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In the Kitchen with . . . Jenny Bessler
By Carol McGarvey | Photography by Tim Abramowitz
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jenny bessler
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Click on the link below to view the recipe!

Jenny's mother's Easy Coconut Cake

Jenny Cakes & Cookies
Jenny Bessler
Norwalk, Iowa

Find her on Facebook.

Prices: Cookies, $2 each; minimum order, two dozen; custom character cakes, $30 and up.


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Her love of baking honors her mother’s memory.

Jenny Bessler of Norwalk loves to help others celebrate the sweet life. With the whir of her mixer and a palette of bright colors, she creates cakes, cupcakes, and oh-so-yummy sugar cookies for birthday parties and bridal and baby showers.

“I grew up watching my mom make elaborate cakes, and she spent weeks and weeks creating wonderful Christmas
cookies. It was just so fun. When I grew up, she taught me her techniques and tricks and always wanted me to start a little business.” Jenny’s mother, Candy Hodges of West Des Moines, died last fall.

Jenny had started offering her baked goods for sale in December of 2007, so it’s comforting to Jenny to know that her mother knew her wish had come true.

While some mothers might pass down elegant rings,
necklaces, or brooches, Candy passed down her “jewel” of a sugar cookie recipe. “She always told me it was a special secret,” Jenny explains, “and I was never ever to share it with anyone.” She has kept her word.

Another treasured heirloom is the apron her mother always wore when she baked. Jenny wears it in the photo here. She was thrilled when her father, Gary Hodges, gave it to her.

The busy mother said it’s been a family affair from the
get-go. Her aunt, Char Massey of Des Moines, taught
Jenny’s mother. Now Jenny’s two kids, Jordan, 12, and
Billy, 7, help in her cake business. “When I get an order
for an unusual character cake, Jordan, who is very artsy,
helps me with the concept for the cake. Billy prides
himself in being an expert frosting taster,” she says with
a chuckle.

Jenny is the service dispatcher for Cook Plumbing in West Des Moines, and the baking business is a good side operation for the single mother.

All of Jenny’s cakes are made to order from scratch. Her vanilla (white) cake is a favorite of customers. She also offers chocolate, strawberry/vanilla swirl, cherry, lemon with cream cheese icing, yellow butter cake, and other flavors on request. Her icing, an almond butter cream version, stays soft

but develops a slight set or crust that keeps it from becoming mushy. She uses fondant icing to form characters on certain themed cakes. Her character cakes start at $30, depending on the detail.

So far she doesn’t do wedding cakes but does offer wedding cupcakes, which are becoming more popular for wedding
receptions and showers. She also offers decorated cookies for baby showers. Her colorful cookies cost $2 each, with a
minimum of two dozen. She appreciates a week’s notice
on orders.

Where appropriate, she uses her mother’s cookie cutters.
If she doesn’t have the right cutter, Jenny draws a stencil to
customize what the customer wants.

For an event at the Home Builders Association, she
created 200 cookies forming the letters “HBA.” She hopes
to have a setup next year at the West Des Moines
farmers’ market.

As for character cakes, the sky’s the limit. She has made cakes with a variety of themes—NASCAR, Mickey Mouse, Strawberry Shortcake, teddy bears, R2D2, dalmatians, Dora the Explorer, Bob the Builder, Scooby Doo, Santa, witches, golf clubs, guitars, football teams, you name it.
The most fun cake she ever created? “Without question,” she laughs, “a divorce cake, ordered by a woman having a
party to mark the occasion. It was a three-tiered cake. I
took apart a cake topper of a couple, and the man was on the ground. From fondant, I made a suitcase with clothing falling out of it. It was all done in fun.”

Another one was a San Francisco 49ers cake, made with the details of a football field with a large football sticking out of the ground in the center of the field.

The best part for this baker is the people she gets to meet and the expressions on their faces when they first see their special cakes. “I love it!”

Jenny has plans to make a cookbook of her mother’s recipes for family members. Her long-range goal is to start a small bakery one day.



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