This Baker Says If You Don’t Let Your Layers Cool, You Will Crack
Madeline Bach, the one-woman-show behind Frosted Hag, makes cakes for friends, acquaintances, and Harry Styles. Here's how it all started.
Photos by Leia Jospe
My Secret Job is a column that features individuals who skillfully clock into their day-to-day jobs while juggling their secret or not-so-secret endeavors.
We’re catching up with individuals this month who managed to “hack” and disrupt what conventional work looks like by creating a path guided by passion.
When Madeline Bach, a South Jerseyan artist, isn't at her post as Director at a Chinatown gallery, she's running her cake business, Frosted Hag. Madeline whips up colorfully delectable cakes evoking play — the toppers meticulously placed on her homemade buttercream frosting vary from kumquats and thistle to even rock candies quite literally looking as if they plopped straight out of a Dr. Suess children's book.
After needing some cash flow post-grad, Bach meandered into a Lower East Side bakery and secured a position until the 2020 lockdown. During that uncertain time, the self-taught baking commenced from the small confines of her kitchen, where Frosted Hag was born. Creating cakes for birthdays or brightening someone's finalization of a divorce, Bach recently expanded her clientele to include Harry Styles, for whom she crafted a custom cake for his summer residency at The Garden.
Today, imperfect beauty continues to be alluring and marketable, even in baked goods. People crave the unusual, seeking products that weave fantasy into their taste buds. Frosted Hag, a one-woman-owned, at-home baking factory, embodies this. Madeline shares insights on Frosted Hag’s genesis story and how she makes it possible.
Shanna: Can you give us a run-down on how Frosted Hag came about?
Madeline: I took a semester off [from college], was really confused, and went into a bakery one day and was working like kitchen shifts, so I was doing dishes, I wasn't baking physically. There was always someone on frosting duty for the cake orders, and when I eventually got to try frosting cupcakes, they were so bad. But I just got into my own rhythm and started doing it more and more. I worked [at the bakery] for about three years, and figured out how to work in a really small space. Covid happened, I stopped working there, and I didn't really start baking on my own until August of 2020. I just started making birthday cakes for friends, and then people I didn't know that well would reach out, and I was like, 'shit, should I charge them?'. It took a while to get to a place where I felt—a. Confident with my pricing, and b. Putting that all out there.
Shanna: What’s a recent custom order you had fun with?
Madeline: One from a few weeks ago for this woman’s birthday – I am obsessed with people buying their own birthday cakes. In a rare turn of events, I managed my time correctly, could focus on form and color, and went a little brighter and poppier than usual. I really love meeting so many people and witnessing their excitement. I’m very lucky that enough people trust me to make cakes for them.
Shanna: Can you tell us about a moment that altered your mindset on work:
Madeline: Catastrophe can turn into something successful, and realizing that I can ask for an extra pair of hands because I’m not a machine. I was [recently] making a cake, and it fell over. The layers didn’t have time to cool properly, so I did the crumb layer, and then I opened the fridge 20 minutes later, and it was just done--on its side. I had to remake everything, and I couldn’t bullshit it at all. I called my friend–who’s [also] my coworker (we work well together), and she came to help, and we got it all re-done in time. Simply put, there are times when I need another hand, and it has taken a long time to feel okay asking people for that. Asking for help is huge.
Shanna: What’s something you wish someone had told you before you started your own business?
Madeline: That my lower back will never be the same, that I’m going to have to put in the personal work to pick myself up when I screw things up or don’t feel one hundred percent. I’m going to have to really respect my physical limits and forgive myself in order for this [business] to be sustainable. Every single thing depends on me. I have no colleagues or anyone to blame anything on. If I’m stressing, or if a cake just decides to collapse in front of me, my instinct is to get down on myself, but it’s clicked that that gets me literally nowhere, and I’ve been working hard at being nicer to myself in tough situations. I’m my own worst critic and have to diligently protect my energy so that I can do this for the long haul.
Shanna: What’s an unusual or unconventional practice you have adopted that makes your workflow more efficient?
Madeline: I think I’m still looking for some magic there, but right now, I simply need 8 hours of sleep, and I need to devote a solid hour of deep cleaning my kitchen while listening to whatever I’m into, almost always Lana [Del Rey] and Depeche Mode. I get into a cleaning zone without thinking or worrying about the task ahead. I take a lot of breaks. I’ve been putting the new season of The Kardashians on—background noise I need. I love hearing them speak; I don’t know why people don’t. I don’t have sisters, so I just really enjoy it. Sometimes, I’ll like listen to nothing, and I will find myself going to the darkest places in my head, so I need to have that set up.
Shanna: A misconception you think some may have about leading a creative life?
Madeline: I think there are people who see a finished product, work of art, whatever, and can immediately register and consider the amount of labor and love that goes into it, and then there are people who just don’t quite understand that and think things come out of thin air. (An average Frosted Hag cake can take anywhere from 7-12 total hours to make). Cakes are joyful and fun to look at, but there are tight deadlines, mental gymnastics, and balancing of schedules. You need to be so in love with what you’re doing creatively that when it turns monetary, you don’t rot from the inside out. I am constantly learning and pushing and skipping out on social plans and events to make this work– with no idea what’s going to happen in five years, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Shanna: Is there something applicable that you brought from your traditional work life into your creative work life?
Madeline: Actually, so much! For starters, it’s the only reason I have a laptop to do all the admin work. My other [gallery] job has given me the time and space to learn how to manage fifty things at once; email etiquette, how to invoice, how to organize and catalog sales, and how to sit alone with myself for hours on end (gallerina life). Both of my bosses have also been supportive and encouraging of the cakes from the start. One of them, gallerist Bill Brady, recently passed away. He was always really encouraging. I will always cherish and remember the many lessons I’ve learned from him about running a business, how to treat others, and so much more.
Shanna: Success to me is:
Madeline: Having natural light in my kitchen, a walk-in fridge, and a lifetime butter supply.
Shanna: Who would be your dream cross-industry collaborator, and what kind of innovative project would you envision creating together?
Madeline: Breadface! @breadfaceblog She’ll be wearing Chanel and like smashing her face into something, and I’m like, ‘Wait a second…’ She has unlocked it, and I love it. Always have. There are a lot of over-the-top collaborations and workshops I’d love to do with other brands and bakers that are maybe too insane to type out, but Breadface can get a cake any time, any day, to smash into.
Shanna: A cake metaphor for life:
Madeline: If you don’t let all your layers cool, you will crack.
@frostedhag is taking commissions for the Fall season. Get your fanciful cake here.