Photo courtesy of Nik Layman.
Gia’s Cakes: Bakery Boutique
Gia McCollister opened her bakery boutique in Crestline.
Gia McCollister will make you want to get married. Even if you and your spouse have been together for decades, one look at her cakes, one taste of her confections, and you will be looking to set a date to renew those vows.
While her retail shop has only been open a short while, she has a history of creating magic out of sugar and flour, eggs and butter, turning a bride’s wish into a dream come true.
Born in Venezuela and traveling often, Gia spent time over the years in New York, London, Argentina and Miami. In each city, she honed her skills in a variety of professional settings.
“I am a self-taught baker but a professional sugar artist,” she said in her heady South American lilt.
Her decorated cakes are a testament to the craft: rose blossoms the size of a baby’s fist will melt on your tongue, peony petals seem to be spun out of nothing more than sighs and sugar, delicate pearlized scrollwork quietly glistens.
Gia is clearly an artist, one who just happens to work in an edible medium. In reviewing her portfolio of work, it is natural to wonder how someone this worldly and talented found her way to our small Crestline Village. The corners of her eyes turn up, belying a girlish smile: “It was a man, of course.” She laughs and recalls a Dolly Parton song with lyrics that seem to follow her particular trajectory: “If it wasn’t for love, I wouldn’t have come to Birmingham,” she paraphrases with an easy laugh.
She met her husband, Porter, while she was still living in Miami. They datedlong-distance for two years before she made the move here and they were married.
For years, Gia made cakes for friends and friends of friends. Once settled in Birmingham, she searched for commercial kitchen space to rent but none was available. And that was when her dream became his idea. Porter McCollister knew there was a niche for Gia’s confections here, and when the former Indie Candy location on Church Street became available, they both knew a full-scale retail location was the right decision. She had pictures in her head and ideas for what the shop would look like – something distinctly European, elegant and charming.
In fact, a Parisian patisserie called Ladurée was her specific décor inspiration.
Porter managed to find an indoor paint color the exact shade of one of their famous macaroons. Black-and-white photographs line one wall of her small office, depicting famous couples at the moment each joins to cut their wedding cake: Grace Kelly & Prince Rainier, JFK and Jacqueline Bouvier, Lauren Bush and David Lauren, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Queen Noor and King Hussein of Jordan. There is also a picture of Gia and Porter with their own cake, which she crafted.
It is in these photographs that you are reminded that every bride has her own idea of the perfect cake. Some want something tall and lush, over-the-top. Others desire a more traditional design. There are simple classic cakes and those with a modern twist. Gia takes pride in meeting every bride and listening to exactly what they want.
“No two brides want the same thing! A few come in wanting a (famous NYC cake maker) ‘Sylvia Weinstock’ cake, but I encourage them to tell me what they dream of so I can make one that is all their own, not anyone else’s,” she said.
Once she gets an idea of what the bride wants, she makes a detailed sketch of the original work. Once a bride approves the drawing and they discuss flavors, Gia will create sample cakes for her to try. One recent cake included layers of carrot, red velvet, chocolate and confetti, all covered in flawless white fondant. It was exactly what the bride wanted.
But brides aren’t the only ones who deserve a special cake. She offers cupcakes and cookies daily for any occasion—hostess gifts, birthday parties, straight-A report cards and date night dinners at home.
“I think that people in Birmingham are ready for something very stylish, and now food is fashionable here,” she said.
Taking that idea one step further, she offers a sample of something new, a line of traditional Brazilian confections called brigadeiros, small bite-sized treats more heavenly than truffles. Each is a little bite of South American heaven,
right here in Crestline.
Christiana Roussel lives in Crestline and enjoys all things food-related. Follow her culinary musings on line at ChristianasKitchen.com or on Facebook or Twitter