BY SUSAN WENZEL
Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
January 28, 2014
The origin of the museum-worthy, prize-winning confections crafted by John Auburn can be traced back to a commandeered toy oven and a little boy’s imagination.
“I have been baking…well, since forever. I started by using up all of my sister’s Easy Bake Oven mixes when I was a kid,” said Auburn with a laugh. “She didn’t really like that.”
It’s fair to say that, in the days since, Auburn, chief cake artist and owner of JW Desserts in Clinton, has moved far beyond pilfered cake mixes. “I did go on to culinary school but am mostly self-taught and started baking professionally in 1990,” said Auburn. “Wedding cakes were first and by 1993 I was shipping them all over.”
His enchanting sweets have since been featured in “Brides” and “Modern Brides” magazines. And they’ve garnered first place prizes on baking reality television shows such as a Seattle-inspired “The Emerald City” masterpiece he made for Food Network’s “Big City Skylines” cake challenge and the Nutcracker-themed mythical Pegasus cake for TLC channel’s “Ultimate Cakeoff.”
While Auburn has created his unique edible sculptures for both Ken Griffey Jr.’s and Julia Child’s birthdays, Golden Globe and Oscar parties and the 1996 Clinton-Dole Presidential debates, one does not have to be a celebrity to enjoy his tasty cakes. (And, yes, they are tasty. Auburn uses only the crème de la crème of ingredients to ensure his baked goods are a feast for the palate as well as the eyes.)
The magic happens inside his commercial kitchen located in Ken’s Corner on Hwy. 525 in Clinton. Here Auburn consults with clients to turn their wildest dreams into cakes for weddings, birthdays, baby showers, and more. He prides himself in providing personalized service that offers a near-endless range of options to fit individual tastes, ideas, palates and budgets.
Auburn may be best known for his stunning cake designs, but he is also the source of more than 20 everyday – yet quite far from ordinary – treats, including Bavarian tarts which begin with a shortbread crust and finish with seasonal fruits like Italian plum, apricot, pear or Marion/cranberry toppings. And there’s the hands-down most decadent, luscious, melt-in-your-mouth flourless chocolate-espresso tort in the world that he plans to feature at the upcoming Seattle Wine and Food Experience in the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall on February 23, as well as his distinctive savory cheesecakes.
“I’ve been making the cheesecakes for about 10 years,” said Auburn. “I think the first one was an accident. I forgot to add the sugar to my regular cheesecake base, I think. I’m not sure. But a friend tasted it and encouraged me to try to develop the concept.”
Auburn may not be able to pinpoint the inception of this flavorful delight, but one thing is for certain – there is little else like it on the market. At first glance, his cheesecakes appear to be ordinary, best eaten by the slice and topped with strawberries or the like. However, these inventive comestibles are anything but that.
Flavors such as artichoke/garlic/gorgonzola (the first blend), sundried tomato/pesto/garlic/green olive, rosemary/chive/caper/Jarlsberg (the most popular) and Kalamata olive/feta/garlic are exceptional when spread on crackers or a crusty rustic bread and paired with a glass (or two) of local Whidbey Island wine. (Auburn crafts two of his savory specialties exclusively for Spoiled Dog Winery by blending their Crimson wine with Gorgonzola and either fresh rosemary or basil and he hopes to someday offer the same for other interested vintners.)
Auburn meticulously manages every single detail of his creations, from the individually handcrafted roses to finding the perfect shade of blue to match the bridesmaids’ dresses to the incredibly realistic spires on the Taj Mahal architectural cake. Anyone can see he’s no ordinary baker or even simply an artist. John Auburn of JW Desserts is truly a cake wizard.
Visit JW Desserts online to view more amazing cake designs or call 360-341-1827 for additional information. Stop by The Goose Community Grocer, located at 14485 Hwy. 525 near Bayview Road, to try any number of Auburn’s savory cheesecakes, the flourless chocolate-espresso tort, and much more.
Susan Wenzel, food writer, believes in the power of locally produced food to fortify the health and wellbeing of both the individual and the community as a whole.
Featured image at the top: “John Auburn of JW Desserts.” Photo by Susan Wenzel
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