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Saturday, Mar 24, 2018
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South Tampa bakery creates ‘wow’ centerpiece cakes

Mario X. Torres, the executive pastry chef at Cakes Plus in South Tampa, said people often stop by for a guilty pleasure after working out at Vitality Fitness and picking up their diet-friendly meals at Fit Life Foods. In fact, he has had some customers hide a cupcake or treat in their Fit Life Foods bag.

“If you are on a diet and cheat, you might as well make it count,” said Torres, who loves working at the family bakery in Carriage Trade Plaza. “If you want the calories to count, this is the best way.”

Torres, 36, said his mother, Nina Torres of Carrollwood, started Cakes Plus 23 years ago after moving here with the family from Puerto Rico. Nina’s husband, Mario Sr., is a retired pharmacist who now works at the bakery, 1728 S. Dale Mabry Highway.

“We are known for our pound cake,” said Mario, a South Tampa resident. “It’s one of my mom’s original recipes. It’s the only place you can get it.”

He said the pound cake contains brandy, rum and sherry, although the alcohol evaporates during the baking process.

“The flavor stays,” he said, adding they specialize in custom European-style cakes and pastries. “It’s a yummy pound cake.”

While he can’t claim any of the treats are going to help anyone lose weight, Torres said health-conscious people like the fact that they use real ingredients instead of cake mixes. He said it’s the butter or fat in a cake recipe that creates a moist cake. They started baking sugar-free and gluten-free cakes to cater to South Tampa customer requests.

“We still make everything from scratch,” she said. “We are very old school and plan to stay like that.”

For the autumn season, they bring out carrot and spice cakes as well as Mexican chocolate spice cakes. In addition to decorating Halloween cakes, they decorate a lot of wedding cakes in the fall. Contemporary styles with a lot of colors and geometrical designs are popular for wedding cakes right now, he said.

Nina Torres said she is proud of her son for being the cake “artist” who designs many of the cakes.

She said customers may bring in illustrations or photographs of their desired cake so they can replicate it.

“The most important thing we do is create what customers want,” she said. “One of the reasons I love my job is because every day is different. Because we don’t do mass production, we can concentrate on what the customer wants.”

She started the business out of her home more than 20 years ago, but later had a storefront in Seminole Heights. Her bakery then moved to Kennedy Boulevard before settling five years ago on South Dale Mabry Highway.

Mario said they serve customers from throughout Hillsborough County. What many customers want is to have a cake as a centerpiece that stands out amongst their friends and connections on Facebook, where many photos of the creations appear.

“It’s like wearing a dress,” he said. “You don’t want to wear the same dress someone else is wearing at the party.”

Although the cupcake craze is still going on, Mario said most people order cupcakes to complement their cake masterpiece.

Mario, who graduated from the Culinary Institute in Tampa, has decorated cakes to look like everything from sports stadiums and zoos to castles, circus scenes and zombies. Mario attends cake conventions throughout the country to learn about different cake-decorating techniques, while his mom teaches cake-decorating classes.

“People are finally realizing all the different things that can be done,” he said. “Anything is possible. We are known for making the ‘wow’ centerpieces.”

Cakes Plus also sells supplies for bakers such as icings, sprinkles, fondants, cake pans, cake boxes, tips, bags, fillings and sugar flowers.

For more information, call (813) 251-4564 or visit CakesPlusTampa.com.

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South Tampa bakery creates ‘wow’ centerpiece cakes