The Sit Down: #NationalCakeDay with Kelly Banks

Well, today might be one of my new favorite days ever: It’s #NationalCakeDay! By now, you know it’s no secret how much I love cake – whether it’s my mom’s delicious butter cake with chocolate frosting, her sock-it-to-me cake, or an eye-popping fondant creation by New Berlin, New York baker Kelly Banks. A die-hard Giants fan, I first met Kelly about four years ago when she came backstage on the set of Live with Kelly and Michael with a birthday cake she whipped up for me. Since then, she’s kept me in cakes of all shapes, sizes, and flavors (although these cookies she made when I hurt myself were pretty great), and she’s even treated some of my friends to her special kind of cake-baking magic. And so, in honor of #NationalCakeDay, I thought a Sit Down interview with my pal Kelly was the best and most delicious way to celebrate. Also find one of her delicious recipes below. Dig in!

Her story: “I was always artistic, and food was always a huge part of my childhood. I was very close with my Lithuanian grandmother who taught me how to make many dishes, and in high school, I would come home and make dinner to help my mom out. In 11th grade, I stopped eating most meats, and to this day only eat chicken, so the problem I had with going to cooking school was I’d have to taste meat. So, my mom suggested baking. I graduated from The Culinary Institute of America, with my A.O.S. in baking and pastry, in 2000.”

Her turning point: “Nearly three years ago, my husband, Brian, surprised me. He told me he had saved money all summer to build me a bakery. I had been based at home, so it was hard to get everything done in such a small space. Since then, I’ve expanded my equipment and volume. It was a big step, but a great feeling to have my own space.”

Her biggest risk: “In 2005, when we had our first child. I always knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but I also loved my career. At the time, I was an established pastry chef who had worked in catering, restaurants, and bakeries. I had clientele who would order from me, from my home, so I had the best of both worlds.”

Her day: “As a working mom, a typical weekday starts with putting my kids, Helena and Xander, on the school bus, drinking a cup of coffee, and then going to my bakery. Some days, I bake all day, and some days, I just make buttercream and decorate: rolling out fondant, and making edible flowers, animals, or cartoon characters. Saturdays are spent delivering and setting up weddings, especially during the April to October wedding season; sometimes I have five or six in a single day. I love meeting the couples and learning about them, because each cake is then unique. I also love when kids come in to pick up their birthday cakes, and the huge smiles on their faces when they see the special cake made just for them.”

Her success secret: “Positivity! Being positive, believing in yourself, and realizing things can and will get better.”

Her celebrity clientele: “Four years ago, I had the honor of making Michael’s birthday cake backstage at Live with Kelly & Michael. I’ve made him a birthday cake (and many other goodies in between) every year since then, and we’ve become good friends. My whole family loves him! If you ask him, he’ll say all of my cakes are his favorite, but he really loves my chocolate cake with peanut-butter buttercream frosting.”

Her calling card: “I’d say my best-known cakes would be my N.Y. Giants cakes. I’ve had the pleasure of making many past and present players cakes for themselves and their families (see: Odell Beckham Jr.Landon Collins, and Carl Banks). We are huge Giants fans, and attend every home game, so it’s pretty awesome. However, my most-requested item isn’t actually a cake—they are my chocolate-peanut-butter brownies, and I’m actually in the process of starting a new branch of my business, shipping the brownies nationwide.”

Her favorite meal: “You’d think I’d say ‘dessert,’ but I actually don’t eat many sweets. My favorite meal would have to be dinner: I love sushi, hibachi, Italian, and Mexican foods. And a good margarita.”

Her kitchen essentials: “My new 30-quart mixer allows me to finally make large quantities at a faster rate. It’s the little things! And I always have the sugar, flour, butter, and eggs. My mom jokes that I should have cows and chickens because of the amount of each I go through daily.”

Her influences: “My parents have always worked very hard for all they have, and they have instilled that in me. And Brian and I have been together since high school, through many years of college, raising our babies, losing our toddler son, Owen, and both running our own businesses. It’s a crazy life, but we make it work together. He’s always supported me.”

Her best advice: “Don’t let anyone or anything stand in your way. Don’t be afraid to be you.”

If she wasn’t a baker, she’d be: “A magician or an illusionist. I’ve always been in awe of them.”

Her motto: “Work hard, play hard!”

What’s next: “Well, someone very special (hint hint) has a birthday coming up, but honestly, this is the time of year when I get ready for the very busy months. But mostly, I’m looking forward to meeting new people, doing new things, and my brownies going nationwide.”

KELLY BANKS’S FAMOUS CARROT CAKE
Ingredients:

For the cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
3 large eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
¾ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup buttermilk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups grated carrot
1 (8-oz.) can crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

For the icing
¾ cup butter, softened
1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, softened
3 cups sifted powdered sugar
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:
1.
 Pre-heat oven to 350. 2. Lightly grease and flour 2-8” cake pans. Set pans aside. 3. Stir together first four ingredients. 4. Beat eggs and next four ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. 5. Add flour mixture, beat at low speed until blended. Fold in carrot, coconut and nuts. 6. Pour batter, evenly, into prepared cake pans. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. 7. Let stand in pans for 20 mins. Remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks. 8. Spread cream cheese icing between layers and on top and sides of cake. Enjoy!

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