Being close to her grandmother gave Maddie Blake a good foundation for adulthood. That loving relationship also became the recipe for her future career.
The patience and trial-and-error techniques learned from grandma Betty Blake helped the 25-year-old Belleair resident advance as a program control analyst for the Department of Defense at Honeywell. The same ingredients nurtured in her grandmother’s Kentucky kitchen instilled the confidence to give up the security of a corporate job and follow her passion to bake cakes.
Today, Maddie is sharing her grandmother’s lessons through her business, Baked in the Burg, where she sells wholesale cakes and cookies and offers after-hours classes in cake and cupcake decorating for others who share the same desire — to hone skills like patience, creativity, turning mistakes into wins and sharing time with friends and family.
“When I was little, I would sit at the counter in her kitchen and watch her make all the different sweets she baked like coffee cake, chocolate sheet cake, her mother’s strawberry cake or even divinity candy — which I haven’t even attempted without her helping me — and I would ask a lot of questions, as kids do,” Maddie said. “She was always so patient with me and would answer every question and eventually tell me to come around the counter to help her so I could really learn something.”
Maddie remembers how much she loved the coffee cake that always awaited her family when they visited Grandma. But it was the joy she saw in other guests who also appreciated the love that went into baking that left the biggest impression.
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“Seeing how much other people loved her cakes and how much relaxation she experienced while baking is what made me take it up as a hobby,” Maddie said. “There’s also something really satisfying seeing something come together like a cake when you bake and decorate it. If you frost a cake when it’s hot, you end up with a mess, or if you don’t chill your cookie dough, it spreads in the oven.”
Patience, one of the virtues required most in baking, didn’t come easy for Maddie.
“My grandmother taught me to take a rest when something was in the oven and to enjoy my few minutes of quiet,” she said. “Needless to say, things aren’t very quiet when I’m baking in the shop now but it still does remind me of her when I get something in the oven and shut the door and take a breath.”
She also learned persistence from her grandmother. At the age of 9, she wanted to decorate a Barbie dream castle cake. Her grandmother gave her the instructions and she stayed up all night designing 300 pink flowers with center dots in each one.
Maddie took those memories with her the day she had lunch with her friend, cookie baker Ashlea O’Connor, at the start of the 2020 pandemic. Almost instantly, they knew that merging their baking talents would be a sweet deal. Within months, they opened Baked in the Burg in a shipping container. Today, the shop is located in a storefront on Central Avenue that is open monthly for “pop up” sales to the public. Special orders and catering are available on the business website, bakedintheburg.com, and their products are shipped nationwide through services like goldbelly.com.
O’Connor, 42, specializes in deep-dish cookies loaded with chocolate chips, sprinkles and filled with everything from Oreo cookies to cream.
Both bakers help with the cake-decorating classes. A recent class held at the nearby Toast the Hostess, a gift boutique, wine bar and gathering space, brought together nine women including a physical therapist, a mother-and-daughter duo, a college professor and a group of girlfriends on a night out.
Suzanne Kent attended with friends and was interested in learning how to keep her layer cakes level with the right amount of filling. Maddie taught participants to build a rim inside the bottom layer to hold the filling and secure the top layer.
”It just so happened to be my friend’s birthday so I added a candle and voila! A birthday cake,” Kent said. “I received so many compliments on the cake for how pretty it was as well as how delicious it was. We had so much fun, our group already signed up for the next class.”
Maddie allows that paying it forward was what her grandmother would have loved most. Although she lost her battle with cystic fibrosis last November, her influence remains.
“When she passed,” Maddie said, “everyone used the word ‘sweet’ to describe her. ‘She was such a sweet lady,’ ‘She had such a sweet soul,’ and that’s exactly how she was and how I, and many others, remember her to be.”
Besides her coffee cake, Grandma’s favorite recipes were strawberry cake with cream cheese frosting and a family beloved Italian cream cake. All of those are offered at Baked in the Burg.
Said Maddie: “Ashlea and I have a pink binder at the shop that has all her recipes in her handwriting that we use every day.”
Recipe: Grandma Betty Blake’s Coffee Cake
1 Butter Golden cake mix (2 tablespoons reserved)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup chopped pecans
4 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
⅓ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup water
¼ cup sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons whole milk
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Combine 2 tablespoons reserved cake mix, brown sugar, cinnamon and pecans. Set aside.
Combine eggs, sour cream, vegetable oil, water, sugar and remaining cake mix.
Pour half batter into a greased Bundt pan. Pour in pecan mixture and top with remaining cake batter.
Bake for 25 to 35 minutes. Cool completely.
Invert cake onto a cake plate or pedestal.
Combine powdered sugar and whole milk.
Drizzle glaze over cooled cake.