It’s dark outside when Nannette Mayhall breaks out her measuring cups. She scoops and levels flour and sugar, then she cracks eggs and creams sweet butter. There’s no other noise around at 3 a.m. except the whirring of a KitchenAid mixer churning its way through silky, alabaster batter. This is the makings of her signature white chocolate raspberry cake.
Once the tender layers are baked, Mayhall frosts them with fresh buttercream, topping it all off with perfect berries, white swirls and enormous shavings of good white chocolate. She has orders for three such cakes today, and all of them will be made to order before sunrise.
“I really prefer quality over quantity,” she says. “I keep things in small batches because they turn out so much better.”
Mayhall started baking professionally at 28, after friends and family repeatedly told her she had talent. Such a story seems cliché these days, played out by countless dreamers on the Food Network and across blogs nationwide. But this was 22 years ago, and Mayhall had no formal training and was naturally shy.
“It was really hard at first,” she says. “I went to a lot of people. Some took a chance on me, but I got rejected a lot, too.”
Baking had been her passion since childhood. The youngest of five children, Mayhall learned the art from her mother, Marie, whose father was a French immigrant and former New Orleans restaurateur. Their mother-daughter traditions included visiting bakeries on every family vacation and preparing fudge cakes for Christmas presents—traditions Mayhall now shares with her 9-year-old daughter.
Today, the Baton Rouge native is known throughout the region. From the home-based commercial kitchen she saved for years to build, Mayhall confects fresh pastries for clients like über-chef Yvette Bonanno. DiGiulio Brothers serves her Italian cream and red velvet cakes, and Bistro Byronz, her chess pie.
“It has a nostalgic flavor that’s simple and stands on its own,” says Byronz managing partner Brock Kantrow. “Nannette has a lot of really good stuff, but we chose the chess pie because not a lot of the younger generation know about it.”
During Carnival, Mayhall works long hours turning out king cakes known for their pillowy dough and hand-dyed sugar. And her soft, buttery cinnamon rolls, sweet biscuits and other original goods keep the phone ringing year-round. That’s the phone—not a Web site, at least for now. Mayhall likes the chance to talk to customers.
“This is something I really enjoy, and I put a lot of love into it,” she says. “That’s important because if you don’t enjoy doing it, it doesn’t turn out as well.”