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Making Beauty Delicious at Austin's Blue Note Bakery

By David Boegaard

Everyone loves a good cake. Yet not all cakes are made alike. There are grocery store cakes, with hard, sugary frosting and weird, chemical flavors. For extra, one can get some words written on top and a plastic ornament. Then there are the "good" cakes. These often have a professional look, like they're ready for a job interview. Competent, pleasing to the eye, they usually taste pretty good, and can be quite delicious. They are never the wrong choice. Finally, there are cakes that transcend simple adjectives. These are not only beautiful, but with a touch of inspiration. They surprise and delight. Their taste is not too sugary, not too fluffy, not too flat. No one thing makes them superior, but no one ever doubts that they are eating an extraordinary cake.

For this latter kind of cake, the bakers must have a touch of genius. For the discerning people of Austin, Texas, a city of musicians, explorers and taste-makers, Blue Note Bakery is well-known as the home of true cake artists. Run by a life-long professional baker and driven by the same kind of artistic impulse that went into the great jazz performances of the 40s and 50s, Blue Note makes extraordinary cakes.

Blue Note Bakery got its start only after Founder Angela Jiles had worked for many years as a professional baker. "Originally I only wanted to work for other people because I didn't want the headache & stress of owning my own business," says Jiles of her early years. But eventually Jiles decided she had spent enough years baking for others, and was ready to take up the responsibilities of business in order to give her creativity a freer reign.

Professional baking was a natural fit for Jiles. "I was baking when I was 8 and entering 4H competitions & county fairs," she says. There's a special delight that one gets from eating a pastry or cake that you've baked yourself. But Jiles jokes that she was really hooked when she discovered how much everyone loved the person who brought homemade cookies. "I realized I could bribe people with chocolate chip cookies and it also made it easier to make friends."

When she finally got to the point where she was ready to open her own bakery, Jiles took inspiration from her musician husband and her own love of music. "I love Blue Note Records & the artists who came from there," says Jiles. The classic company produced some of the greatest jazz of the era, influencing Beat poetry and prose as well as film and design. Blue Note jazz was famous for improvisational brilliance while still remaining accessible, even beautiful. What better name for a bakery focused on merging creative brilliance with delicious flavors, than a name that mixes color and sound much as great cakes mix flavor and design.

And the flavors matter at Blue Note. "For me it is all about Flavor first and design second," says Jiles. "What is the point of having a beautiful cake if it isn't something you would want to eat?" That's why Blue Note Bakery offers a wide variety of rich and wonderful flavors for cakes and frostings, including a magnificent selection of buttercream frostings, the personal favorite of this author. Blue Note customers are a diverse lot, but there are a few consistent preferences. "Our Honey Fondant along with our array of unique flavors" is especially popular, says Jiles.

But just because Blue Note focuses on flavor first doesn't mean their cake designs are second to anyone else. They provide cakes for events of all kinds, as conservative or wild as one could want. And Blue Note is always attentive to the design ideas of the customer, of course. But don't just bring in a picture of a cake from their website -- every cake is an original, says Jiles. "We try not to make the same design again, since all of our clients are different, and I believe all of our cakes should be as well."

Those in need of cakes for an event of any size should drop in at Blue Note. Or try a Cake Bar, a Blue Note Bakery original. They schedule tastings for prospective customers, and are sure to please and impress. Just make sure you put in your order a few weeks ahead -- or months if you want a wedding cake!

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