They say that when you do what you love, the clock seems to stop. For Lincoln Alexander, the opposite is true. Counting the minutes until the timer goes off is a big part of his passion — baking inventive, artistic cakes.
Alexander admits he was a handful as a child, with lots of timeouts spent in the kitchen under his mother’s watchful eye. Although she worked as an accountant, baking was her passion, and she didn’t realize her son was watching closely as she worked.
At the age of 8, he asked to help as she created edible delights with recipes handed down through her family’s generations.
“My mom was blown away that I knew how to do so much, and she started nurturing the process,” said Alexander.
At 14 years old, Alexander began to try his hand at the craft alone, quickly acquiring a reputation among his friends for his custom birthday cakes. “They weren’t pretty,” he said, “but I must have been doing something right because people kept coming back.”
As his skill grew, so did his mother’s guidance. Asked where he received his inspiration, he answered: life and the things around him. However, his mother’s message still rings in his ears.
“She always told me to retool and rethink, but never copy.” Alexander said. “She told me my creations were my legacy so to never fear to make them my own.”
He never stopped baking, continuing to create more intricate designs all through school.
“I baked all the way through high school and college, always one step short of a small business,” Alexander said. “I created something like 50 cakes in college alone.”
His parents also instilled in him the value of a good education, driving him to earn master’s and then doctorate degrees in health and public health.
“My parents were really big on education,” Alexander said. “I wanted to bake but they pushed me to go to college. Now I have a steady career that allows me to follow my passion.”
What is fondant?
Fondant icing, or just fondant, is a thick mixture usually made with sugar, water and corn syrup. It can be flavored, colored, rolled, cut into strips and draped over finished baked goods to create incredibly detailed but edible decorations.
Fondant is prized for its ability to be molded and sculpted into almost any shape, such as the detailed floral designs that adorn wedding cakes or the components that make up more inventive creations.
Fondant also is valued for its ability to withstand changes in temperature and hold up under duress when cakes are delivered from bakeries to their final destination.
More complicated cake designs often are shipped in pieces in specially designed cake holders and then constructed on-site.
The sturdy mixture helps hold things together but also can be used to create new decorations that hide accidental damage during transportation or construction.
Interestingly, fondant is not often prized for its flavor the way buttercream frostings are. Some people even prefer to peel off the protective outer coating and eat the cake inside without it.
However, some newer, handmade fondant is created from melted marshmallows to enhance flavor while still enabling the baker to add creative aspects to finished cakes.
Currently the man in charge at Ferris State University College of Health Professions, Alexander is known as the “Baking Dean” — providing staff members with a custom cake for milestone events such as birthdays and graduations.
While running a college might seem like enough responsibility, Alexander spends a substantial number of hours a week baking in his home kitchen and studio, depending on the time of year.
“I devote maybe 40 hours a week to baking on average,” Alexander said. “Although, there are a lot more during wedding season.”
Alexander’s preferred artistic medium is fondant icing, a thick sugar and corn syrup mixture that resembles pie dough and can be cut, flavored, colored and used to cover the cakes, or can be sculpted into the intricate decorations that bring his creations to life.
His designs vary from ornate but traditional wedding styles, to realistic looking geodes, and can even take the shape of sports figures, treasure chests and cartoon characters.
Asked about his inspiration, and whether clients have any control over it, Alexander smiled as he replied, “I get my ideas from life, some trends and the world around me. My clients give me some input, but you wouldn’t tell an artist what to paint, would you?”
“She (my mother) always told me to retool and rethink, but never copy. She told me my creations were my legacy so to never fear
to make them my own.”
His clients also must be prepared for the pricing for his imaginative designs, Alexander chuckled and said, “You know the saying, if you have to ask …”
Although Alexander has no intention of retiring any time soon, he does hope to pass on his skills to one of his three kids to keep his great grandmother’s secrets alive and available for future generations.
“I come from a long lineage of bakers who did it for love and not money, and I want to continue that tradition,” Alexander said.
Of his 14-year-old daughter and his 8- and 12-year-old sons, he’s not sure if all three apples have fallen too from the tree. However, his kids live in Toronto where they are not exposed to dad’s passion or skill with flour and sugar very often.
“Right now, none of the three seem to be very interested,” Alexander chuckled.
Asked about the future and if a storefront could be in the plans, Alexander replied, “Grand Rapids is my home. I have family here and on the east side of the state. If things continue to grow I would entertain the thought. However, my mom’s dream was to have a dine-in dessert shop. If I could do that, I know I’d make her proud.”
Visit Flour House Cakes & Co. online.
This story can be found in the April 2021 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox each month, subscribe here.