Business

It's a piece of cake

"John Auburn puts the finishing touches on a $5,000 gingerbread replica of Moscow's St. Basil's Cathedral.Matt Johnson/staff photoLast week, people working at Ken's Korner Mall were practically lined up outside a small bakery tucked into a back corner of one of the mall's hallways. They were there because they wanted to see what a $5,000 gingerbread house looked like.The creator of the gingerbread house, Clinton's John Auburn, showed them. In the middle of a stainless steel counter stood a 3-foot-high gingerbread replica of Moscow's St. Basil's Cathedral, complete with ornate, bulbous-tipped towers, little doors and windows, and minute architectural details like the unique buttresses that can be seen on the actual building. Now, to be accurate, the cathedral replica was not made of actual gingerbread, nor was it completely edible. Built around a cardboard frame and finished with sculptor's chocolate formulated to smell exactly like gingerbread, the unusual baked good is intended to be a holiday table centerpiece for one of Auburn's clients. And, believe it or not, it is a work of art that will endure at least five more years of Christmas parties.It should last quite a few years, he said of his work, pointing out that chocolate has an incredibly long shelf life.Auburn is the owner and only employee of J.W. Desserts, a business specializing in cakes of all kinds. The St. Basil's creation is one of the more complex and expensive pieces Auburn can do. Prior to starting J.W. Desserts last year, Auburn was part owner of Amazing Cakes, a Seattle area bakery that produced impossibly realistic cake sculptures. The business' first job was a replica of the Boeing 777 for the jet's inaugural flight. Other impressive cakes that emerged from Amazing Cakes' ovens included a replica of the World Series trophy, five cake sculptures for the 1996 debates between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, Ken Griffey Jr.'s wedding cake, and a 7-foot-tall, working and edible replica of a grandfather clock.Auburn said those were exciting days when he produced these works of baked art. But because he was the only baker at Amazing Cakes, the work load took a toll on him. He said 16 hour days with commutes between the mainland and Whidbey Island eventually became too much. So he stopped and brought his baking talents back to Whidbey.An 18-year Clinton resident, Auburn said his new business demands fewer hours and keeps him close to home so he can spend more time with his wife, Susan Ritzner, and his children. I can do this on the island and enjoy my life, he said.He said the new business also allows him to make good cakes for the island people he has called his neighbors for nearly two decades. Working out of a small bakery owned by Cookie Creations, Auburn plans to keep his business on South Whidbey for years to come.During the past year, Auburn has taken the low-key approach to business. He has not advertised, relying on word of mouth to bring in work. The strategy has succeeded. Auburn baked cakes for 20 weddings this year, as well as for a number of other occasions.He notes that his cakes are not just something pretty to look at. Making cakes with great flavors is his priority. Ever had orange peach schnapps mousse? How about a raspberry or marionberry velvet torte? Or maybe Bailey's chocolate chunk mousse will do the trick. Auburn makes them all, and about two dozen other flavors.Even better, a great cake made by John Auburn does not have to cost thousands or even hundreds of dollars. He makes everything from a basic $10 round cake to a $350 sculpted cake that feeds 20 people.Auburn said he will continue making his high-end cake sculptures for some clients and will be more than happy to pull out his cake sculpting tools to make a work of fudgy, sugary art. "

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