Earlier this year, C-U was gifted something great when Kaya Tate decided to launch her own business: Hopscotch Cakes + Confections. A pastry chef with an eye for pretty things, Tate has been bringing her beautiful and delicious treats to local markets since early spring. Her cakes and cupcakes are delicious — they’re not only carefully decorated, but they’re fresh and moist and tender.

I first had her desserts while she was the pastry chef at Silvercreek. Her dessert course at the Dogfish Head Ancient Ales dinner was the best course of the night. The dessert was delicious on its own, but also well considered with the beer pairing. Since then, I’ve sampled more than my fair share of Hopscotch treats. First, there was a mini cake I picked up at the Middle Market. My husband and I shared that for breakfast. Then, there were the deliciously buttery shortbreads I picked up to served with some Prairie Fruits Farm gelato. (Perfect pairing, if you ask me.) More recently, I’ve had the s’mores cupcake with marshmallows ($3.75), the lavender shortbread cookies ($4, these are troublesome, as they are the perfect size for repeated popping into the mouth), and the strawberry hibiscus cupcake. Right now, I have to admit that the strawberry hibiscus cupcake is my favorite — it’s so perfectly seasonal.

In addition to running her own dessert business, Tate is also the pastry chef at Downtown Champaign’s V. Picasso, where she’s able to flex her more formal plated desserts muscle. You can read my recent review of V. Picasso here, which includes dessert. Spoiler alert: that shit was delicious. Soon you’ll be able to pick up her tasty treats at Art Mart (once it moves to Champaign). In the meantime, check out our interview.

photo by Joan Jach

Smile Politely: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Kaya. Can you tell us a little about yourself, and about Hopscotch?

Tate: Hello! I moved to C-U about 2 years ago now, and Hopscotch began around Mid-March, officially.  This is my second business venture, but first here in Illinois. I previously owned a small catering business that did savory and sweet options, called Le Bisou, in Boise, Idaho where my husband and I moved from. After working for a few local places, I decided to take everything about those positions that I enjoyed, and turn it into something of my own. That means buttercream cakes, cookies, modern twists on old-fashioned confections, and syrups, and extracts. I have over 10 years of experience in the industry, but I love a really good rendition of a classically simple dessert. Shortbread, definitely my favorite. Brown-butter & orange zest? Yum.

SP: Why did you choose sweets instead of savory? That’s not to say that sweets can’t be savory… but I imagine there’s a difference in choosing pastry over traditional savory cooking.

Tate: I grew up vegetarian, and am still not an avid meat eater. Beef? Never. Chicken, occasionally. While I did complete the savory/culinary side of school, I really prefer to work with desserts. While menus and restaurants are typically made of a team effort, and anywhere from one to a dozen people could have had a hand in making your dish, desserts are usually left to one. I like the opportunity to be able to have control over menus, and ingredients. Being a pastry chef can sometimes feel like an island. Going to work early when no one is there, using your own ingredients, and leaving before anyone comes in.  But, I like the solitude in the early morning. I also have a serious sweet tooth. And I love beautiful things. Not to say that savory dishes aren’t, but sometimes dessert can have an unexpected edge not always afforded to that of a dinner menu.

SP: What are your favorite things to make?

Tate: Buttercream cakes, profiteroles, shortbreads, marshmallows, éclairs, caramel, custards… How long can this list be?

SP: Where can readers find your treats?

Tate: Urbana’s Market at the Square, on Saturdays, Champaign’s Tuesday Market, by special order on www.Hopscotchcakes.com, or at Art Mart this fall! I also am the pastry chef for V.Picasso, if you’re looking for plated dinner desserts.

SP: How did the relationship with V. Picasso come about?

Tate: The chef & general manager, Adam Schallenberger, is a friend and previous co-worker. We worked together at Silvercreek, starting on nearly the same day, and became friends by being the new ones in the kitchen, and our obvious love of food. The relationship was a natural progression of our friendship. Adam wanted a simple, fresh and local menu that changed often with high-end ingredients and menu items that were thoughtful.  I was in. I’m also afforded with immense freedom and opportunity to choose what is on the menu, what the ingredients are, and how it is prepared. I’m very thankful for Adam and Victor [Fuentes, co-owner of the restaurant] for allowing me the creative freedom to really do what I want, and trusting that it will be right for their restaurant.

SP: If you weren’t making sweets and treats, what would you be doing?

Tate: Hmmm… My friend and neighbor at the Champaign Tuesday Market, Joan [Jach, of South Prairie Farm aka Old Town Flowers] has amazing flowers, and displays them so beautifully. I’d love to be a floral designer. I’m really drawn to visually appealing colors and design, and I try to work that into my desserts.

SP: Anything else you’d like to share with SP readers?

Tate: Every Monday and Friday I post on Facebook and Instagram my market menu for the following days- so check there to see if you’re interested in knowing what I’ll have. I also do special orders for birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, favors, and anything else that may need desserts. Thank you!

You can find Hopscotch on Tuesdays 4 p.m. and 7 pm. at The Land Connection’s Downtown Champaign Farmers’ Market, and on Saturdays 7 a.m. to noon at Urbana’s Market at the Square. For menus and cake porn, check out the Hopscotch Facebook page and Instagram feed.

All photos by Jessica Hammie, except where noted.