sugar is dissolved and stiff peaks form. Fold in flour mixture, 1/4 cup at a time.

3. Pour mixture in 3 different bowls and add food coloring to each, mixing each color gently.

4. Gently pour each consecutively into an ungreased long loaf pan, with batter poured lengthwise.

5. Cut through batter with a knife to remove air pockets. Bake at 350 degrees F for 40-45 minutes. (sometimes I will remove from oven early so it is slightly softer). Immediately turn pan upside down to cool; cool completely (about 1.5 hrs) before removing cake from pan.

6. Slice loaf with angel-food cake slicer in 1" pieces and top with mixture of 2:1 whipping cream & mascarpone cheese. This cake looks really pretty when you slice through it, so I like to serve it in front of customers- the surprise of the colors inside is fun to see. If in season, sliced strawberries with a little bit of sugar are delicious.
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