Baking: A pandemic escape turned professional

May 24, 2022 — by Kavita Sundaram
Photo by Zoe Gonder
One of Zoe’s favorite cakes is a Chai flavored one that she made.
Senior Zoe Gonder pursues passion for baking

Zoe Gonder remembers one of her first baking experiences with her  mom: After 10 minutes in the oven, the delicious scent of sugared lemons, marshmallow-like merengue and buttery pie crust wafted in her house. Only 7 years old at the time, Zoe waited patiently as her mother carefully removed the pie from the oven. Then, in a moment of heightened excitement, she watched anxiously as her mother sliced through the pie. 

To her dismay, disaster struck. Instead of a luxurious lemon custard, the pie leaked undercooked lemon sludge. 

In retrospect, even though it didn’t end with a prize-winning final product, this might’ve been the beginning of Gonder’s love for baking.

“We all thought it was so funny,” Gonder said, “and in an act of defiance I wanted to prove that I could do it better.”

Gonder went from competing with her mother for the best lemon meringue pie to baking pies and cookies with her grandmother on special occasions. Sometime during her sophomore year, the holiday season turned into an opportunity to take baking more seriously. 

During the pandemic, a friend’s birthday presented the perfect opportunity for Gonder to further her baking skills. Since lockdown prevented her and her friends from having a party, Gonder compensated by making an extravagant cake. 

“I spent all my time baking this cake that turned out super well,” Gonder said. “It gave me the confidence to keep going into baking.”

From there, Gonder went on to take on more challenging bakes. Her most difficult endeavor was a croquembouche: a tower of cream puffs meticulously stacked on top of one another and glued together with caramel. The dessert is particularly difficult because each cream puff must be held in a precarious position by nothing other than a delicate caramel.

Her first attempt at making it was a disaster.

“We took too many liberties and it did not even closely resemble what it was supposed to look like,” Gonder said.

But after a renewed attempt and more patience, Gonder was able to finish it the way it should be. 

“It was so gratifying to know it was something I couldn’t do, turned into something I could,” Gonder said. 

Gonder specializes in foods like cakes, croissants and macaroons. She has been working in bakeries since her sophomore year, and hopes to continue pursuing baking in the future as well. 

Gonder plans to attend The Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, New York, for four years and pursue a Bachelor degree in Applied Food Studies, with a focus in baking and pastry. Eventually, she hopes to find a career in the food industry. 

While her journey with baking has become a professional one, baking will always be something that Gonder loves for the joy that it brings those around her and the gratification it brings her. 

“I love giving gifts and being creative,” Gonder said, “and baking allows me to do both.”