It was 10:30 on Saturday morning, and Jake had his head inside of his brand new oven. This was no Sylvia Plath-style cry for help; he was just checking the center of his batch of chocolate cakes with a long wooden stick. Brow furrowed, he closed the door and adjusted some of the settings. Sighing, he took a long sip from a glass measuring cup of coffee. “Almost there,” he said with a hint of a southern drawl, “Man, hurry up!”
A half an hour earlier, I’d pulled up to Kim and Jake Rosenbarger’s new cake shop on Broadway and Table Mesa to find Jake using a cupcake to appease a 5-year-old who was swinging from the branches of the tree outside. The kid’s aunt had ordered a cake to be picked up at noon; his mother had arrived 2 hours early. Jake sent them away, asking for his allotted time.
“You might see me cry in a few minutes,” he said to me after they left, “It’s a little different when I have to come to the shop to bake. If I were at home, I’d have just knocked this out before breakfast.”
I’d moved a stepladder from the empty front of the shop into the kitchen to sit at a metal prep table while Jake fidgeted with oven settings and the refrigerator. Bottles of lemon juice and cocoa powder were scattered across a rack of shelves, yet to take any semblance of organization. A stack of business cards lay strewn across the front counter. 36 hours earlier, the couple had received final approval from the city of Boulder to open their kitchen and storefront. Their years-long dream was about to officially come to fruition.
I’d been a fan of Kim and Jake since I’d experienced their cake for the first time, leaning on the salumi bar at Frasca Food and Wine, munching on a slab of their goods before the inevitable stress of service was upon us. All I knew then was that Jake was a former Frasca employee who’d quit to pursue his own interests. He was prepping to open a shop somewhere in the Peoples’ Republic and, in the meantime, building a following out of what he could craft in his home kitchen.
Over the next several months, my life brought me into closer contact with the couple and their cakes. I worked with both at The Kitchen, and I was lucky enough to sample their pastries, hording the scraps of masterpieces and eating them for dinner.
I couldn’t help myself. I’m not normally a cake person, but Kim and Jake know how to execute. Whether stuffing my face with classic vanilla or something flat out weird, like red wine cake topped with Ubriaco del Piave cheese, I found myself hemming and hawing over texture, weight, and balance of flavors. This was a couple after my own heart. Veritable food and beverage geeks themselves, they look at cake as more than just dessert; it’s a vehicle to work with unexpected flavor combinations, adding dimension to the last course of a meal with something that’s more than just a palate and gut bomb. As such, their cakes employ savory flavors and acid to round out sugar and cream, and they’re not shy about experimenting with anything from the flavor profile of the Negroni to the undessert-like combo of oil and vinegar. My favorite aspect of their list is their line of beverage cakes, which includes beer, wine, and cocktails, manipulated into dessert form, the after-dinner drink you can eat.
I’d been a zealous promoter of Kim and Jake for months as their shop underwent construction, aggressively convincing newly-engaged friends to employ the duo’s services and offering my own services, be they tasting or social networking, in any way the pair would accept. Essentially, I was whoring myself out for cake.
That Saturday morning, I’d hopped over to the spot to see the magic and, hopefully, be one of the first samplers of goods prepared in the shiny new appliances.
“The thing is,” Jake said as he moved around his space, pulling his cake from the oven and popping it into the freezer to prep it for icing, “anyone can bake. It’s all about proportion. It’s understanding fat, protein, and sugar and acting accordingly.”
Maybe so, but Jake has spent years mastering that understanding. Bestowed with a sweet tooth in a household of health fanatics, Jake and his brother baked in secret in their pre-pubescent years, hiding stashes of cookies and cakes in their bedrooms for private rebellious consumption. As an adult, he sought out bakeries in every city as he traveled the country on the pro-cycling circuit.
And then he met Kim. On their first date, the couple had four pieces of the prolific Cecilia Villaveces cake in a restaurant in Athens, Georgia, kindling their romance and their partnership over pastries. Kim went on to work in Cecilia’s shop with the Colombian baker's son, mastering the techniques that would eventually serve as the inspiration for the couple’s base recipe.
Cake became the pair’s obsession, and they moved to Boulder to open a shop. Despite delays and contracting problems, they’re poised to unleash their personal form of food expression on the Front Range.
“It’s kind of like crossing the finish line, just getting the thing open,” Jake joked, “Except that actually, this is just the beginning.”
Jake pulled the chocolate cake from the freezer and leveled it, dropping the scraps into a bowl and pushing it in front of me for snacking. “Man, I hope Kim gets here soon. This is gonna be close.” She walked in at that moment, toting a sack full of supplies. “Hey, angel,” Jake grinned.
He rummaged around in the fridge and pulled out a container, turning to me with a devious smile on his face. “Try this,” he said, putting a green icing in front of me, “Tell me what you think.”
As with every icing I’ve tasted from Kim and Jake, it was smooth and creamy, sweet but not cloyingly so. “Avocado,” he winked, “I made it for a sample run of jalapeno jelly filled hominy cakes. The avocado replaces other kinds of fat.”
I shook my head, tasting it again. It’s that inventiveness that really sets Kim and Jake apart, but they don’t dwell on it. For them, it’s just about delivering great cake, setting all elements in balance and then letting their dessert speak for itself. The chance to play with their food, crafting works of food geek art, is, metaphorically and literally, the icing.
“What it comes down to is that people have to do two things,” Jake said as Kim took the decorating helm, finishing what Jake started minutes before their customer returned, “They have to eat, and they have to procreate. Great dining is about combining sex and food. That’s what cake is for us. Cake is sexy, and it’s fun as hell. It’s one of the simplest indulgences. And instead of saving it for special occasions, people should eat it every day.”
I licked my fingers of my decadent breakfast as Kim laid the finishing touches to the project at hand. When it's this good, I'm a proponent of daily cake. I'm glad that starting Saturday, I'll be able to get my fix.
Kim and Jake’s Cakes, opening May 1
641 S. Broadway
Boulder, CO 80305
Daily offerings of four cupcake flavors + cakes baked to order.