Although she recently ordered 22 pounds of chocolate, Mikie DiMuro was not suffering from a chocoholic episode. Rather, as the owner and sole employee of a local wedding cake business, she was stocking her larder for the upcoming nuptial season.
Once a staid, fondant-laced confection, modern wedding cakes often serve as a beacon of the wedded couple’s personality and the flavor possibilities are endless. Although the wedding industry took a hit from the recession, many couples still choose to splurge on cake. Fast Company magazine estimates that American cake businesses brought in nearly $1 billion dollars in 2008.
In a market stiff with competition, a baker needs a pièce de résistance that stands apart. DiMuro’s involves a cheesecake strip nestled between sponge cake layers, all encased in rich buttercream. She says the creation was partly inspired by a recipe in a 1987 issue of Bon Appétit that featured an ecru-colored buttercream cake made by renowned chocolatier Alice Medrich.
“[Clients] say years after a wedding that no one talks about the wedding anymore, but they still talk about the cake,” DiMuro said.
So firm is her devotion to this concoction, that DiMuro will refer a couple to another baker if they wish to forgo the cheesecake layer.
Besides her wedding cakes, DiMuro turns out treats such as a ganache-swirled cappuccino cheesecake and a ginger carrot cake containing a lemon cheesecake layer.
After nearly 30 years of experience, DiMuro has developed a baking system. She uses a number of tried and true recipes that a friend typed out for her years ago on five-by-seven cards.
“My recipes are all rubber banded together in a book that the binding is broken completely but I still hang on to them,” she said. “They’re turning brown they’re so old, but I can still read them.”
While the novice baker might often feel that cheesecakes are hypochondriac in nature and prone to cracking and other ailments, DiMuro has perfected her baking,
“Cheesecakes are very simple, but you have to do it right,” she said. “You have to keep going, as there’s a certain momentum to baking and if you stop, picking it back up again costs quite a bit of time.”
DiMuro says the time it takes to construct one of her wedding cakes depends on the level of intricacy in its design. Artistry aside, the chocolate ganache, raspberry filling, sponge and cheesecake layers all need to be made separately and chilled overnight. DiMuro says if she needs to bake more than one cake at a time, she thinks in terms of tiers rather than of separate cakes.
“I think in terms of tiers, so I just max out the oven and my baking and mixing abilities,” she said.
DiMuro says she sources her ingredients both locally and from abroad. While she can pick up huckleberries from Kalispell’s Apple Barrel fruit stand, her chocolates and a Cointreau-esque Swiss orange concoction she uses in her buttercream must be ordered from specialty baking suppliers.
“The closer to home I can find things the better, but you can’t find everything,” she said. “I just find what I can.”
Although she has been making more wedding cakes than cheesecakes of late, her cheesecake business is picking back up. DiMuro makes desserts for several restaurants in the Flathead, including Capers in Kalispell and McGarry’s Roadhouse in Whitefish.
Since founding Mikie’s Cheesecakes in California’s Central Valley in the mid 1980s, DiMuro estimates she has baked more 800 wedding cakes and “probably just as many cheesecakes.”
Mikie’s Cheesecakes began when DiMuro was working in a restaurant.
“The idea of being a 40-year-old waitress – I thought I couldn’t do it,” she said.
DiMuro began looking for an entrepreneurial baking niche and hit upon cheesecake.
“I wanted a high-end item, not just cookies,” she said. “I figured a cheesecake is a pretty classic dessert that never goes out of style.”
Using a friend’s New York-style recipe, DiMuro began baking the dessert in the kitchen of a deli in Merced, Calif. While still holding onto her waitressing job, she began building her business and its menu. She tested a variety of recipes and began rolling out lemon pucker, black forest and white chocolate cassis cheesecakes.
“I would take the cheesecake to the restaurant where I was waitressing and sample it out to customers and friends and got feedback, pun intended,” DiMuro said.
Soon her business picked up, especially in the bridal sector.
“I averaged three wedding cakes a weekend and five on weekend holidays,” she said. “It was very full-time.”
When she moved to the Flathead in 1995, she brought the business with her, although it had to adjust to running on a different schedule. While DiMuro baked wedding cakes year-round in California, Montana’s less temperate climate curtails the bulk of her business to the summer season. The recession has also reduced her workload.
“People are still getting married but things are a little slower for me,” DiMuro said.
She is, however, finding repeat customers in her clientele.
“This summer I’m doing an anniversary cake for couple who I made a wedding cake for five years ago,” she said. “They’re really excited to have the cake again.”
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