From a young age, Ava DeWald was an avid artist. Her artwork, in various mediums, was featured in Prince William County’s All-County Art Show each year from the time she was in kindergarten through to the pandemic, and her watercolor paintings, sculptures, and pencil sketches were showcased in middle school art shows. Now, the Battlefield High School senior is crafting elaborate edible artwork in the form of creative cakes that she sells via her home-based startup, Ava’s Cakes.
In the kitchen of her mother’s home in Dominion Valley in Haymarket, the young baker creates her sweet concoctions after school and on weekends. Since 2018, she has sold around 300 cakes that range from elegant tiered cakes adorned with flowers, fruit, or sugar pearls, to playful versions incorporating colorful unicorns, adorable dinosaurs, and rainbow layers.
There’s seemingly no limit to the self-taught baker’s ability to bake and build buyer’s dream cakes and she even surprises herself.
Ava said, “I watched baking shows for 3 years, no videos or tutorials. I think about it now and I think… what?!”
Ava began baking as a means of staying active after a sports injury and surgery prevented her from returning to the soccer field. While she did go on to fulfill her need to be involved by coaching for the Virginia Soccer Association -- and was nominated as Coach of the Year -- she ultimately turned to baking to fill the void left by leaving the sport.
Ava said, “I watched all the baking shows and thought it was so easy. I can do that! Then, I realized, it wasn’t really that easy.”
She described her first cake, an Easter-themed cake with lemon and strawberry layers and yellow frosting, as being atrocious. However, her mother, local real estate agent Lilia DeWald whom Ava affectionately calls her “mom-ager” thanks to her help with the business, insisted that the cake was cute and that the flavor was delicious.
After that cake, Ava continued to hone her skills, watching shows like Cake Boss and Sugar Rush, and practicing in the kitchen. Eventually, she landed her first paid job creating a cake for Amy Covell-Sharek (her guidance counselor at Ronald Reagan Wilson Middle) and Andrew Sharek (her eighth-grade civics teacher).
Amy said, “Ava made a batch of cookies for her class when she was in eighth grade. I had one and it was amazing!”
The following summer, when Amy and Andrew were planning their wedding, they asked Ava to make the cake. While the couple was already impressed when they did the tasting, they were blown away by the final cake on their wedding day.
Measuring 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide, the two-tiered cake was vanilla-flavored with a strawberry compote, iced in traditional white icing, and adorned with white and purple flowers. While she hadn’t intended to charge the bride and groom for the cake, they tipped her generously.
Amy said, “It was incredible. We never thought it would turn out so beautiful.”
The cake would wind up being the impetus for the word-of-mouth advertisement (also buoyed by Lilia’s social media) that garnered Ava an eventual inundation of orders. She now makes anywhere from one to seven cakes per week, depending on the time of year and her schedule.
One enthusiastic repeat buyer of Ava’s cakes is the local owner of Aloha Driving Company, known in the community as Aloha Bob. While Ava was enrolled in the school’s driving classes, Bob learned about her cake-making from Ava’s classmates.
Bob said, “She did her driving with me a couple of years back. When I found out from the other students that she was a baker, during the driving lesson I asked her about it -- she was too modest to tell me before.”
An avid supporter of the local community, when Bob wanted to gift his neighbor with a golf-themed cake, he turned to Ava.
Bob said, “It turned out gorgeous. It had grass that looked like grass, a flag, and it tasted great. They were amazed that a student made it instead of it coming from a bakery.”
Since then, Bob ordered two other birthday cakes that he said were all equally as good. He added that he highly recommends her cakes for any occasion.
While Ava is planning to attend college next year (with aspirations to become an elementary school teacher), she intends to continue baking until then, and on weekends when she returns home from school.
“I really enjoy doing it. I’m so glad I started in the first place. I’ve been able to meet a lot of new people through orders and deliveries and become a little more involved with the community.”
More About Ava
Worst experience: “I frosted the cake too soon and the whole cake melted.”
Her essential tools: Frosting spatulas (flat, silver, use it to flatten out frosting in the middle,) cake turntable to get smooth frosting, regular spatula (that looks like a trapezoid), piping bags and piping tips, cake board (correct size important)
Where she shops: Amazon, Hobby Lobby, Michael’s
Types of cakes she makes: Smash cakes, wedding cakes, birthday cakes, cupcakes, cookie cakes, cakes for office parties, graduations, and holidays, and cakes with alternative ingredients. Once she made a gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, and nut-free cake!
Favorite cake flavor: Chocolate
Her secret to great chocolate cake: Add boiling water to the batter. It makes it smooth and breaks up any of the remaining flour or cocoa powder.
Favorite style: “I like doing three stacked layer cakes."
Favorite baking shows: “I really like Cake Boss and Sugar Rush on Netflix.”
Her feelings about fondant: “I have a grudge against fondant. Just use frosting.”
To place an order, contact Lilia DeWald at 703-582-8368.
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This feature appears in the March 2023 issue of Haymarket-Gainesville Lifestyle Magazine. You can pick up copies of it at these locations.
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