Oak Harbor baker brings artistry to cake making

Sandra Daggett poses with some of her prize winning creations. The Oak Harbor baker opened her business last month and is already supplying island residents with specialty cakes and other sweet creations.

You’ve seen cakes, and you’ve eaten cakes, but you’ve probably never seen or eaten cakes like those made by Oak Harbor’s Sandra Daggett.

These are works of art — delicate, fanciful, intricate. They’re filled with the yummiest-sounding ingredients imaginable. They’re custom-made strictly from scratch. Some are expensive, but customers seem to believe they are worth the money.

Since her arrival here a year ago, Daggett, the 43-year-old mother of three and wife of a chief petty officer at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, has run Northwest Cakes from her home kitchen. The spacious room is as neat as a pin and spotlessly clean. Good thing, too —- state inspectors could drop by unannounced at any time.

Daggett spent the first eight months of her time here preparing to run a home-based bakery, one of only five in the county.

She had to file every recipe with the state’s agriculture department; have every ingredient approved; submit a sanitation plan listing every cleaning product to be used; have three sinks (the dishwasher counts as one); have her packaging and labels approved; set cleaning and maintenance schedules for the oven, floors and counters; get both state- and city-issued business licenses as well as a food-worker’s permit; and provide the state with a floor plan of her house.

Oh —- and she had to file plans on how to manage her dog and her children. The dog must be outside or upstairs, with gates both at the top and bottom of the stairs, when she is working. Same with the one child who’s under six.

Since opening for business late last month, she’s sold five cakes and signed a contract to provide smaller goodies — muffins, cookies, scones or artisan chocolates, all of which she also makes — to a local hair salon each week.

She ran her home-based business for several years back in Suffolk, Va., where her family was stationed before moving to Oak Harbor.

A best-seller is a blackberry merlot wine cake with fresh blackberry buttercream filling. A chocolate mint cake is studded with chopped-up Andes mints. Also popular: chocolate Bailey’s buttercream; and buttermilk blackberry, raspberry or cherry with a buttercream filling to match.

Daggett has submitted more than 200 recipes to the state for approval and plans to submit another 70 she’s been working on, she said.

But who could cut into these works of sugar art? Several on display during a recent visit feature hundreds of symmetrical lines of icing, finer than the diameter of a mechanical-pencil lead. It’s called Australian string work.

Others have tiny roses created with the tip of toothpick. Some of the roses have nine distinct petals.

Daggett uses an ancient but recently revived technique called Lambeth to build razor-thin, vertical walls of icing that scroll, loop or cascade down the cake.

A vase full of edible sweetheart roses are made of thin-rolled fondant, which is powered sugar, egg whites, vanilla and glycerin, dusted in hand-painted powered food coloring. A playful mask shows off a technique for printing edible images on potato-based paper using food-color dyes.

The cakes on display are styrofoam inside, as they were created for competitions. They have won numerous awards in regional and national contests. If they were edible, they’d cost between $600 and $1,200.

Gluten-free, egg-free and diabetic cakes are available.

Daggett has been featured in national cake-decorating magazines and is one of 6,000 members of the International Cake Exploration Society. She has studied cake-making extensively with master cake-design artist Kathleen Lange, of San Diego, and with Betty Van Norstrand, a specialty instructor for the Culinary Institute of America.

Not all her cakes are so fancy, or so pricey. Her Facebook page shows cakes for kids, shaped like football helmets and video games.

Daggett netted up to $10,000 a year selling her cakes in Suffolk, where a captain at NAS Norfolk made her his family’s official baker and bought scores of her cakes. Whether the market in Oak Harbor will support her high-end products remains to be seen, she acknowledged. So far business has been good, and word of mouth alone has brought in customers.

“Whatever it makes helps, because military income, even for a chief, isn’t much,” she said.

Daggett started baking 25 years ago for her parents’ catering business in Colorado.

She learned the basics of cake decoration, continued a desserts-only catering business after her parents retired, and worked her way through college debt-free largely thanks to baking. She alternated baking and using her accounting degree until she opened her home-based bakery in Virginia in 2010.

“I highly enjoy it. I love it,” she said of cake-making.

Especially gratifying to Daggett is that her nine-year-old daughter, Johanna, is taking an interest in cake decoration and, in fact, recently won Best of Show for ages 9-17 in a competition. Gratifying for the community may be that Daggett and her husband plan to retire in Oak Harbor, ensuring that her edible art will be available for years to come.

To learn more: www.northwestcakes.com; https://www.facebook.com/northwestcakes