How to bake and decorate a cake with Sugar Alley Pastries owner Christie Jackson

Christie Jackson is in her happy place when she’s baking. As she bounces around her kitchen mixing ingredients for her next baked creation, there’s not a drop of sweat or a single stress line on her face.

She began baking when she was a child, so working in the kitchen is like second nature for the Baton Rouge native. Jackson started her at-home business, Sugar Alley Pastries, in 2015. After pursuing a career in special and elementary education, Jackson switched lanes when she felt inspired by a church presentation on pursuing your passions.

“I felt motivated to tap into my God-given gift,” Jackson says. “That’s what made me start thinking seriously about baking and cake decorating.”

Jackson makes cakes, cookies, chocolate-covered strawberries, pecan pralines, pies, cake toppers and other custom desserts. When she’s not baking for customers, she’s often teaching one of her monthly cake classes to beginning bakers and cake enthusiasts.

Her classes include Cake Decorating 101, where students learn how to stack cakes, use filling and smooth the edges of a cake; and Wedding Cake Master Class, where clients learn how to make, stack, transport and price a two-tiered wedding cake. Registration for the classes can be found on her website. No supplies or experience is required.

Because the 225 Dine team loves all things sweets, we got an exclusive step-by-step tutorial on how Jackson makes and decorates a fresh strawberry cake with buttercream frosting. Here’s how:

Fresh strawberry cake with buttercream frosting

For the cake:

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoons salt
¾ cup canola oil
1 ½ cups strawberry puree
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon juice
4 eggs
Pink food coloring (for bold color)

For the buttercream:

1 stick of butter (at room temperature)
⅛ teaspoon salt
3 ½ cups powdered sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract  

For the strawberry filling:

3/4 cup of your favorite store-bought strawberry pastry filling (Jackson picked one up from Party Time)

The original recipe was shared on Everyday Made Fresh and can be found here.

How to make the cake

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray two pans with Baker’s Joy non-stick spray.

2. Lightly mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. Be careful to not over mix the batter.

3. Add the oil, strawberry puree, vanilla extract and lemon juice to the dry ingredients. Mix until all the ingredients are combined.

4. Crack the eggs in a separate bowl. Beat until scrambled. Add the eggs and food coloring into the mixing bowl and stir lightly. Stir until the mixture is smooth.

5. Pour an even amount of cake batter into the pans.

6. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until a toothpick poked in the center of each cake comes out clean.

7. Remove the cakes from the oven and allow them to cool for about an hour before frosting

How to make the buttercream

1. In a large bowl, beat a stick of butter until it is fluffy.

2. Add the salt, powdered sugar and vanilla extract. Mix until all the ingredients are combined to create the buttercream texture.

How to decorate the cake:

1. Pour the buttercream into a piping bag.

2. Place a dollop of buttercream on the center of the cake board to hold the cake steady.

3. Remove the first cake from the pan and place it on the cake board.

4. Create a dam along the top of the cake with the buttercream to hold the filling. Line the edges of the cake with icing.

5. Fill the center of the cake with strawberry filling and spread it across the cake.

6. Apply the “crumb coat,” the first layer of icing that locks in the crumbs. Spread buttercream evenly all over the cake.

7. Place the cake in a freezer for an hour to let it cool before applying a second layer of buttercream

8. After the crumb coat has set and hardened, begin applying the final layer of buttercream. 

9. For clean edges, scrape the sides of the cake with a bench scraper to remove excess frosting.

10. Add a border to the cake with a 1M piping tip. Pipe the bottom of the cake with your design of choice.

11. Use extra buttercream for additional design flair. Top with strawberries.

Tips from the baker:

• The more you mix a cake, the more it leads to gluten formation and results in a tough, dry cake.

• If you’re afraid of over-mixing, mix with your hands.

• Crack eggs in a separate bowl to avoid getting shells in your cake batter.

• Tap pans filled with cake batter on the counter before putting in the oven to get rid of air pockets.

• Stack cake layers in the same direction for even appearance.

• Freezing a cake before decorating it locks in the the crumbs on the cake.

• Cakes with fruit take longer to bake, so you may have to leave those in the oven for longer than your average cake.

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