It’s not everyday you meet a baker so extraordinary she goes by the name “Cake Hero.” One look at the treats Melissa Torres has masterminded and you’ll understand why the name suits her. As owner of the online shop Cake Hero, Torres spends her days creating, baking, and decorating an abundance of sweet treats out of the comfort of her Greenpoint home. She bakes everything from candies to elaborate cakes that are specially ordered by a variety of clientele. In addition to baking for friends and family, Torres has designed cakes for the likes of Cartier, Nickelodeon and most recently Vogue.
I had the chance to ask Melissa a few questions about how she got started and how she caught such a major fashion magazine’s attention.
GP: How did you start baking?
Melissa: A while ago, I bought a Darth Vader cake pan on eBay. Even though I had never even made a box cake, I had all these visions of making a Darth cake for random holidays. Mother’s Day Darth? That happened (in shades of pink, of course). Easter Darth? Yep! Friends got birthday Darth Cakes in different colors – Halloween Darth, Pistachio Darth to match the flavor of the cake, etc. I got better and better at decorating Darths, but eventually it grew a little tiresome. I branched out into other cakes, and a few years later here I am!
GP: How long have you been baking?
Melissa: I bought my Darth cake pan about eight years ago! Since I was starting from scratch I would say that it wasn’t until six years ago that I started selling cakes. From there it was still years before I would consider myself a professional cake decorator, even though one could argue that I had been one for a while already.
GP: Where did you learn to bake?
Melissa: I’m self-taught. LOTS of early trial and error.
GP: Self-taught? That is impressive! Did you have any guidance at all? A family member? A friend? A cookbook?
Melissa: Since I didn’t know anyone that made cakes at the time, I was pretty much on my own. I will say that the very popular cake-decorating site CakeCentral.com really helped me get my start in decorating. Their forums hold an amazing wealth of information, and the users are just as nice and as helpful as can be.
GP: How did you end up in Greenpoint? What makes the neighborhood such a great place to bake?
Melissa: I’ve lived in Greenpoint for a year and a half now and I’m smitten! The sense of community and the beauty of Greenpoint really can’t be beat. There are so many amazing bakers to talk to here. I love it! The girls from Ovenly are amazing and are doing such great work. Cookie Road has such inspiring cookies and their sandwiches are always the perfect treat when I’m spending a long day working on a cake and need a break. I’m so inspired by all the small businesses here, and I feel like they have a level of polish and professionalism while still maintaining a homegrown feel that is very Greenpoint.
GP: Why “Cake Hero”?
Melissa: I had a contest to see who could come up with the best name for my growing business among my friends. It was a lot of fun and some pretty hilarious entries were submitted, such as “Cake It or Leave It” and “Free Beer”. A coworker off the cuff said, “What about Cake Hero?” and there was just something that struck a real chord. It was short and sweet, simple, memorable, and fun. I feel like it really represents my brand.
GP: How long does it take you to design and bake a cake?
Melissa: It depends on the design, for sure. Some designs come to me in a flash. Someone will say they want a superhero cake and I can immediately think of something fun and exciting. I would say an average cake could take up to eight hours from baking to decorating. I’ve spent upwards of 20 or more hours on some cakes. Often the cakes that look the simplest take the most time because there’s no room for error. Luckily, I love spending hours working on a single sugar flower, so this is definitely the job for me!
GP: You recently landed in the spotlight for designing a cake for Vogue’s 120th anniversary party. It came out awesome! How did Vogue hear about you? How did you come up with the design?
Melissa: Thank you! I have made a number of children’s cakes for the Executive Director at Vogue. Her children have the most amazing ideas! I made a number of cakes for her family, so when they needed some mini cakes for one of their recent Wedding Guides, they asked me. Later, when Vogue was turning 120, they asked a few of their favorite bakers around the country to make cakes representing Vogue and I was delighted to be asked. I was in some great company and I am so proud with how my cake turned out. I wanted it to be striking, simple and chic, so I went through Vogue‘s archives and found some great inspiration in Erwin Blumenfeld’s 1950 Vogue cover image. The face was totally hand-painted. Those lips took longer than you would think! All the hard work was definitely worth it though because I hear that they loved the cake.
GP: I discovered a Lady GaGa cake you made, which is hands-down my favorite pastry of yours that I’ve seen. What is your favorite cake you’ve created?
Melissa: Thanks so much! That cake was so fun to make. I think that might be one of my favorites, too, although each new cake seems to be my new favorite. Right now I’ve been really loving the petit fours I made with my cousin, Chef Camille Becerra, and photographer Tara Sgroi. We collaborated on mini cakes that, when put together, made the face of Marie Antoinette. I think they’re so lovely, really Avant-garde and fun.
GP: What’s the craziest cake request you’ve ever received?
Melissa: One request that I received was a Hall and Oates cake with a ‘80s vibe. A girl wanted it for her boyfriend, but I was at a loss as to how to make it happen. I didn’t want it to look like a crazy mess so I used my favorite trick and simplified. Neon splatter on a black cake with the silhouettes of Hall and Oates from their Private Eyes single cover turned out to be the perfect solution!
GP: What advice would you give to an aspiring baker?
Melissa: If you’re out there and you’re baking at home and selling cookies to coworkers and friends of friends, then you are a baker. Own it! Once you believe and project pride in what you do, others will gravitate to your business. Don’t feel shy. Take pride in your unique skills and if all else fails, fake it ‘til you make it!
GP: What’s your favorite part of your job?
Melissa: I love it when a client sees their cake for the first time. I get to be a part of so many wonderful celebrations and milestones in people’s lives. It’s such an honor. Also, I love compliments and baking pretty cakes gets you a lot of them!
Torres hopes to one day open a store front where she’d sell her specialized treats and she says she’d love to do keep her business in Greenpoint. Until then, you can purchase her sweets on her Etsy shop and if you’re in need of a cake, all orders can be placed on her website at http://www.cakehero.com/.