In the kitchen with…
Midnight Sun Cakery
Story by Amy Newman
Photography by Photo Arts by Janna
Anita Algiene, owner of The Midnight Sun Cakery, the all-events cake studio she operates out of a converted garage, has a warm, friendly smile, the kind that invites her customers to open up to her.
“I think that’s what differentiates me from other people,” she says. “I can figure out what they’re wanting.”
Anita has been passionate about cakes since her mother taught her how to bake and decorate them in the family kitchen. She landed her first bakery job right out of high school, and supported herself through college working at bakeries in Colorado, Idaho, South Dakota and New Orleans.
“It was something I was always good at,” she says.
Although she never attended culinary school or took classes of any kind – “not even a Wilton baking class,” she says – Anita was named head of the wedding cake department at Pastry Perfection in Boise, Idaho, and later spent six years as one of the lead decorators at New Orleans’ famed Haydel’s Bakery.
But, cake decorating was merely a hobby Anita indulged in on her path toward earning a master’s degree in theatrical design from Tulane University. In 2006, she accepted a job as assistant professor of scenic design at the UAA Department of Theatre and Dance and moved to Anchorage.
When departmental changes left Anita without a job in 2012, her thoughts returned to cake decorating. She briefly considered purchasing a friend’s bakery, but instead decided to start from scratch, opening The Midnight Sun Cakery that same year.
“Everything just took off,” Anita recalls. “Everything just went super well.”
“Super well” is putting it mildly. Just four months after opening, Anita won the Dream Wedding Cake Challenge in Anchorage with her four-tiered raspberry truffle cake.
Though she didn’t realize it initially, Anita’s art background helps when it comes to creating cakes.
“When I got into my master’s program, I learned color composition and the artistic skills,” she says. “It wasn’t just theater; they really taught us art, which was nice.”
Those artistic skills come through in the hand-crafted details she creates: elephants molded from modeling chocolate; gum paste roses; three-dimensional Hulk hands molded from Rice Krispies and covered in fondant; or flowers made from wafer-thin, edible paper.
Hand painting cakes is Anita’s favorite part of cake decorating. She uses tinted buttercream to add such life-like color and details to turtles, cars, even a pair of Dansko shoes, that for a moment you think you’re looking at the real deal, rather than an iced cake.
But taste counts just as much as aesthetics when it comes to cake. Anita constantly experiments with flavor combinations and recipes based on what is trending in the cake world and what she and her staff think might work.
So what has Anita found that works? Using the best ingredients available whenever possible helps. But she has other tricks to making great-tasting cakes, such as putting cooled cakes in the freezer overnight. “I find it maintains the freshness,” she says.
Anita also adds more chocolate, more vanilla and more of any other flavoring to the cake than what is stated in the recipe.
But, there have been bumps along the way, some quite literally.
A delivery driver ruined the cake’s icing and completely destroyed the top tier after getting into an accident. Fortunately Anita was able to rescue the cake. “It was a pretty simple decoration, and thank God it had fresh flowers on it so we could hide some of (the imperfections),” she says.
She once had to throw in the towel because she was unable to make a cake resembling a high-heeled shoe. Only afterward did she realize that a pattern exists to create the cake she had attempted to do freehand.
“You have to give yourself a lot of grace,” she says. “I feel like I’m always learning, which is a fun challenge.”