The CAKE CREATOR

Maria Lopez Ruiz
With dueling mixers at the ready, Maria Lopez Ruiz is prepared to take on the task of constructing any kind of custom cake for any occasion. GREG GARDNER PHOTOS

BY GREG GARDNER

When she is not working 50 hours a week as a human resources manager and raising her teenage son, Maria Lopez Ruiz creates custom cakes for all occasions.

“It is a hobby, but I do this out of love,” says Ruiz, who operates her side business from the tiny kitchen in her Palm City apartment. It is neat and tidy, but opening any of the cabinets reveals an abundance of baking materials and different sized pans. It may well be the smallest bakery ever.

Ruiz’ specialty cakes begin with the client’s vision, which she translates into a conceptual drawing for approval. Then she goes to work, and her cakes are usually 100-percent edible.

There are exceptions. To celebrate a graduation and joining the Army, a plastic grenade and a whistle were added to a cake, but almost always Ruiz creates everything that can be eaten.

Flavorings include butter cream, carrot, vanilla, homemade chocolate milk and her signature Key lime cake. Ruiz has become quite the icing artist, having perfected the fondant technique, designing with rope patterns.

But there was a learning curve, and Ruiz refused to give up after her first cake was a failure. It was her son’s seventh birthday and she failed at her first attempt at fondant, ultimately retreating to Publix for her son’s cake.

The most difficult part of the process is the fact that fondant does not work with rain, moisture or humidity, she says.

“Being the fighter that I am, I don’t give up,” says Ruiz, who moved to Florida from Puerto Rico when she was 17. “I went on YouTube and taught myself how to do it. Every cake since then has been a success.”

Her second cake was for a niece, and she has never had an unhappy customer more than 100 cakes later. “It was an absolute success. My mom was a baker, so I knew how to bake,” she says. “People don’t realize it takes a lot of time to make these cakes.”

Ruiz estimates it takes a minimum of four hours to make an average cake and longer if there is more intricate detail. She also makes designer cupcakes, each one by hand.

A cake for a sushi lover, a cake with a buxom bikini-clad woman, a cake for a 7-11 coffee lover, and cakes for graduations, birthdays and anniversaries are all past memories for Ruiz with only photos to remember them.

The name of the business – Seriangely’s Sweet Inspirations – is a mix of her three children’s names. Cakes usually cost from $75 to $150 with her costs about $50 for each cake’s ingredients.

“This is a labor of love, and I don’t charge what I should, what they are worth,” says Ruiz. “I like to give people a cake they might not be able to afford. Money doesn’t motivate me. My motivation is seeing the customer smile and them recommending me for more business. And when they post their photos of the cake online. God pays me for each one of these cakes one way or another.”

graduation cake
This graduation cake was delivered with a set of handmade cupcakes.

MARIA LOPEZ RUIZ
Age: 46
Lives in: Palm City
Family: Daughter Angelica, 25; sons Allen, 20, and Sergio, 15; grandson Giancarlo, 4, and granddaughter Nasya, 21 months
Education: B.A., human resources management, Ashford University, Clinton, Iowa
Occupation: Human resources manager and cake maker
Hobbies: Reading, running and baking
What inspires me: “Life itself. Life can be gone in a second. You are here today, and you could be gone tomorrow. I was in a boating accident and it is a miracle I am alive. I was walking one day and the next day I was in a wheelchair. People don’t appreciate the moment when life is right in front of them.”
What most people don’t know about me: “I struggled, but I learned to speak English as an adult.”

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