Baker Kelli Marks basks in the approval of a satisfied customer.

If you know me well enough to have been around me for longer than five minutes, you would know that I’m, well, awkward. But in a mostly lovable way. I will launch into a discussion on banana variants during dinner (I am wildly fascinated by the Gros Michel). Then follow up by texting you my favorite banana bread recipe. I will take the scenic route to tell a story because I think the beauty lies in the side quests. I find humor in the most mundane of details and in order to explain how this part is hilarious, it’s important to explain this other complex story and I promise it’s worth it. (And sometimes it is.)

What I lack in social skills, I make up for with treats. Long ago I learned that people care less about what I have to say if I’m offering a cupcake when I say it. And caring less on their part reduces the pressure to say something perfect on mine. After a while, I leaned into it. Some people prop up their personalities with clever party tricks. Some tell jokes, or have an over-the-top wardrobe. I chose my own personal path of least resistance– desserts.

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Win friends and influence people with baked goods.

I want to pretend that it started slowly, that I began by baking muffins for co-workers, toting them in a plastic tupperware container perfectly divided to hold each individual treat, but that would be a lie. I did it like I do many other tasks – I dove in, both feet first, never looking at where I was heading. I taught myself how to bake by making my grandparents a four-tier cake for their 50th anniversary. And the payoff was exactly what I needed.

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  1. It gave me a task. I can’t very well be expected to partake in small talk if I’m busy assembling a four-tier cake.
  2. What little small talk I did manage was focused on THE CAKE. I didn’t have to be interesting, I brought the cake.
  3. And then it provided an escape, because eventually, I would need to cut the cake.

And after all was said and done, I was interesting by association. Cakes had become my wingman. And as quickly as I had picked up the hobby, I also picked up a personality crutch. Anywhere socializing was necessary – work, parties, even at home, I soon figured out that desserts were also acceptable.

The key to popularity?

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I don’t have to be interesting when I know how to make a salted hazelnut babka. I am the sum of my parts, and one of those parts comes bearing treats. My popularity became tied to my output. And I know that deep down, this probably feels sad. To reduce relationships to something transactional, but let’s be honest, I’ve never been very good at peopling. One on one? I’m great. Speaking to a large group (when I have a purpose)? Also great. Put me in a room with three others and suddenly I don’t know what to do with my hands. I don’t know how to start a conversation. But, if I have brought a baked good, well then I can talk about that. Say hello and now twenty minutes later I’m explaining how I developed the recipe and how the ingredients play together. You might not want that conversation but it’s going to happen and I will bring the enthusiasm. You’ve been warned.

I have had the pleasure of attending many a wedding, and in the last 10 years, I have also had the honor of making the accompanying wedding cakes. While the transformation from guest to caterer might not seem glamorous, I feel like Cinderella as her fairy godmother lends the magic touch; just with less lace and a lot more frosting. I snap on my gloves and go about slicing and distributing cake. Bolstered by the smiles and general happy noises coming from the guests, I become one of those extroverts who are so lauded, even if momentarily. After the cake is cut and all that’s left is a pile of plastic structuring and a trail of crumbs, I revert back to the more humble version of a Disney princess and slink off.

I try to think back to a time when I was able to speak to people and not use my crutch, and honestly, it’s been a while. But the thing about a wingman is that a good one knows when to slide into the background, when to sit down and shut up. And sometimes desserts can do that. But sometimes, they don’t know when to let it go. And this is when the spotlight becomes too hot. When they do the job too well and all eyes stay on me. I don’t exactly care for it. But, the spotlight has brought with it good things. Last year I was contacted by a publisher and one of my childhood dreams came true: I am now a published author. And while I had envisioned telling stories, I hadn’t imagined doing that through food, but here we are. My first cookbook, Easy One-Bowl Baking: No Fuss Recipes for Sweet and Savory Baked Goods quietly made its debut in August of 2021.

So now I have a new crutch.

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