The Brooklyn Baker Modeling Cakes on Her Rock Collection
What makes a cake a cake? Is it its stately, cylindrical shape? Its spongy texture? Its sugary contents? Whatever preconceptions come to mind, Amy Yip, the baker behind the Brooklyn cake company Yip Studio, wants to uproot them. She specializes in naturalistic, rock-shaped cakes that, on first glance, could easily be mistaken for whimsical table décor. Some, jagged, angular, and mottled with vivid coloring, evoke the dynamism of Abstract Expressionism, while others, amorphous and adorned with flowers and slug-like swirls, give off an ethereal, almost otherworldly feel. “I’m trying to transcend what a conventional cake is supposed to look like, in terms of both the flavors and the visuals,” she says. “I think of my cakes as sculptures.”
Despite growing up working the counter at her family’s bakery in New Zealand, Yip never planned to follow suit. Instead, she immersed herself in the world of textiles, graphic design, and fashion, and worked as a print designer for Banana Republic and Club Monaco. “At Club Monaco, I spent a lot of time thinking about negative space and color, and form and movement, and how different shapes create a different feeling,” she says. When she was asked to make a cake for a friend’s baby shower in 2019—which was soon followed by another request, and then another—however, she realized she could translate her expertise into the culinary realm, and slowly rediscovered the joy of cake making. In January, she left her day job to focus on her cake business full-time.
Cake, it turns out, offers Yip a canvas that’s just as, if not more versatile than, fabric. She’s found that the added third dimension of the form enables her to explore her fascinations with both nature and art. An avid collector of rocks, Yip models many of her cakes after the objects and their idiosyncrasies. Meanwhile, her interest in artists such as Francis Bacon and Egon Schiele, and in avant-garde fashion labels including Y/Project, Dries Van Noten, and Marni, has led her to offset the beauty of her cakes with the unconventional. “When I look at a cake, I think, It’s beautiful. It’s pretty. But is that all? Is there more I can do to make it more grotesque?”
The imaginativeness of Yip’s cakes doesn’t stop at their outer layers. Inside lay a wide range of nuanced taste combinations, each an inventive take on classic Asian flavors that allow her to pay homage to her Chinese heritage while developing a palatable complexity. Her signature savor, for instance, is a careful layering of earthy matcha cake with a bright, tropical passionfruit curd. Other pairings include oolong rose and lychee, Earl Grey and kumquat, black sesame and red bean, and yuzu shiso, an herby, offbeat twist on a traditional lemon cake. “I find a lot of Western, Americanized cakes are very sweet,” Yip says. “That’s why I use a lot of teas in my cakes. The bitterness and the earthiness cuts through the sweetness of the other elements.”
After viewing Yip’s cakes for some time—once you’ve digested the captivating colors, textures, and patterns—it strikes you that they have a quality all their own, something that really does approach the realm of art. In a way, the only thing distinguishing them from traditional sculptures is that they are, well, made to be devoured. But for Yip, this ephemerality is part of what she loves about them. “It takes a lot of time for me to make a cake—at least five to seven hours—and then it gets picked up and eaten in a moment,” she says. “It’s over, it’s gone. But it’s this experience that people enjoyed. There’s something poetic about it. There’s a narrative there.”