The genesis of Michelle Donovan’s passion for creating sweet treats can be traced back to when she was only 5 or 6 years old and found in the elaborate Christmas cookies she helped her mother bake every year.
“We would make about 10 different kinds of cookies and put them on trays for family and friends,” says Donovan, adding that she, her sister and her mother still have an annual holiday baking day.
Baking became about more than cookies for Donovan, of Eden Prairie, when she was 17 and took a job as a prep cook at McGarry’s Pub in Maple Plain. Before long, she started making the restaurant's desserts, including dark chocolate cake, bread pudding and cheesecake. “People told me how much they liked them, and I liked making them.”
Knowing she’d found her career, Donovan enrolled at Minneapolis Community & Technical College and received her baking certificate after two years of classes in topics such as nutrition, bread baking and advanced baking. While there, Donovan started working at a local bakery—where she still works today—and says it was there that her real on-the-job training began. “I do all the baking—cakes, cookies, bars, cupcakes—and a lot of the decorating, too,” says Donovan.
Working as a full-time baker wasn’t enough to satisfy her desire. In the fall of 2015, Donovan launched The Battered Spoon, the “out of house” baking business where she makes delightful custom-designed cakes, iced sugar cookies and cake pops. Recent creations include multi-layered cakes for baby showers and birthdays, a bright Rubik’s Cube cake and even a selection of Game of Thrones cupcakes. There are a host of cake flavor options, including devil’s food, vanilla bean and banana cream; fillings including salted caramel, hazelnut mousse and chocolate mousse; and there are many buttercream frosting variations, such as espresso, lemon and chocolate.
Heidi Voss has known Donovan since she was in high school. “I have had the pleasure of watching her grow from baking around the house to becoming the artist that she is,” says Voss. “My mother was a cake decorator, so when Michelle first started, I gave her most of my mother’s baking tins, frosting tips, etc. I know how much goes into this line of work. She is just so amazing and creative.”
Recently, Donovan discovered a rather surprising new niche; customers who are dog owners have been requesting three-dimensional cakes in the shape of the family pet. “I’ve done a French bulldog, a Boston terrier and a shih tzu,” she says. Voss was one of Donovan’s first customers for these special cakes; it was her Boston terrier, Gordon, who served as the perfect model. “My husband ordered the cake for my surprise 50th birthday,” she says. “The cake was a hit—such a hit that no one wanted to eat it. Best cake idea ever!”
While Donovan loves working on the dog cakes, they require “a lot of structure” and can be fairly time-consuming. The process involves baking, assembling, freezing and carving the cake into a shape resembling the pooch. “Just decorating the cakes takes about three hours,” she says.
Donovan credits her Facebook page and word of mouth, for the growth of The Battered Spoon. Customers can place orders via email, preferably one week in advance, choose their favorite cake flavors and fillings and make arrangements to pick up their cake at Donovan’s home. Prices range from $40 to $100 and above.
Donovan hopes to open her own storefront, but she is content with creating customer favorites and discovering new ideas and techniques. “I love Pinterest, and I can spend hours watching tutorials,” she says.
When asked about her own go-to flavors, Donovan doesn’t hesitate. “I love chocolate on chocolate,” she says. “I make a midnight chocolate merlot cake with chocolate mousse … it’s very rich and very good.”