“I’ve got frosting in my blood,” laughs Stella Baetsch as she wipes frosting from her face.
Stella’s frosting has been helping people in Bismarck and Mandan celebrate life’s special moments for more than two decades. Her busiest time of year is just starting; orders are already stacking up for graduations, confirmations, and first communions. Stella knows she will be just as busy come summer.
“In the summer, the weekends are full always. There is never a weekend that we don’t have cakes. But I love it. I get the happy times,” says Stella, owner of MagiCandle Cakery. “Cakes go with happy celebrations: birthdays, weddings, new babies, anniversaries, graduations.”
Stella has a few of her own happy times coming up: on June 18, she’ll celebrate her 80th birthday and on May 5, MagiCandle Cakery turns 24. Stella opened the store in 1993, when her cake decorating supplies outgrew her home.
“The dining room was full, the downstairs hallway was full, underneath my foyer where I have storage was full,” Stella recalls. “I was making cakes all the time, as people called me. It got to the point where it was overwhelming after awhile. So I decided to open a store, and get my stuff out of the house.”
She Takes the Cake
She never dreamed she’d still be here, at her little store on Bismarck’s East Broadway Avenue, 24 years later. But here she is, working six days a week, teaching cake decorating classes, and still decorating every cake that is ordered.
“I do the decorating. You know why? When I first started teaching classes, I thought I’d find someone that would like to decorate too and I could have a day off,” Stella explains. “And then I realized my name goes out on every one of them. It came from here, and my name is on it so I jolly well better do it myself.”
She does have help; Stella fondly refers to her three employees as her “girls.” And then there’s her husband, Weldee, who has been beside her since day one.
“He is the backbone of this business,” Stella says lovingly. “He is my sidekick, and most important, my accountant. Without him, I wouldn’t be able to do this. We spend all our time together, at work and at home, and it just works out perfect for us.”
In fact, Weldee is sort of the reason Stella first got started decorating cakes.
“My parents-in-law were having an anniversary. My husband is an only child and there was no one else to do their cake. I begged the instructor of the one class offered in town to let me in. I talked myself up to get into the class, and she did let me in. But I was out of my league! Others in the class were already doing wedding cakes. I was in awe. Total awe. The first thing our instructor asked us to do was to make a rose. I had no idea how to do that and she knew it. When I finally had a rose that I thought was pretty good, she walked by and said ‘that looks like a beginner’s rose’ and kept walking. I went home and took out every book I had, which wasn’t very many at that time, but I found an article by a lady who taught her beginners to put a mini marshmallow on a toothpick and build the rose around the marshmallow. So that’s what I did. I taught myself how to do roses around marshmallows. Since then I have learned how to make a rose. I’ll make a rose for you anywhere you want a rose, I’ll make a rose.”
That class was only the beginning of the classes Stella would take. She won her instructor over, and the two of them traveled to Minneapolis to take The Comprehensive Course at Maid of Scandinavia. Again, Stella found herself in over her head and thought about quitting.
“I thought I kept up pretty well, but I got the impression that the teacher didn’t like people from North Dakota. She made a couple of comments and I thought I would never go back,” remembers Stella. “When I got home, Weldee asked me how it went and I said it was fine, but that I was never going back because I didn’t really like the teacher. He told me if he would have thought that, he never would have gotten his master’s degree. I thought, darn it. He’s right. So I went back. I completed all of the classes and I have 11 certificates from the Maid of Scandinavia store in Minneapolis. I took all their classes, and even some foreign ones (British and Australian). After that many classes, the teacher did become a friend.”
Stella also went to Chicago to the Wilton Cake Decorator School. There she took the Wilton Master’s Class and the Pulled Sugar Class.
“My picture is hanging on a wall there. They call it the ‘Hall of Fame,’” Stella explains with a giggle.
Teacher and Encourager
Maid of Scandinavia is no longer in business, but Stella has continued to share what she learned there nearly 40 years ago. Stella has been teaching Wilton method cake decorating classes in Bismarck for 33 years.
“To date, I have taught about 3,000 students.”
She offers three levels: course one covers buttercream decorating skills, course two focuses on royal icing, and course three is all about gum paste and fondant. Stella relies on her experiences—both as a beginner and as a master decorator—to help her better teach her students.
“From when I started until now, I could write a few books. When I first started, I had the uncertainty of a beginner, of not knowing how to go about things. Because of that, I went about them the very hardest way in the world. I eventually ended up with what I know now and I can decorate a cake much quicker. I know the shortcuts. So in my classes I try to teach the shortcuts,” explains Stella. “I tell my students I’ve been there and I know all the mistakes. I’ve already made them. I hope to keep them from making the same ones I made. Helping them progress is the best. I love it. Hearing them say ‘oh yeah, that makes it better’ is music to my ears.”
Even after nearly 40 years of decorating, Stella is quick to point out she still makes mistakes.
“I make mistakes,” she says with a laugh. “Sometimes I can just clean off the mistake with the tip of a knife or a pin. Sometimes I have to undecorate the whole cake and start over. But that’s okay. It’s just a cake. It’s not a big catastrophe in the grand scheme of things. It’s just a cake. There are times I have put the entirely wrong image on a cake and not realized it until I was all done. So then I have to take it off and start over. It makes me mad that I made that mistake, but it happens. Sometimes we freeze the mistakes or send them to the business next door.”
And when it comes to other businesses, Stella is the first to welcome them to town, even those that could be competition.
“My advice for others who are starting a business is simple: just go for it. I encourage anyone. There are people who have started businesses in town and I’ve encouraged every one of them. I’m here to help them.”
But while she’s eager to welcome new businesses to town, Stella knows she needs to think about the future of her own business.
“I’m not getting any younger.”
As she nears her 80th birthday, she also can’t imagine not spending her days here, where the laughter and the decorating are frequently interrupted by the sound of a ringing telephone or a curious customer.
“We are sort of the go-to place for advice. The phone rings a lot.”
And Stella is happy to share her knowledge with anyone who asks. She’s also happy to share her creations—whether it’s a perfectly decorated cake, cookie, or her famous homemade caramels.
“I’ve always loved working with my hands. I have done a lot of crafts. Cake decorating is an extension of that. I call it a ‘sugar craft.’”
As for her birthday coming up in June, Stella has decided to throw herself a party. Weldee, their two grown children, and three grandchildren will be there and Stella says there will be cupcakes, caramels, and lots of hot pink party decorations.
“I decided all these years I’ve been helping other people celebrate their big days. It’s time I celebrate my own big day. I’m thankful to the good Lord for every year He can give me and 80 years calls for a party.”
While Stella is famous for her cakes, she also enjoys making peanut brittle and caramels. She says making candy is a nice break from decorating.
“If you haven’t tasted a caramel from MagiCandle, you’re missing out. Our caramels are to die for,” says Stella. “A dear friend shared the basic recipe with me and we have since tweaked it a little.”