Hopscotch plays with flavors

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By Lillian Barkley

As fall started approaching, Kaya Tate’s desk was covered in scraps of paper listing every fall flavor she could think of. Combinations of cardamom, pear, cranberry, pumpkin, chestnut and bourbon filled the space around her large desk until she was satisfied with her creations.

Tate’s brainstorming was for the fall line of flavors for Hopscotch Cakes and Confections, where she is the owner and sole employee. Open since March, Hopscotch has taken off, selling online and at area markets. Once the new Champaign Art Mart opens, a bakery case will be dedicated to Tate’s products.

“She’s done all this, and she’s only been here since March,” said Sara Fundator, junior in LAS and Tate’s cousin.

After moving to Urbana with her husband, Tate worked as a pastry chef at Silvercreek. She went back to school for business and opened Hopscotch soon after.

“Working for other people was always very frustrating,” Tate said. “I can be the most effective if I’m doing it my way.”

Tate’s way revolves around using the best ingredients she can find and staying true to her own style.

“I don’t like to do half-assed work, so I only do stuff that I like or I’m good at,” she said, adding that she refuses to make red velvet cake because it’s not a real flavor.

She also doesn’t stick to cake-decorating conventions, such as fondant or decorative flowers, because she wants everything on the cake to have purpose behind it.

“I don’t even think of traditional cakes as a barrier, I think of them as a hindrance,” she said.

When clients try to order yellow cake with chocolate buttercream, Tate encourages them to order from someone else because they aren’t using her shop to its full potential and already have a certain flavor in mind.

“There’s comfort food you just can’t replicate,” she said. “You’re not going to make them happy with an artisan cake.”

The flavors on her website, including citrus and sage and fall-exclusive cranberry earl grey, are inventive and constantly changing.

“I try to make menu items that appeal to everyone, but give people the opportunity to try stuff that they wouldn’t consider in a cake,” she said.

Tate was trained in French pastry at Le Cordon Bleu in Portland, Oregon, and calls herself a pastry chef in a baker’s job.

“In culinary school, the two things I hated the most were the candy class and the cake class,” she said.

Despite her initial dislike, she offers flavored marshmallows, homemade vanilla extract and grapefruit-butterscotch sauce, in addition to cake.

“Marshmallows and all of the candies that I do are straight-up classical French desserts,” she said. She added that the small-batch marshmallows are not “a Kraft Jet-Puffed marshmallow thing that doesn’t melt in fire.”

Food transparency, using natural ingredients and making everything by hand, is one of Tate’s goals for Hopscotch.

“I’ve worked for places for so long that skimp on so many things,” she said.

High quality comes at a literal and figurative price, however.

“That’s why I have no employees – not because I don’t need them, I can’t afford them,” she said.

This is also the reason why she doesn’t offer tastings for wedding cakes.

“Tastings do not affect people’s decision making at all. They just want to eat free dessert, which I totally get, but I’m not in the free business,” she said.

If clients want a specific flavor, she will make it for them, and they can buy it at the Land Connection Champaign Farmers’ Market or the Urbana Market at the Square.

She sells her products online as well. Hopscotch also partnered with V. Picasso Wine Bar and Restaurant at 122 N. Neil St. in Champaign for traditional plated desserts.

Tate’s multiple jobs were the inspiration for Hopscotch’s name.

“I like it because it reminds me of how I do everything, and I feel like I’m constantly switching chairs into whatever else I’m supposed to be doing,” she said. “I’m just hopping around.”

When she decided to include parallax scrolling in her image-heavy website, she spent seven straight hours learning how to incorporate it.

“She speaks to the younger generation of people,” Fundator said about her cousin’s online presence.

Tate is “a one-woman show” and does everything for the business, including packaging, deliveries and online work.

Even though Tate is busy, she said she gets excited for every order, no matter how small.

“I get to do what I want to do, which is like the dream life. It only took 11 years.”

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