It’s a chilly afternoon and this listless lady’s thoughts are turning to – of all things – cake. But not just any cake — I’m craving a luscious little bacon cheesecake from the Alaska Cake Studio. Yes, a cake of my very own. That is just what I need to cheer me up on this cold, windy winter day.
Alaska Cake Studio is a delicious spot to make a stop no matter the season or weather. During one of my Cake Studio visits the individual dessert items on display included a Madagascar Vanilla Mousse, my favorite Bacon Cheesecake, and a Mojito Truffle dessert. Cupcakes at the Alaska Cake Studio are offered in two flavors per day, and rotate on both a daily and monthly basis. Red Velvet, S’mores, and Strawberry Champagne cupcakes are popular with both visitors and locals alike.
Owner Will McDonald and his staff at Alaska Cake Studio have been bringing sweetness and light to Downtown Anchorage and 4th Avenue since December 2009. But why locate the shop on 4th Avenue, an area of town that has foot traffic but little in the way of parking? As it turns out, a storefront was just what he was looking for, as McDonald revealed during our conversation.
“You get people with the smell, the scent of baking,” he confided. “I wanted to bring something to Anchorage that we didn’t have … a shop with a warm, comforting feel where people can browse, sample pastries and cakes, or purchase specialty items.”
He’s quick to add, “It’s all about the cake. I believe the cake should stand alone — frosting is just an accessory.”
There are many delectables available in addition to cakes made on the premises. You’ll also find a wide selection of gourmet sugars and pearls for decorating your own confections; specialty sugars such as Demerara, Muscovado, and Swedish Pearl sugar; alluring spices such as ginger, cloves, allspice; pure lemon, almond, and rose extracts; Harney & Son’s teas; saltwater taffy; Guittard chocolate; and cute little chocolate shells that can be filled with pastry crème or mousse.
Not everything at Alaska Cake Studio is sweet — they also carry teas and savory items such as India Tree Salts. Some of the salt flavors include Chardonnay smoked fleur de sel, Murray River Salt from Australia, Alder smoked sea salt, Red Hawaiian sea salt, and many more, all perfect for bringing a gourmet touch to special dishes.
How Did A Boy From The Kenai Peninsula End Up Owning A Cake Studio?
McDonald told me that he began working in the restaurant industry during his teens and always knew he’d end up in the culinary field — but he just couldn’t picture himself working as a line cook throughout his adult life. Instead, he was always interested in baking, something that was not at that time a common creative outlet for men in America.
In the mid-1990s, cakes were not trendy in the culinary world, but his determination didn’t falter. McDonald decided to create his own path and chose to attend Johnson & Wales University’s Culinary Arts Program, where he graduated with a degree in Baking and Pastry Arts. His work at the University, coupled with his extensive experience in a variety of Alaska establishments, ultimately led to the birth of Alaska Cake Studio.
Q and A with Will McDonald:
Q: What are the most popular items at Alaska Cake Studio?
A: “Red Velvet cupcakes, Strawberry Champagne cupcakes, Madagascar Vanilla Mousse, and anything with Key Lime in it.”
Q: What is the most out of the box flavor profile you have developed?
A: “White truffle oil and anise mousse with a dark chocolate ganache, layered on a shortbread crust (an individual dessert). Also special ginger cookies with a secret spice.”
Q: What would you do if you weren’t a baker?
A: “I can’t see myself doing anything other than baking — it is a creative outlet for me.”
Q: What do you think about the proliferation of television programs devoted to baking, specifically programs such as “Ace of Cakes,” “Cake Boss,” “Cupcake Wars,” or other programs focusing on exotic cake design?
A: “They (the shows) give people misconceptions about the time involved in creating a custom cake and design. They also give misguided information about the cost of the time and labor involved in creating specialty items.”
“Cake Boss (Buddy Valastro) makes cakes that are more edible.” He dismisses ‘Ace of Cakes’ Duff Goldman with a shrug, saying “It should be about the cake — not the infrastructure. Baking a cake shouldn’t require a trip to the hardware store.”
Q: What about the current trendy fashion of gluten-free or vegan baking?
A: “I have issues with vegan baking because it often uses hydrogenated fats,” he proclaims. “There are a few special order gluten-free items (at the bakery), but generally the taste and texture doesn’t measure up to items baked using real, traditional ingredients.”
A quote from Julia Child adorns a mural painted on the wall of the store, and her words seem to sum up McDonald’s philosophy: “If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.”
Julia, I couldn’t agree more.
Alaska Cake Studio
608 W 4th Avenue
Anchorage, Alaska 99501