Local bakers elevate cake-making to an art form.
When is a cake not a cake? When it is a sculpture…even though it’s still a cake! Sound confusing? When you see (or sample) the fantastic cake creations made by Erin Schwartz and Joe Mariano, partners in the local cakery Stacked, you’ll understand what I mean.
Literally anything imaginable can be created with cake, gum paste and fondant through the genius of this couple. Inside their bakery you’ll see tiered and sculptured cakes that look like a chandelier, dancing pig, extraterrestrial, old-fashioned telephone, the cutest miniature foods, and even a human-sized Santa Claus. You’ll want to touch them to see if they’re really cake. But don’t.
Already known as go-to cake masters, Stacked opened its physical location in Ashburn, Virginia in 2016. Tucked into a commercial building, it serves as a baking facility and training center, but not a retail bakery. It is a destination for anyone who wants to order a fabulous, one-of-a-kind cake.
Everything Stacked creates is extremely customized and made fresh on site. “For example, our sculpted cakes create a centerpiece that people will take photos of and talk about for weeks. They are truly a piece of art—most people don’t even realize it’s cake. They’re definitely not your grocery store cakes,” Joe said.
“When designing a cake, we meet with clients to get a feel for what they want and we pull inspiration from various areas: a Pinterest board, a piece of lace or the wedding dress itself. We’ve never made a cake more than once,” Erin explained. Concept sketches or digital renderings are provided for approval.
Surprisingly, these unbelievable cakes cost no more than a dessert at an area restaurant per serving, and are made using only the highest-quality ingredients like European butter and real vanilla beans. “Flavor is paramount,” Joe emphasized. And while there are a few baking products and tools for sale in the front of the shop, they are mostly for students, including Satin Ice fondant for which Erin is a national representative—their youngest Artist of Excellence ever.
View Stacked’s custom creations on their website Gallery where categories showcase samples of Cookies, Cupcakes, and Tiered, Sculpted, and of course, Wedding Cakes, in sizes from 6 inches up. Other wedding options include a groom’s cake, “name plate” cookies on easels, a dessert table, or edible favors. Whatever you imagine.
Meet the Bakers
As a girl, Erin Schwartz, 27, enjoyed the cakes her mother Maribeth created for her dance recital each year, reproducing her dance costume in icing. “I just fell in love with them.” Then at 15, she created her own fondant cake for a friend’s birthday. Following high school Erin attended the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), graduating first in her class with a degree in pastry and baking. She worked in a high-end New Jersey cake shop for several years and contracted out for custom cakes.
Erin is rare in this industry where most cake sculptors are artists by background and use cake as their medium. She comes at it from the opposite side, with a high-end pastry background. “I know my cakes taste amazing and I’m learning the artistic parts as I go along.”
Joe Mariano, 28, grew up in a big Italian family where his grandfather was a chef. After high school he began a career as a Culinary Specialist in the U.S. Navy. For five years he served on a submarine where he won “Best Galley,” with another three years at the Pentagon as a Certified Executive Chef.
At Stacked, Joe’s talents tend toward the structural side of cake creation, or “cake tech.” To support a sculptured cake, a food-safe framework is needed, especially for larger cakes for which Joe builds a structure from what resembles PVC piping. He can also incorporate food-safe electronics that enable the cake to rotate or light up, for example. A dragon cake even blew fire! Joe has invented technology for the baking industry and is working on a structure book, all marketed under the Stacked brand.
Coming from different backgrounds, although each with a culinary history, the couple connected through online dating. At first, Erin didn’t think Joe was real. “We had too much in common to be a random match.” Even more fortuitously, they were at adjacent restaurants the night they connected, and Joe ran over to meet Erin in person. Sometimes it’s just meant to be. After four years together as a romantic pairing and now business partners, they are now known in the industry as the “cake couple.”
See Stacked on TV
Constantly approached by television production companies, Stacked has been featured on several shows and networks including the Food Network, Cake Hunters and Ridiculous Cakes, with some to air in 2018.
Stacked also competes in live competitions for charity—and has won all, including top prize for cake design at DC Central Kitchen’s Capital Food Fight hosted by chef José Andrés. In addition, Stacked has been featured in major international cake magazines such as Cake Masters and Sweet.
Erin and Joe dedicate time to local charities whenever possible. Stacked is a “Sugar Angel” for Icing Smiles, providing custom cakes for children with critical illnesses and their families. “I’m awed at how much impact a cake can make. We can bring grown men to tears, the fathers get so emotional,” Erin said.
Learn to Bake
If all this talk about cake has made you hungry, sign up for Stacked’s baking classes, held in their Ashburn classroom. Erin herself teaches both locally and nationally, and brings in internationally-known artists to share their baking talents. Some classes are professional-level several-day-long workshops, while others are geared toward the novice baker or for events and get-togethers.
Stacked encourages local groups to book their own classes. “We often host a wedding shower, birthday, girl’s night out, corporate event, team building or kids’ birthday party,” Erin said. One fun and family-friendly class offers cookie coloring.
If you haven’t heard of Stacked, just wait. You will. This cake couple is the definition of true artistry—in cake!
44200 Waxpool Road, #112
Ashburn, VA 20147
All photos credit: Linda Barrett