Inside the Proverbial Pantry of Cake Extraordinaire Katherine Sabbath
She may just be (is) one of our favourite people, a teacher, a baker and an Instagram cake queen. It’s Katherine Sabbath!By Nikki To
Katherine Sabbath is one of a kind, and one of the most creative creatives I know! I’ve had the pleasure of knowing her for a few years now – I shot her first book Greatest Hits in 2017 and we did some promotional graphics and video for her second, Bake Australia Great. Then, the rest is history. It was high time for a catch up with cool cat Kat for a little BTS insight into how she ACTUALLY went from school teacher to famous baker, her favourite tools for baking (spoiler: they’re from Bunnings) and her fave and least fave baking moments.
Buffet: Katherine, what’s the latest in your world?
Katherine Sabbath: Hello to you cool cats! I’m lucky enough to be working on my third cookbook filled with baking goodness at the moment, so please keep an eye out for its release next year! There’s always at least one year of work involved in a publication like this, but it’s so much creative fun. Deliciously so.
B: You started out as a teacher. We all hear stories of leaving stable employment. But for you, how long were you thinking about it… and what made you finally jump?
I’ll tell you, it wasn’t a decision I made lightly! My mother is a refugee from war-torn Vietnam, and has always sung the praises of working in stable employment, supported by a non-Communist Australian government. I’m not usually a risk taker, and so I flirted with the idea of going out on my own for one to two years before I stepped down from being a full-time high school History/Geography/English teacher. As soon as the cake-related work opportunities started taking up my classroom time, I knew I couldn’t do both to the standard that I enjoy. Cake making is such a beautifully thoughtful and relaxing craft, I couldn’t resist its lure! I also made sure I had saved up six months worth of rent, which gave me the confidence of a safety net, as well as prevented Mum from murdering me.
B: How hard were those early days on a scale of 1-10:
In the first two years, I was hospitalised twice for an overactive immune system...It was THAT level of hard. I was running on so much adrenaline (self-imposed pressure and stress, I think) that my immune system started attacking itself! I got in the habit of not taking time in between jobs to rest because I wanted to work productively, but ironically when I would ‘crash’ due to exhaustion, I’d be sick for two weeks and wasn’t able to enjoy the downtime anyway! I know now that productivity directly correlates with rest and play.
B: Getting to a 500k-strong following. Did it kind of explode one night, or have you been building it over time?
I’ve been playing on Instagram for seven years now, so it’s definitely felt like it’s been slowly ticking away organically in the background. I did notice that as soon as I was invited to be a guest judge on MasterChef Australia (bless that beautiful show), I had connected with 30-40k new cake-loving people in the space of a few weeks!
B: What’s it like ‘chatting’ to all those people everyday?
Sometimes it’s super daunting, but mostly it makes me feel warm and safe. Like I’m part of a community of like-minded people who understand me on a creative level. Also, home bakers are the nicest people! It’s a really cool feeling finding people you can relate to, and who are encouraging about the love you put out into the world.
B: What’s your biggest baking experiment gone wrong?
I have many hahaha. Okay, once I dropped a two-tiered 21st birthday cake to feed 70 people, right IN FRONT of the birthday girl. I’ve carried that trauma for years. Other usual baking fails include over-mixing the batter and ending up with a baked brick of a cake, baking a matcha cake when the customer ordered pandan and just generally accidentally sticking my finger in perfectly frosted cakes.
B: And gone right?
Every wedding and birthday cake I’ve ever made! Aside from the one I dropped… My favourite cake flavour has been layers of rich chocolate cake filled with dulce de leche and biscoff Swiss meringue buttercream, with toasted macadamias. And anything with strawberries and lemon!
B: I bet people think you can whip up a cake at lightning speed...how long does it take you, let’s say on average, to conceive, bake and decorate one of your pieces of mastery?
I’d say around two days (because I like taking breaks to do other things in between to keep life fresh and appreciate the process). Definitely two days for a wedding cake or big birthday cake. This is also why I can’t pay my rent from just selling cakes haha.
B: Please tell me more about how you use tools from Bunnings to bake.
I love a good spatula, spirit level, or a cement rendering tool! They are all excellent for cake decorating and very affordable. And drills! Really! They are so handy for putting in supportive wooden cake dowels into cake boards.
B: The whole team wants to know (and it has nothing to do with desserts) what is the secret to your shiny shiny hair?
Why, thank you! A hairdresser called A Loft Story (in Newtown) is my hairy godmother, and I try to get an organic keratin hair treatment every 4 months. And I’ve been eating loads of nuts for the last 20 years – I think the good fats help.
B: Hit us with your secret shame snack:
I LOVE sweet chilli and lime soy crisps, you know the ones absolutely covered in flavour dust? I could eat them as my staple food. When it comes to sweet things, I love Sara Lee frozen cheesecakes! No shame in frozen cakes though.
B: OK, now to end on our favourite game to play in the Buffice. Desert island, the dessert special. You get 24 hours of oven use and endless baking essentials. But only one food dye, one decorative tool and one flavour. Go!
I would make a giant sticky, multi-layered chocolate mud cake! Chocolate is among my favourite food groups and you can make many friends with chocolate. It would be pink on the outside, of course.