Dessert maker combines big-city training with hometown tastes

Familiar Faces
By: Menka Belgal, Telegraph Correspondent
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A Cameron Park baker and dessert maker, trained in New York, now calls this region home. Musarrat Afshan started her own business in 2008. She’s also a familiar face at area Farmers’ Markets. Where did you learn your craft? I have taken cake decorating classes from Elisa Strauss of Confetti Cakes and Lauri Ditunno of Cake Alchemy. Both are based in New York and are amazing teachers and wonderful ladies. I’m also a graduate from Institute of Culinary Arts in New York. I worked at several restaurants like the River Café in New York and Water Club before moving to this area in 2002. What did you do after moving to the area? My husband and I bought a Baskin Robbins in Placerville and another in Dixon. The Placerville one went up in flames and took a year to rebuild. I also worked at Masque for a year and a half learning alongside their pastry chef and later taking over when she left. I left Masque just before they closed and began selling pastries at the Farmers’ Market while getting my business license and started Pretty Sweet in 2008. What do you love most about your job? I make everything from scratch using very high quality ingredients. The fact that I’m able to provide my customers with quality pastries is one part of my job that makes me happy. The other part that I absolutely adore is the look of happiness on peoples’ faces when I deliver a cake. When did you move to El Dorado Hills? I was born in Karachi, Pakistan, and came to the U.S. in 1996. Since I had relatives in the Folsom and El Dorado Hills area, I decided to move here to be close to them. Do you incorporate any flavors or styles of Pakistan into your cakes? I do add my Pakistani touch sometimes to the cakes by making intricate designs resembling henna tattoos. One of the comments I usually receive is that my cakes are never overly sweet. I think that came from being raised in Pakistan too. Desserts are not crazy sweet there. What tastes have you had to become accustomed? We don’t have any raspberries or blackberries in Pakistan. It took me a while to like and then love them. Lemon curd is also something that I totally hated in the beginning. We don’t use cinnamon in our desserts in Pakistan so apple pie was unheard of. Neither had I heard of carrot cake before. I make a killer carrot cake now. What are your favorite cakes and cookies? I like cakes that are moist, light and delicious. Cakes should look and taste good at the same time. Some of my favorite combinations are chocolate cake with orange mousse and fresh strawberries, lemon cake with lemon curd and yellow cake with vanilla mousse and fresh raspberries. My fall favorite is pumpkin spice cake with cream cheese filling. Do you give back to the community? I am a member of Make a Wish Foundation and I take part in charities as much as I can, especially to support our schools. This year I participated with Triumph Cancer Foundation to help raise funds. I lost my uncle and my aunt to cancer. Do you have a favorite book? I am a book worm. One of my favorites is “Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini. Tell us about your family. I live in El Dorado Hills with my husband, Nadeem Syed, and three kids — Maryam, 18, Sarah, 16, and Ahad, 15. My life revolves around them. Of what accomplishment are you most proud? I am very proud of my kids. They are very well behaved and loving kids. My son helps at Baskin Robbins during the summer vacations and my girls help me in the daily chores. They are my best critics, especially when I am making a kid’s cake. They tell me if Squidward’s nose is supposed to be longer or bigger. What is one thing about you that people might be surprised to learn? I learned how to drive when I was 32. East Bidwell Street is where I learned how to drive. What are some of the most interesting things that have happened to you? I’ve been on Good Day Sacramento about four times. I was there to promote my business and made cakes and cookies on the show. I also participated in a fun cooking competition called Brown Bag Baker on the show. We had to incorporate ingredients such as bananas, chocolate, oranges, peanuts, and animal crackers. I participated in a show on TLC called Chocolate Wars. I helped my amazing friend Ginger Elizabeth who is one of the finest chocolatiers around. We were in Los Angeles for three days. It was a two-day shoot and very hectic, but fun.