Today we’d like to introduce you to Jessica Clegg.
Hi Jessica, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
I grew up in a home where everything was homemade. Especially the pies for Thanksgiving. I remember my mom always making it a point to bake our cakes for our birthdays. It was the birthday treat to lick the batter from the beaters and bowl, which I broke once, and still have the scars on my fingers to prove it!
My baking journey didn’t really start until I started working in the Cardiology department at the hospital. Yeah. Weird. I would randomly bring in baked goods to share. My manager approached me, told me she made wedding cakes and invited me to shadow her for the one she had coming up! She took me along the very next week and shared her secret buttercream recipe with me. The next thing I knew, people were giving me those cupcake books that teach you how to make whales from Twinkies, flowers from cut up marshmallows… things like that!
Of course, I was inspired and had a lot of fun creating things from cupcakes! I was starting to get a lot of compliments on my flavors and the word was spreading that I made things from cupcakes! It was never a serious endeavor, I really just enjoyed baking. I didn’t care what it was, but if it went into the oven in a liquid state and came out fluffy, I was all in.
Cakes weren’t really my thing, especially since my very first “gig” was a four-tiered tuxedo wedding cake. It luckily went well, but at that time I was like – never again…. until my not-so-little-anymore nephew turned two and loved turtles. I decided to make my first 3D cake that wound up looking like Squirt from ‘Finding Nemo’. It turned out better than I imagined. I went all out on this cake including hand-painted fondant, which I made from marshmallows. It was soo good that a physician my sister worked with wanted me to make a replica for her son’s birthday, which was a major confidence boost!
I then turned into the cake maker for my family’s birthdays (sorry mom). I baked here and there for people outside of my family, but mostly for fun! I frequently used my family and coworkers as taste testers for new recipes and would occasionally post them on Facebook and Instagram.
Fast forward a few years, I switched professions to Neurodiagnostics. One of the neurologists I work with had just gotten back from France, knowing that I bake, he came and asked me if I had ever made a macaroon before? I replied, “oh, those coconut cookies? Yes, I have!” He look really confused, then promptly introduced me to macarons and said I needed to make them. Little did I know that they are the devil’s cookies. I had never heard of, let alone eaten one before making them on my own! Of course, I had to go for the most difficult method: Italian. My first batch filled three trays. One tray looked like French berets, the next tray turned into macaron volcanos. The third tray actually looked pretty good! I brought them to work the next day and got some really high praise! The rest is history.
My little business didn’t really take off until my sister pimped me out to her coworker (also in the medical field), who needed some fondant toppers made for her son’s birthday cake. She has become my biggest customer and pushes me to the next limit with the cakes she requests for her kid’s birthdays. She may also be addicted to my funfetti macarons.
You may think it strange that my medical career is so intertwined with my baking. As I look back at it all, I’ve realized that when I bring creations to work, or dive into a new recipe for the hell of it on the weekends, it’s truly an escape for me. I can mentally turn off the heavy sadness we see and work with at the hospital and simply just… bake. If I can bring a smile to my work family for even just a moment, It truly brings me happiness and keeps me grounded. Life, man. It’s crazy!
I still work full time at the hospital, but on the weekends you’ll find me in my kitchen making my next masterpiece!
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
It’s been more of a long road, if anything. My job in cardiology started about 15 years ago and I didn’t start making macarons until maybe 5 years ago. If anything, the struggle has been trying to find a balance between hospital life, baking life, and life in general. I love my job at the hospital, but ever since Covid hit, things have escalated and we rarely get time to take a break and eat lunch anymore. It has pushed any baking order I accept from someone to strictly weekends. I love both equally, but it doesn’t really leave room for much of social life, so that can be hard.
These days with the increased prices of supplies, it has increased what I charge, which doesn’t always go well with customers. The shipping issues also hit cake supplies including cake drums, and gel color, which you obviously need to color frosting, etc.
Let’s face it. Macarons are just grumpy devil cookies that don’t really ever want to cooperate. Extra humidity in your kitchen? Lopsided shells. Nice, rainy day? Macaron volcanos. New oven? Forget it! I bought a house three years ago and it took a full three months to get it right again! This involved switching from Italian technique to Swiss and a wide range of temperatures in 5-degree increments! Pulling out a cookie sheet with perfect macaron shells makes all of that struggle worth it in the end.
Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I’ve done quite a few cakes that have techniques involved that I’ve never tried before. I look forward to new challenges and tackling them with everything I’ve got. I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to the fine details. I really take pride in everything I make and will sometimes stay up all night to make sure I get it just right!
My recipes are pretty solid, which is a bonus. You’re not only getting a creation that looks pretty enough to NOT want to eat, but can’t stop eating because it’s delicious.
It has taken me a while to get to where I am. My business has been built by word-of-mouth, which has been great! The look on my client’s face, whether it’s family, friend, or stranger, when they see their cake for the first time brings me so much joy. When I hear that the macarons they ordered were devoured in one day and can’t wait to order more; smiles for miles!
I put my heart into everything, which I believe makes a huge difference.
We’d be interested to hear your thoughts on luck and what role, if any, you feel it’s played for you?
Every time I’m about to use a different technique on a cake, I think to myself, “this is going to be a disaster!” I usually luck out and it winds up being amazing! I don’t know if you’d call that luck, or just pure determination to not suck, but I’ll take it!
Things that don’t necessarily work out, like a failed batch of macarons, or a failed batch of buttercream, I don’t necessarily see as bad luck. I see it as a way to learn from what I didn’t do well. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely have my bad days where things aren’t going my way! I feel that the more flustered I get, the more clumsy I become and the less attention I give to quantities or how high of a speed my mixer is going. You just have to step away and clear your mind and start over. Things will work out!
- Macarons range from $20 – $35 per dozen depending on the flavor complexity and design.
- Cakes vary from size, flavor, and design.
- Instagram: @jays_magnolia
- Twitter: @JaysMagnolia