Photo Credit: Make My Cake| Facebook
Make My Cake: The Harlem Institution Serving Up Homemade Family Goodness
There was never any doubt that Make My Cake owner Aliyyah Baylor would enter the family business. She started out as her mother’s baking apprentice at age 12 and even before that created her own small business at nine. Her path was set from the beginning, it would seem, but Baylor wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I believe in divine order,” she said. “And I’m really glad that I had that foundation from my mom to be able to follow up on.”
The third-generation baker spoke to Travel Noire in between serving customers at Make My Cake, a Harlem-based bakery that has been a fixture in the community for decades. The dessert institution started as a home-based business with recipes from the family matriarch Josephine Smith, affectionately known as “Ma Smith.”
They eventually moved into a location at 116th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, where they remained for 22 years before rising rent costs forced the bakery to relocate. Make My Cake recently reopened in the area at 775 Columbus Avenue and continues to serve customers at a second location run by Baylor’s mother and brothers called Ma Smith’s Dessert Café on 2380 Adam C. Powell Blvd.
Baylor still honors Ma Smith’s memory in every facet of the business.
“My grandmother’s journey was from West Point, Mississippi to Birmingham Alabama to Harlem where she lived until 2005 and then she passed way. So she is very much embedded in all of what we do.”
Even the new bakery has a connection to the late matriarch, and Baylor imagines her grandmother would be pleased with business’ ongoing commitment to Harlem.
“There’s a church two doors down from my current location that my brother and I used to go to after school because my grandmother cooked in the church kitchen,” Baylor shared. We’d go there after school, eat, and then go home. So that journey that I’m on was already defined. It’s just one of those things that came full circle.
“I know that she is so excited,” Baylor added, “because she was an entrepreneur, and she was a chef. She’s someone who believed in feeding the community and catering to the community and not just taking from them.”
Among the sweet staples at Make My Cake are Ma Smith’s sweet potato pie and peach cobbler, as well as their signature sweet potato cheesecake and red velvet cake. Baylor is also focused on rebranding as a Southern bake house, adding breads to their menu while also offering vegan, gluten-free, and low sugar options.
But the pièce de résistance has to be the German chocolate cake, which earned her bragging rights as the winner of the Food Network’s Throwdown! with Bobby Flay, a show which pits opponents against the celebrity chef. Her secret to success lies in the icing.
“It is more of a carmel-based icing with toasted pecans and toasted coconut,” Baylor revealed. “What I add to it is chocolate chips because it just makes it special, and it is really good.”
You might have an opportunity to glean even more secrets from Baylor through her Come Bake with Me classes, where she partners with students to make a dessert of their choosing. Sometimes it’s a selection that she has never attempted before. But she welcomes the challenge. Baking is also a healing process for the Bronx-born, Harlem-raised Baylor who lost a son four years ago and her cousin Cathy who wrote her first business plan. Her son was an avid baker himself. She counts him, Cathy, and her grandmother among the angels overseeing Make My Cake because for Baylor, this will always be a family business.
“Even though I run Make My Cake solo as a CEO and owner, it is never not that [a family business] because the basis of this business was created as a family.”