What’s your favorite dessert? Your favorite snack? Cereal? What about your go-to coffee order? Which flavor do you prefer: chocolate or vanilla? Who’s your celebrity crush?
Fill out a questionnaire with these and other questions from local Broadway actress and baker Ashley Mortensen, and prepare to have a dessert experience you’ll never forget.
I discovered Mortensen’s treats on Instagram (@shebakesyoueat). The close-up shots of gorgeous cakes — literally the definition of “food porn” — caught my eye, but the descriptions of the unique desserts really got me intrigued:
“Rose water and vanilla bean poached plums top this olive oil cake with lemon ricotta buttercream and candied pistachios.”
“Paleo chocolate cake filled with blackberry elderflower compote frosted with dairy-free lemon Swiss meringue and honeyed sugar candies.”
“Chocolate-red wine cupcake filled with rose-blueberry compote and topped with champagne buttercream and sherry chocolate ganache.”
Mortensen has no formal culinary training, but she’s an accomplished baker with a knack for creating custom recipes, and the results are not only delicious, but also unexpected. You, the customer, fill out her detailed questionnaire about your specific tastes (or those of the person you’re buying the treat for), and Mortensen’s creative process begins.
I arrived at Mortensen’s apartment on the Sunnyside/Woodside border for my tasting, not knowing what to expect. I knew that she was concocting something inspired by my responses to her questionnaire, but I had no idea what it would be.
I arrived to find three personal-sized, mouth-watering treats, made just for me.
Mortenson was really excited about the first dessert, a tart inspired by my favorite childhood dessert, homemade black raspberry chocolate chip ice cream in a waffle cone from a local farm and creamery.
What she created was inspired: a tart with a dark chocolate and pistachio crust, filled with rose water-scented mascarpone and honey, swirled with black raspberry jam, all topped with raspberries, blackberries and candied purple basil. By the way, that black raspberry jam in the filling? It was handmade by Mortensen herself from berries she bought at Sunnyside’s outdoor market. She also bought the purple basil there, and she candied it herself, too.
My second treat was a sweet coconut and vanilla cake with vanilla bean buttercream. It was filled with a horchata caramel and toasted candied coconut. It was the most sugary of all of three desserts, but since Mortensen uses a lot less sugar in her icings than most bakers do, “You’re not going to get a cavity from eating most of my stuff,” she explained.
The third dessert, though, was my absolute favorite. In my questionnaire, I’d said that Honey Bunches of Oats was my favorite cereal, and Mortensen made a “cereal milk cake” with cereal milk buttercream: she literally steeped Honey Bunches of Oats in milk for 20 minutes so that the milk would taste like the cereal, and then she used that to make the buttercream. The cake was filled with homemade cherries, raspberry, strawberry and elderflower jam, which tasted heavenly. Topping off the cake: a sprinkle of freeze-dried strawberries and honey nut cereal “crack” on top. It was the most “me” dessert I’d ever had, which makes sense, because Mortensen literally invented this recipe just for me. It was the dessert I never knew I wanted until I tasted it.
Mortensen, who has performed in “Les Miserables” on Broadway and in the first national tour of “Wicked” as the Elphaba understudy/ensemble, only recently got into the baking business.
She used to “sleep bake” when she was stressed out in high school, waking up in the morning with a clean kitchen, three dozen cookies on the counter, and no recollection of having made them.
But it wasn’t until she was on tour with “Wicked” that she began to bake frequently in her free time. After she finished her stint on tour, one of her best friends on the tour, Queens resident Sarah Schenkkan, asked her to make her a birthday cake. Mortensen had never made a cake for an event before, but she asked Schenkkan a couple questions about what flavors she liked (a precursor to the current more extensive questionnaire) and got to work.
“I asked her to make my cake because she was always inventing all these incredible desserts — and, since we toured together and then lived close to each other in Queens, I was eating them,” Schenkkan said. “I knew that whatever she made would be amazing, and that more of my friends should know about and be able to appreciate her talents.”
Mortensen made her friend a brown butter-bourbon cake with champagne buttercream and tequila berry filling. Mortensen said that visually, the cake looked “like a 6-year-old made it” — although I don’t quite believe that — but that the cake was a hit.
“What struck me about that cake was — honestly — how insanely delicious it was,” Schenkkan said. “So simple, but everything from flavor to texture was spot on; I couldn’t stop eating it! To this day it’s one of the best cakes I’ve ever had, and everyone at the party raved about it.”
After Mortensen had been baking for friends and fellow actors for a time, her friends encouraged to share her talents with the world. So she started an Instagram account (she’s also a talented photographer, so the pictures of her treats really stand out). That’s when she came up with her name: She Bakes, You Eat. Now, people find her on Instagram and contact her about buying one of her desserts.
Mortensen imagines that one day, if she leaves the acting business, she might open a coffee shop/bakery filled with books where people can relax on a comfy couch, read, and have coffee and dessert. For now, though, baking is a “wonderful side hobby” and a creative outlet, especially when she is not performing in a show and is thus spending most of her time waitressing and auditioning.
Right now, she has time to make about two full-sized cakes a week (they each take her at least three days to complete because there are so many different components — and many of them are intricately decorated). She’s sometimes in the kitchen “from 10 o’clock in the morning till 10 o’clock at night,” she said.
“I follow recipes very loosely, and then I kind of just like to experiment, and most of the time it turns out.” On the rare occasions that she messes up, the mistakes often spark ideas for new flavor combinations and recipes in the future.
Her one rule is that she will not make the same cake twice, because “no one person is the same,” she said, and she really likes to tailor her treats to the recipients’ tastes.
“I like to find out about people, find out where they’re from, find out what they miss eating that they don’t get to eat anymore, and be a little indulgent and a little fun and whimsical with it, because honestly my favorite part is bringing joy to people,” Mortensen said. “I just want people to feel loved.”
Scroll down for more photos of Mortensen’s desserts.