In my day job I work as an engineer. When I tell folks that, they often respond with, "I would have never guessed that. I thought you were an artist or musician." To which I usually reply, "...thanks," with multiple invisible question marks swirling around my head. Why couldn't I be both? I have volumes of sketchbooks. Art and science have gone together since the beginning of civilization. Relics from Roman and Greek civilizations would not have lasted this long without marriage of the two. Do people think the engravers of Incan and Aztec monoliths just went to town on a stone and let their minds wander? Some of the greatest works of ancient art have lasted the ages thanks to the marriage of math and creativity. Even ephemeral art like cake creation melds art and science; it's a combination of chemistry, craftsmanship, and culinary skill. And there is plenty of each on display at Tu Amor Cakery.
Owner Lizzie Rodriguez creates tasty treats as well as full-on sculpture cakes that are edible statues of characters and creatures -- such as The Grinch or a unicorn -- per her customers' requests. At her shop, I teetered between wanting to stare in awe of the cakes and wanting to devour them in one sitting.
The process to make a sculpted cake figure takes a few days. Rodriguez first draws a diagram to measure proportions, before building a stable armature for the cake, populating that structure with the layers of cake, and sculpting the cake into the required form. The final step is to frost and detail the work. The finished product is a thing of wonder, as are the other items she bakes every day.
Rodriguez has been baking since she was about 8 years old. It brought her joy, she says, and her mother noticed her talent early on. As she grew up, she kept baking and creating more than culinary art. She won a high school art competition for a painting she made, and she also had an interest in mechanical engineering and professional drafting, which she started to study in college. But life got in the way of academics, and though she had leave school to work full-time, she still nurtured her love of art and baking. She baked all the desserts in the restaurant owned by her father, who she says always pushed her to pursue what made her happy. Eventually, Rodriguez registerd her work under a DBA ("Doing Business As") filing, and baked custom cakes from her home. This past December, with a lot of help from her husband Roberto Rodriguez, she opened Tu Amor Cakery, a wonderland of sweet and savory treats.
- PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
- Tu Amor offers full-of-flavor guava puff pastries.
I entered Tu Amor on one of the brightest, hottest days of the week, and the cool, dark interior was a relief. The first thing I saw was a bright kitchen counter with a line of differently colored Kitchen Aid mixers sitting in a row. They were obviously in regular use, but the way the light hit them made them look like they were illuminated by divine provenance.
Tu Amor offers a variety of freshly made items, both sweet and savory. There are fruity puff pastries and spinach artichoke turnovers. There are pizzas for those on the keto diet and cream-filled cupcakes. Most of the flavors rotate daily, so you have a good chance of trying something new each time you visit.
Of the treats I sampled, the guava puff pastry was my favorite, but I also tried the strawberry cheesecake, the pineapple cheesecake, and the regular cheesecake puff pastries. All four were the right amount of sweetness and lightness; Rodriguez says she prefers Italian cream and meringue-style as opposed to the more common American buttercream, which is made with confectioner's sugar. The former are a bit denser, not overly sugary, but still full of flavor. In addition to the puff pastries, Rodriguez also makes a tres leches cake that seemed to defy gravity, it was so light. I sampled the flan as well, which I initially thought was cheesecake because it looked so dense, but at the first bite I recognized the creamy, caramel taste.
- PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
- Tu Amor's award-winning treat is flan-tastic.
Of all the treats Tu Amor offers, the keto items are the most confounding. Usually when someone says they made a low-carb cake without sugar or wheat flour, I prepare myself to eat something that resembles a brick (and is about as sweet as one). But the cupcakes I had were so good, I thought I picked up the wrong ones at first. Rodriguez makes entire keto cakes, and she says her customers often send her pictures of the remains of her devoured designs, astonished at how tasty they were.
Rodriguez does not let her food go to waste; she shares whatever is left each day with owners of neighboring businesses and sometimes lucky passersby. She also has a "suspended coffee" program, where folks can order a coffee and give a little bit extra to pay it forward for someone who may not be able to afford a cup.
- PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
- Tu Amor's keto cupcakes are as good as the regular ones.