A local baker is bringing a Tucson touch to her wedding cake creations with designs featuring the flora and flair of the Sonoran Desert.
From hand-piped buttercream cacti in shades of green, hand-sculpted edible cactus toppers, and fresh local flowers and succulents placed delicately on the cakes, there’s a little bit of Tucson in all of baker Annie Matlick’s cakes.
Matlick is the owner of Ambrosia Cakes and is a certified cottage baker through the Arizona Department of Health Services, which allows her to create the desert-inspired desserts right from her Tucson home and baking studio.
Along with stacked wedding cakes with rustic desert designs, Matlick also offers cactus and succulent buttercream cupcakes and dessert tables featuring homemade brownies, lemon bars, churros and more. Her cakes start at $6 per serving, with a $100 minimum order.
All of Ambrosia Cakes’ designs are executed so well that you won’t want to stick your fork into them.
“People want them for all different kinds of celebrations, graduations, birthdays and weddings, but they become sort of that, like, signature Tucson look,” she says. “And people want their out-of-towner guests to come and experience a little bit of desert, you know, a little bit of Tucson, a little Southwest. And that’s what they choose, whether it’s buttercream or real succulents. It’s just a blast, I get to play with our environment every day.”
Matlick finds inspiration from places like Bach’s Greenhouse Cactus Nursery on Thornydale Road, where she can walk around and gaze at local cacti and succulents, take note of their unique colors and then go home to recreate them in buttercream.
“I spend a lot of time there,” she says. “And I just stare at them and wonder how I can create them in buttercream, which is so funny. And it’s just like, how neat of a career I have to just sit here and think about how to make, like, edible forms of plant life, right? That’s silly and hilarious, but I love it, you know, and they’re just so happy and joyful.”
While Matlick aims to bring joy with her customizable desert-inspired designs, she hopes that the overall experience of planning your celebration with her is smooth and personable.
Unlike big bakery chains that ask for your name and check off what cake, frosting and filling flavors you want on a notepad, Matlick likes to meet with clients one-on-one and learn about the love story that brought them to this place in their life.
“I want them to feel like this is a very personal thing,” she says. “I want them to feel like they’re being heard and that I’m paying attention to them. Because I think a lot of times right now, especially when you’re going to a bakery and you’re just talking to some random person who doesn’t really care about you or your cake, it doesn’t really feel like you matter. And I think that’s really important right now — is to feel like you are important and cared for.”
As her cactus and desert-inspired cakes have taken off on Instagram, the 35-year-old baker is currently booked for the rest of 2022. But if you’re interested in getting one of her signature cakes for your special day next year, she’s actively booking for 2023.
But the days of being fully booked nearly a year in advance wasn’t always the case. And the last seven years since Matlick took over Ambrosia Cakes from its former owner Jaynie Rossi have been nothing less than a learning experience for the baker and entrepreneur.
‘I was doing it all day and it was an incredible experience’
Before taking over the business, Matlick worked as a baker for Rossi after meeting her through a mutual connection around 2014. Around the end of 2015, there was a family emergency, leading Matlick to take over Ambrosia Cakes. Rossi had been the owner and baker of Ambrosia Cakes in Tucson since 2008, after originally starting the business in the ’90s in Utah.
“I ended up meeting with her (Rossi) and sitting down with her for about three hours and it was kismet,” Matlick says. “She and I connected on a deeper level and became quite close. And she immediately said, ‘You know, why don’t you come work for me?’ And so my little, like, fangirl alarms were like, ‘You want me to work for you? That’s insane.’”
At the time, Matlick had an 18-month-old daughter and wasn’t sure if she could find childcare while taking on this new role — on top of her other responsibilities.
“I said, ‘Just bring your child to work,’” Rossi says. “When I was working, that’s one of the things that was the most important to me — is that I had four kids and needed to be able to be a mother and raise my kids while I worked.”
So, Matlick did just that. She began baking cakes with her young daughter in tow, starting around 8 a.m. nearly every day. After a few hours of baking for Rossi, Matlick would go to her full-time job at a local Whole Foods bakery and continue to make baked goods there from 2 to 11:30 p.m., she says.
“I was doing it all day and it was an incredible experience,” Matlick says.
Before Matlick dived into the world of baking, she graduated with a degree in elementary education from the University of Arizona and pursued a teaching career here in Tucson, but found herself getting passed up on job offers for teachers with more experience.
“I was always told, ‘You’re going to be a wonderful teacher,’ and was just sort of passed along,” she says of the experience. “And so it was really frustrating in that bit, but I’ve always loved to be in the kitchen. And after a couple of really weird jobs, pharmaceuticals, Whole Foods, nannying, I found a love for creating cupcakes.”
Matlick made her first wedding cake (and wedding cupcakes) for her sister when she was 34 weeks pregnant. After her first official gig, she continued making baked goods for weddings and other celebrations.
Soon after, she started her cupcake business, Sweet Bean Cupcakery, in 2013, which then merged with Ambrosia a couple years later.
Within seven months of taking over Ambrosia, she also took over the wedding cake clientele of three other local bakers who closed up shop, which took Matlick from a cupcake baker to a full-time wedding cake baking machine.
Carrying on the Ambrosia legacy with an Annie touch
After Matlick inherited Ambrosia Cakes in 2015, she vowed to preserve Rossi’s legacy by continuing to use Rossi’s family recipes and keeping the name “Ambrosia,” which she says she will never change.
The name Ambrosia was inspired by Rossi’s father, who owned a restaurant. During a potato salad tasting, he reacted to Rossi’s seasoning adjustments by exclaiming, “ambrosia,” which Rossi says means “foods to the gods.”
“I had no idea what I was doing, but the greatest part about it is Jaynie saw something in me,” Matlick says. “And I have her recipes, and they’re timeless, wonderful, incredible recipes that, you know, Tucson has grown to love for so many years. And so I really didn’t have to do a whole lot to convince people that this was amazing cake.”
The recipes were initially developed by Rossi’s mother, who studied under Dewey McKinley Wilton (yes, that Wilton) in the 1960s. The cake recipes were passed down to Rossi, who continued to adjust them to ensure they maintained their moistness, and eventually to Matlick, who made them her own.
Her cake recipes include the classics like vanilla almond, chocolate and red velvet, along with some specialized flavors such as strawberry champagne, Mexican hot chocolate and banana.
During the busy wedding season here in Tucson, which typically runs from fall to spring, you can find Matlick and her assistant baking, filling, coating and decorating cakes all week long. Matlick says that some days she’ll find herself in the kitchen for nearly 11 hours, baking cakes for upcoming celebrations.
But Matlick’s dedication to baking and the customer experience is how Rossi knew she made the right choice in her successor.
“I am so proud of her. Oh, my word. She is absolutely the perfect person. She has grown into it,” Rossi said. “And what she is doing right now is just art and it tastes good. I think she’s phenomenal at the attention to detail and the perfectionism. I could not be more proud. It makes me cry. And when I tell her that, it makes her cry. She’s just awesome.”
As Matlick’s clientele keeps growing, she hopes to continue refining her skills and bringing a Tucson touch to some of her wedding cakes for years to come.
“I truly believe that timing is everything,” Matlick says. “And as strange as it is, the universe sort of presents things to you. And you can either take them or leave them. And I had absolutely zero concept of being an entrepreneur while being a mother, making cakes for a living or feeding people for a living. That would have never been on a list that I could have ever created for myself. … And now I’m making people’s wedding cakes, and you just have this beautiful light in front of you. And the universe just sort of sets it ablaze.
“And, you know, I never in a million years would have told you that this is where I would be. But I’m pretty grateful and it’s really cool.”