When I got to the kitchen it was 8:00 p.m., and the chef was already busy cooking. Jennifer Sharma HM ’14, president of the Harvey Mudd College Baking Club, barely paused to answer my questions as she put two chocolate cakes in the oven.
Baking Club, which has been in operation for seven years, is celebrated at HMC for its personalized birthday cakes. Parents can call to order a birthday cake that the club then bakes and delivers to the student’s dorm room. On average, five club members cook each week to ensure birthday cakes are delivered on time.
Most members have no previous baking experience, but some learned while they were in high school. The club emphasizes teaching cooking and baking to other students, and it organizes cooking lessons about topics like how to make the best chocolate chip cookies.
“I even had someone who didn’t know how to crack an egg,” Sharma said as she measured out flour. “I like the idea. People just come and ask me ‘Teach me more!'”
Sharma was almost done with the chocolate cakes and began to mix ingredients for cheese croissants. She was in a hurry. The club is currently playing catch up to meet cake orders received at the beginning of the semester for students whose birthdays were over the summer. Parents didn’t wait—why would they? And they’re not just making their kids’ day: For every $25 the club receives as payment for the cake, $10 goes to charity.
“It is not only about baking, but also for a good cause,” Sharma said.
The club donates to the SOVA Food Pantry, a local food bank in nearby Pomona.
“It makes you feel good using your talents to help people,” Sharma said.
The small kitchen was now full of a delicious chocolate smell—the kind of scent that would make anybody happy. Most students, predictably, are happily surprised to receive a cake from the Baking Club.
Some students, thinking they’re about to become the victim of a less sugary HMC birthday tradition, refuse to open their doors to receive the delivery.
“They would think we’ve come to shower them but believe me, doors open quickly when you say ‘It’s the Baking Club!'” Sharma said.
Two members are generally in charge of delivering the cakes, and, if you are lucky enough, they may even sing you a song. Sharma and all the members are aux petits soins for their customers, a French expression that refers to those who work to bring happiness to others.
Though chocolate cake remains their most popular item, the club is ready to bake anything. Last week, one mother asked the club to draw penguins on a lemon cake. Occasionally, parents send in specific recipes for a homemade pie or cheesecake. When asked about the most difficult cake the club has had to cook, Sharma recalled an order for a chocolate lava cake made without milk, eggs, or gluten.
Sharma said she enjoys the challenge.
“Cooking makes me feel good. I just like to bring someone cakes … seeing their smile [is] for me the best part,” she said.
Her passion is admirable, especially considering that the Baking Club does not receive any assistance from the college.
“We could ask for it,” Sharma said, “but since we donate 40% of our profits to the food bank, asking ASHMC for money would effectively be asking them to donate money to the food bank.” That effective donation would interfere with HMC’s policy that funding from student fees can only be used for student events.
“We find that we don’t need the money in any case. We can cover costs with the orders,” she added.
I smiled when Sharma said that her dream is to go to Paris, my hometown, to learn how to cook Pierre Hermé’s macarons. I suggested that she could teach him to bake cookies, as the French struggle to cook them properly. Before I left, Sharma said, “Wait! My mother always told me never to send someone away without feeding him.” I happily stayed for a cheese croissant.