Asha Hopson's first pastry creations were made with mud.
"I would decorate them with berries from holly bushes and try to sell them to my neighbors," she says.
She was 6 years old. "My dad said he would go cut the grass and all the good silverware would be outside from me digging in the mud."
Hopson, 26, now is owner of Sundaze Gourmet Desserts. Instead of mud, her creations are made with flour, eggs, milk, and sugar. They include cupcakes, cinnamon rolls, blueberry muffins, Danishes, and eclairs, but they all have "an adult twist." They're made "with flavors we long for: brown butter, salted caramel, coffee, spices like cardamom and cinnamon."
- Michael Donahue
- Asha Hopson
Born in Hopewell, Virginia, Hopson graduated from mud pies to making cakes out of clay in her Easy Bake Oven. "Nothing I could eat," she says, "but I loved looking at it and making it pretty. You eat with your eyes first. Making something look pretty was always the goal."
Her aunt helped her make her first batch of real cookies when Hopson was in the third grade. "It seemed like dessert was the thing that made people a lot happier than regular food," she says. "I thought if I had sugar cookies everybody would be my friend."
Hopson, who moved with her parents to Memphis when she was in middle school, told her high school teachers and guidance counselor her plan to go to culinary school. "They shot all of my ideas down," she says. "They told me cooking wasn't a career. That it was a hobby and I needed to go to a real college to get a background and I could cook on the side."
She majored in hotel restaurant management and tourism at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. "I was absolutely miserable," she says. "I didn't have my hands in food the way I wanted to."
She then applied and was accepted to Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she became a baking and pastry major and learned to make French pastries, ice cream, pies, and tarts. "My parents were relieved I made the decision and was finally going to live my dream," she says.
Hopson loved learning new flavors. "I'm like a mad scientist in the kitchen. I'm able to mix flavors that most people would never want to put together."
After she graduated, Hopson worked as a pastry chef at Amelie's French Bakery in Charlotte and, later, as pastry chef at Charlotte's Wells Fargo headquarters.
Hopson then returned to Memphis, where she worked in pastry at Restaurant Iris. It was there she thought, "I need to stop being afraid of my own talent and see what I can do for myself — give the old business owner thing a shot."
She got her business license and opened Sundaze Gourmet Desserts. She received orders the first day, she says. "I had a Dutch apple pie and an order for my brown butter and sea salt chocolate chip cookies."
Sundaze became her business name because, growing up, Sunday was when her family ate dessert at home. "We knew that was the day we were going to get some brownies or a yellow cake with chocolate frosting," she says.
Hopson makes nostalgic desserts for adults. Her banana pudding cupcakes, for example, are made with fresh bananas, pastry cream, and salted caramel drizzle. But in place of vanilla wafers, she adds salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter, which add the crunchiness.
She currently is working out of her home, but Hopson hopes to open a dessert food truck.
The hand-painted — by Hopson — cardboard boxes for her baked goods are an extra Sundaze bonus. "It's actually something that gets my brain regrouped if I'm baking too long and need to take a break," she says.
The boxes are decorated with flowers and abstract designs. "Before they even get to the good stuff, they see something nice, something worth remembering. That whole package is what I'm selling. It's me in a box."
For more information on Sundaze Gourmet Desserts, find the business page on Facebook.