You can’t help but think of the 1965 song I Want Candy when you talk to Yolanda Gampp, the bubbly cake maker turned TV star.
Gampp is a methodical baker, writing down lists and thinking about every detail of a project before starting it. Her cakes look more like objets d’art than food. She has been baking for most of her life, after learning from her Swiss-German father, who was also a baker by trade. She runs not one but two dessert businesses in Toronto, Cakes by Yolanda and Sweet Fix.
This fall, the public gets to see Gampp’s latest project: the real-life sitcom Sugar Stars, which follows her and her colleagues as they create elaborate cakes and sweets tables for parties. Gampp swears that she never gets sick of sweets.
How would you describe your baking style?
I’m obsessed with making things look as real as possible. I like doing novelty or three-dimensional cakes more than tiered cakes. I love nothing more than when someone brings me an actual object and I turn it into a cake. Or when I deliver cakes and people touch them and wreck them because they don’t think it’s a cake.
Can you give an example?
I did a jockey’s helmet and riding crops and boots for the Queen’s Plate this year. They couriered a jockey’s equipment to me and I had to copy it. In the end, somebody touched the helmet, thinking it was the real one, so there was a thumb poke in the helmet. You could see the cake and butter cream on the inside. Before the poke, everybody thought the cake was just a prop on the table.
What did your dad teach you about food?
He was big on not letting me be fussy. Even my mother says she was a much pickier eater before meeting my father. I wasn’t the kind of kid who was allowed to look at something and say, “Ew, I don’t like that.”
Tell me about some things you didn’t like?
Things that any kid wouldn’t like, like liver. But I love liver now, especially pâté. Or even simple things. I didn’t like it if a cookie had nuts in it. And now I love that. I understand how the crunch and the texture and even the fat that the nuts add do something to the cookie.
Is there anything you’d rather not eat?
The one thing I don’t like – and it drives my husband crazy – isI don’t like my yolks runny. It’s the one thing from childhood that I have never gotten over. It’s weird when I see people eat eggs Benedict. I think that it looks delicious, but there is something about it being on my plate. It’s not eggs. I like eggs in many different ways. It might have something to do with the fact that when I started to work at bakeries, they used to keep all of the egg whites and yolks separated in two buckets. I just remember sticking my hand and measuring cup into a bucket of yolks. That just sealed the deal.
Your show recently premiered on the Food Network Canada. What’s it like baking on TV?
I’m such a perfectionist and I am very hard on myself. Knowing my cakes will be viewed by a national audience is a lot of pressure. But I’m really proud of the work and how it comes together. I am also proud of myself for breaking down certain walls. Doing the show has taught me that I can’t control everything and that’s been a great thing. Plus as a kid, I was very shy. I’ve worked on becoming more extroverted my whole life and this show has really helped me.
You work with sweets all day. Do you ever get tired of them?
No, I wish that would happen. If I’m shaving a cake into a specific shape, there is a lot of excess and I’ll put those shavings in my mouth without knowing it. Especially when it’s a flavour I love, like coconut.
Are you experimenting with any new flavours?
We did a table at Casa Loma [in Toronto] in their garden room. We had to incorporate flowers in everything, even in the cake. Floral essences are challenging. It’s a flavour people don’t have often and flowers taste exactly how they smell. So it’s odd. If you’ve never had something with rose water in it, it’s a weird experience because now you’re tasting something you’ve only ever smelled. It’s tricky because if you overdo it, it will taste like perfume. You just don’t have that problem with other flavours. You can’t overdo chocolate.
What ingredient are you looking forward to this fall?
Apples! As a kid, one of my favourite things to make in the fall was a baked apple. You peel it and take out the core. On the inside, you mix butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and sometimes I’d put in raisins and walnut. You shove that in the middle. And then you’d make some pie dough and in a rustic way, you wrap up the whole apple and add a clove in the top as a pin. Bake it until it’s golden and prick it with a knife to make sure the apple is cooked. Eat it with whipped cream or ice cream. Or even a hard sauce, which is whipped butter and icing sugar. It’s just so delicious.
The most important tool in your kitchen?
A sharp knife. In my cake kitchen, I use my dad’s knives. I have a really beautiful serrated knife. I’ve never seen another knife like it. My dad brought it from Switzerland and it has a little copper spade on the wooden handle. It’s a nice memory of my father. At home, I really like ceramic knives for everyday. For salads, they’re so easy and wonderful.
Taco or fajita?
Pistachio ice cream.
This interview has been condensed and edited.