Yesenia Rivera has three days to singlehandedly bake 425 treats, but you won’t see her break a sweat. In fact, you probably won’t see her at all. Come evening, the seasoned pastry chef will seclude herself in her home kitchen, which she has transformed into a tidy assembly line. She can tell you to the second how long it will take to apply frosting to a cupcake or poke a stick through a cake pop. And, aside from the occasional taste test from her 4-year-old daughter, Rivera shuns a second set of hands. “I can’t imagine delegating any of it. It’s too personal a process for me,” she admits.
For Rivera, every baked treat is a labor of love. She meets with her clients in their homes for hours and pours over recipe options and photo albums of her past creations. She caters to their every ingredient request—as a gluten-free, dairy-free eater herself, she’s no stranger to substitutions, such as bananas for eggs, or coconut oil for butter. And when it comes time to decorate, she literally sets each treat on a pedestal, and decorates it slowly and meticulously. “I think about the person I’m baking for when I’m putting the ingredients together—I pour my heart and soul into it,” Rivera says. But despite rigorous recipe calibration, each treat must pass one final test: if her daughter doesn’t love it, it doesn’t make it out the kitchen door.