The cake-ball hype took off just a couple of years ago, but Angie Jackson of Angie's Cake began her cake ball and pop business before anyone even knew what a cake ball was. In fact, the mecca for these bite-size sweets, a.k.a. Pinterest, hadn't been invented when Jackson made her first cake balls.
Jackson began baking and decorating the treats for friends as a side hobby a little more than five years ago. Friends, family and co-workers recognized her talent and requested her cake balls and pops for parties and holidays and when they wanted something sweet to eat. Her first attempt at making them, however, did not turn out quite as well as she had hoped and expected.
"I found a recipe for cake balls in the Chronicle, so I tried them and it was a disaster. I was like, 'I am never going to make these again,'" Jackson says. "The recipe tells you to use a whole container of icing, so I did, and it was just this big gloppy mess. So it was trial and error. They still tasted good, but I had to keep them in the freezer or else they would just be goopy. But that was fun, and Easter rolled around and my sister and I decided to make some cute little Easter egg ones and Easter bunnies. And after that, people started asking for those."
After working all day at her real estate marketing job and taking care of her family as soon as she got home, Jackson would begin baking and decorating cake balls, often working until 2 a.m. She then made the decision to quit her job and bake full time. Jackson and her husband bought a truck for Angie's Cake in 2009 to sell her products in the city at food parks and truck events. Two years later, she opened a storefront in League City to make production easier for larger orders. While her friends and family sometimes lend a helping hand in the kitchen, Jackson bakes, creates and decorates all of her sweet treats.
"We keep the front case well stocked with a variety of flavors. Most days [we have] a minimum of 14 different flavors. It is mostly the cake balls and the cake pops," she says. "We do a lot of custom work with them; we don't do full decorated cakes. We do other mini desserts; we brought out the Whoopie pies and stuff like that...the cake balls are the main focus. You can come in and get them anytime and we will have them, but the other stuff we usually just make and then post on Facebook and Twitter that we have it."
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Jackson says birthday cake, red velvet and mint chocolate are the three most popular flavors. Her personal favorite is the mint chocolate ball, which is made with Andes mints. To her it tastes similar to a Girl Scouts Thin Mint cookie. But before more flavors were created, it all began with the Birthday Cake.
"It was a friend of mine. It was her daughter's birthday and she said, 'Would you make some for her birthday?'" she recalls. "And it was a luau, so I was like, 'Yeah!' That was my very first order, so every year on her daughter's birthday -- it was in June -- we are always like, 'Oh! It's our anniversary!'"
While the birthday cake ball holds sentimental value as Jackson's first flavor, a family recipe inspired the ginger beer cake ball, which is made with Shiner Bock beer.
"My husband is from Alabama, so every year we go home a couple times and his stepmother makes this ginger beer cake, which is how we got the ginger beer ball, and I love it," Jackson says. "She makes it every Christmas, so that has become a signature ball for us. That has cream cheese icing. It's kind of like a spice cake."
Of course, cake balls aren't complete unless they are fully decorated, and Jackson has a variety of decorations she creates -- everything from wedding cake balls and pops to baby shower and bridal shower cake varieties.
"For a while we did a ton of Angry Birds," Jackson says. "Angry Birds all the time. We have done Hello Kitty. We've done superheroes. We've done turtles -- like we made them in the shape of turtles. We have done lots of footballs. We do a lot of sports balls. Lots of sparkly ones."
Although Jackson has no formal training in making the balls, she uses professional-grade materials and tools. The key to successful designs? Trial and error.
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"I can look back at some of that first stuff and I'm like, 'I shouldn't show people this,' but that's where it started," she says. "I never took any classes and I'd like to just learn more...someone would call in and say, 'I am having a baby shower with this,' and we would try and do something. When I first started, Pinterest wasn't a big thing yet, but now people send me stuff from Pinterest and say, 'Can you make this?' That's always fun, but we always add our own twist to it. We never copy them verbatim."
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Jackson loves having the ability to create the balls for her storefront and for truck events. When she's at a food park or event, her daughter is able to join her and assist in grabbing the correct flavors for customers. But one of the most special aspects of her baking business? The connections and relationships she creates with customers.
"One of the best parts of the job is doing bridal showers with women, and their weddings, and then they come back a year later and they want to do their anniversary, and we're doing baby showers for them," Jackson says. "It's really neat, and we even got one couple, we did their wedding and then their baby shower, then the first birthday. It's very cool to be a part of that. I mean, we are a very small part of that, but it's really neat. It's kind of like we are growing with them."