Amy Werner, 34, who lives near Falling Waters, W.Va., has made countless cakes that have left lasting impressions. There was the three-tiered birthday cake with flower and butterfly designs she made for her daughter's fifth birthday party and the anniversary wedding cake she made for her in-laws that looked like something out of a baker's display window.
Werner's cake and candy creations are particularly noteworthy since she is the mother of four children ages 8 months to 7 years old. In order to let her creative juices flow, her usual baking time is between midnight and 3 a.m., when everyone is asleep.
"The woman is an artist at how she makes things," says Darcy Mines, a first-grade teacher at Marlowe Elementary School in Marlowe who has tasted many of Werner's cakes and homemade candies. Werner bakes a cake once a month for the elementary school's PTA group to recognize teacher birthdays. Her cakes are always "very creative and delicious," adds Beth McCoy, a second-grade teacher at the school.
Werner says she doesn't have any secrets other than making everything from scratch and using "real" ingredients. When a recipe calls for butter, she uses butter. If she needs heavy whipping cream, she uses the cream with all the fat.
While Werner has become known among her family, friends, neighbors and her children's friends as the woman who makes great cakes, she enjoys cooking just about everything.
"Amy's a great cook," says Cindy Reeder, a staff member of First Christian Church in Hagerstown. Reeder is familiar with Werner's cooking through different church functions. "That kid can make anything," Reeder says. "She's a Martha Stewart right here in our church."
Werner and her husband, Todd Werner, have an appreciation for fresh, natural food since they both grew up on family farms, Amy Werner says. She learned to cook by watching her grandmothers and taking on kitchen responsibilities as soon as she was able.
The Werners are trying to pass that appreciation for homemade, home-cooked food on to their four children by including them in the kitchen and by gardening with them, Amy Werner says.
Amy Werner recently answered questions while serving her Toffee-Coffee Torte in her West Virginia home:
Q: How did you develop a reputation as a cake maker?
A: It just kind of turned into a tradition that "Oh, well, you made my cake. I want this ... ." We've done horse cakes, and my son is very into trains and trucks, and we have to have cows on the cake that look like Grandpa's cows. Then it's, you know, the kids get older, you have the kids' birthday parties, and people come and they're like, "Oh, where'd you get your cake?" and the kids say, "My mommy made it," and now it's turned into, you know, "Can you make so-and-so's cake?" and - pretty much a lot of friends and family - I have made everybody's cakes.
Q: Do you enjoy making the cakes? Obviously, you're very creative with it.
A: Yeah, I do. My husband teases me, I'm the midnight Martha Stewart, because I'll start at midnight after I get everybody in bed. I'll sit down here and just play and he goes "You have to make it just a little bit better," That's what he does. I probably have a thousand cookbooks, but he says "I don't know why you bother, because you don't follow directions," and he goes "You don't even look at them unless they have a picture." I won't read one unless it has pictures. And I sit there and go "OK, that's what they used. Well, I don't have that, so I'm gonna try this instead," or, "They use ... and I don't like that. Let me put this in. I have to play with it all the time."
Q: What do you enjoy about baking?
A: I think especially with the kids, like their birthday cakes, but like Christmas morning, shock and awe on their face, like, "You put cows on my cake!"
One lady, a good friend of mine, she had been really sick, and I made her a cake. I didn't think it was anything special, but, to her, it was like the world, that somebody ... just to take the extra five minutes and make somebody a gift. And I think with the kids, I'm trying to teach them that, you know, some of the best presents you ever get, you don't go to the store and buy them.
For the teachers' gifts, we've made homemade apples. The kids help me. Granted, we might spend all day long making three apples, but the fact that they've learned that: "Hey, I can make this myself" ... You can make it pretty, put a bow on it.
You can teach them math.
We taught my daughter fractions by making cinnamon toast, cutting it. I said, "Do you want it cut in halves or quarters?" Teaching them to cook ... like, everybody jokes that, "Your kids are the only kids that know how to make brownies by themselves." I've let them do it by themselves. My kitchen's a little worse for wear, but they'll all know how to cook before they leave this house."