The Cake Master

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The Cake Master

Story by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer

Washington Heights resident Tylena Rayford is a passionate baker: “It makes me happy.”

Washington Heights resident Tylena Rayford is a passionate baker: “It makes me happy.”

Vampires, Barbie, Tinkerbell.

German chocolate, red velvet and butter cream filling.

These are the concerns that fill Washington Heights resident Tylena Rayford’s life.

It all started with a Halloween Party that she threw for her younger cousins when she was 14.

“It was too dangerous for them to be trick or treating outside,” she said. In order to keep their sweet cravings satisfied and keep them safe, Rayford launched into action.

While her cousins and their friends did not end up with a candy jackpot, they did get exquisite hand-decorated cupcakes featuring the usual Halloween suspects: witches, goblins and ghosts.

The party turned into a tradition—and an inspiration for Rayford’s cake baking and decorating business.

The party has gotten so big that Rayford, 22, now rents out a room to fit upwards of 50 young guests.

As the parties grew, so did Rayford’s passion for batter and icing.

“I just love baking and decorating.”

Two years ago she started sculpting cakes—and getting formal requests to make cakes for parties. There is no end to her creativity. For Thanksgiving, she’s sculpted cupcakes into flocks of roast turkeys, complete with stuffing and a bed of lettuce. For baby showers, she’ll transform cakes into packages of baby diapers, and for birthdays, she has given Barbie a dress made out of cake and icing.

Rayford says she has been honing her artistic skills since she was a young child.

At age 6, she started doing clay sculptures and pottery; she also works wonders with a sketchpad, pen and ink.

“I can draw anything I see.”

And people have been taking note, requesting intricate and fanciful designs.

For a recent Tinkerbell-themed cake, Rayford drew by hand what amounted to a bouquet of flowers that covered an entire birthday cake.

“It was a lot of work.”

One of her first customers was her cousin—who, by Rayford’s accounts, has ordered 17 cakes so far.

Rayford spent over 12 hours on this hand-crafted cake.

Rayford spent over 12 hours on this hand-crafted cake.

Her mother, an employee for Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), also helped get the word out among her fellow employees.

“Now I have random people I don’t even know calling about cakes,” she laughed.

Rayford does not currently have a website for her burgeoning business, but has gotten a bounty of word-of-mouth customers who want her edible wonders for their baby showers, weddings, baby showers and birthdays.

Rayford used to work from home, but she just signed a lease for a studio at Urban Horizons Kitchen, a small business incubator at 50 East 168th Street in the Bronx.

Her studio has an oven, a fridge and all her icing accoutrements.

She spends long stretches of time on her baked masterpieces.

Once, Rayford spent 12 hours on a Cookie Monster cake. This was for Teresa Page’s son’s birthday.

Page heard about Rayford’s work from someone from the Parent Teacher Association at her son’s school in Brooklyn.

“She did exactly what I asked for,” enthused Page.

Given the epic request for a three dimensional Cookie Monster, complete with a jar and all, Page wasn’t sure what to expect.

When she saw the final product, she was amazed.

“She blew me away. I didn’t believe it. She surprised me.”

Tiffany Simmons is another big fan of Rayford’s work, and has commissioned her to make five cakes in two years. She has spread the word to at least 15 other people who are now Rayford’s happy customers.

Rayford’s first effort for Simmons was a Barbie-themed cake.

Simmons was impressed by the intricate gown of icing that Barbie sported.

All cakes are made from scratch.

All cakes are made from scratch.

“It was unbelievable. Everybody loved the cake. They kept asking me, ‘Where did you get that?’” said Simmons.

Rayford typically spends six hours a day on her cake endeavors. It is important to her that they are as delicious as they are beautiful. Though she could make things more convenient by baking mass amounts of cake and keeping them in the freezer, this would be against Rayford’s culinary values.

“I like to make everything fresh,” she said.

She also gives herself artistic license to alter and enhance recipes. For instance, instead of using vanilla extract, Rayford will use actual vanilla beans.

She also likes to add a bit of lemon zest here and there.

Rayford offers a variety of cakes—red velvet, blue velvet, and carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, vanilla cake, German chocolate cake, and pound cake. And there are three different fillings: pineapple, butter cream and strawberry.

Rayford does not feel burdened by the extra work that the homemade touch gives her.

“I’m passionate about baking, and it makes me happy.”

Though she is currently studying law at Berkeley College, Rayford sees herself as a baker in the future. She is using her earnings as a professional baker to send herself to the French Culinary Institute—which costs $25,000 to attend.

One cake at a time.

For inquires about Rayford’s services, email her at rayfordtylena@gmail.com or call her at 646.245.1523.

About The Author

Robin Elisabeth Kilmer

Writer at Manhattan Times/Bronx Free Press