Home-baked cakes are ‘rebels’ but they taste so sweet

By Madison Fantozzi
South Florida News Service

Rebel Sweets published in Miami Herald’s West Miami-Dade’s Neighbors on Sunday August 18, 2013. You can also read the story online: http://sfnsonline.com/2013/08/18/home-baked-cakes-are-rebels-but-they-taste-so-good-2/

Mitch Nathan’s groom’s cake was a Miami Heat jersey adorned with fondant suspenders and bowtie, a hand-carved NBA logo and Mitch’s name in edible red glitter. The 20-by-30 inch vanilla and chocolate cake with butter cream frosting took 30 eggs, 10 pounds of sugar, 10 pounds of flour and eight hours to create.

“Every cake should be as unique as the person receiving it,” said Melissa Del Toro, 21, who runs an at-home, one-woman baking business called Rebel Sweets, which is considered a “cottage food” operation by Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. It allows cake bakers to sell their goods from their unlicensed home kitchens as long as the operations gross sales do not exceed $15,000 annually.

And it is from her Westchester home and her mother’s gas-powered Kenmore oven that Toro designs, bakes and decorates cakes like Nathan’s from scratch.

“I want each cake I create to be a little rebellious,” joked Toro, who wears a guitarpick necklace with the word “rebel” scripted across the white vinyl pick.

Certified in food-safety practices through Florida International University’s hospitality program, Toro is trained in personal hygiene, cross-contamination and allergens, and cleaning and sanitation.

She has been accepting orders since 2011 from the Rebel Sweets Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ herrebelsweets.


Melissa Del Toro, founder and owner of Rebel Sweets, poses inside Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management in North Miami, where she is a student. Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. Allison Diaz / For The Miami Herald

Rebel Sweets does not offer a catalog of Toro’s designs. Instead, the baker insists people pitch original ideas to create cakes unique to each client. She does not repeat a design.

Jackie Eisen, 27, drew the idea for her husband Mitch Nathan’s Miami Heat groom’s cake on Microsoft Paint.

“Melissa’s cake blew my mind!” said Eisen. “It completely surpassed my expectations with the look and taste, and it added a special touch to our rehearsal dinner.”

Rebel Sweets customer David Duran, 20, makes an order for his girlfriend on their anniversary each year. His order includes her favorite colors, flowers and flavor: Toro’s rum recipe.

This year’s anniversary cake featured dozens of pink and red cherry blossoms that Toro carved, sculpted and placed by hand.

“[Toro] puts so much detail into her cakes,” said Duran. “And I was surprised, but they taste just as good as they look.”

Toro has four signature cake flavors: strawberry, vanilla, chocolate and Flor de Caña rum — a Rebel Sweets exclusive made with aged, imported Nicaraguan rum. Fresh ingredients like cocoa and strawberries are mashed into the mixes.

Toro practices building onto cakes with Rice Krispie treats. She learned this technique from master baker and cake decorator Buddy Valastro on the TLC reality television show Cake Boss.

“Buddy is always doing things on a grand scale and pushing the limit like I want to,” said Toro.

The Cake Boss fan attended “Buddy Valastro Live! The Cake Boss” at the Fillmore Miami Beach at Jackie Gleason Theater with a meet-and-greet ticket in January.

After giving Valastro a USB with photos of her cake creations, he invited her to intern alongside him at Carlo’s Bakery in New Jersey this fall.

“Buddy hand-picks people with an exuberant passion for cake,” said Rhea Manansala, human resource coordinator at Carlo’s Bakery.

In September, the hospitality management student will substitute her last semester of classes with the internship, leaving her Westchester kitchen behind to practice her craft in the 55,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility.

She will work closely with some of the country’s top bakers and cake decorators, said Manansala.

“I admire the mechanics of Buddy’s cakes,” said Toro, who plans to return to Miami to graduate after the internship and continue Rebel Sweets.

Toro said one cake she wants to make in the future is a tribute to her hometown.

“Buddy makes these awesome cakes of cities,” said Toro. “I want to make one of Miami because the city is just so dear to my heart.”

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