From her home kitchen in The Bronx Yolanda Andujar turns out beautiful bizcocho Dominicano, colorful, delicious, and rich Dominican cakes for all types of celebrations including birthdays, weddings and baptisms. She is one of New York City’s “informal” bakers, women who operate bakeries at home while keeping alive a Dominican culinary tradition. The photos in this essay were taken by Néstor Pérez-Molière.
Read the companion story on NPR The Salt.
Yolanda Andujar began baking cakes 22 years ago in the Dominican Republic and always wanted to start a baking business — but things didn’t work out there. After her family moved to New York City in 2002, they struggled to make ends meet for the first few years — until Andujar decided to start baking again.
In 2007 she launched Yolanda’s Cake in her family’s three-bedroom apartment. Her husband turned their dining room into a mini bakery, and Andujar started making Dominican cakes full-time.
Now she gets 10 to 16 cake orders every weekend, not including last-minute requests — like a birthday cake for a longtime customer named Karen
Karen calls Andujar at about 7:30 p.m. on a Friday evening to order a cake with pineapple filling. Andujar gets cake orders via phone, email, Facebook, and even WhatsApp.
When Andujar gets off the phone with Karen, she goes to work. She always has extra cake layers on hand, which she wraps in plastic grocery bags to keep moist. Her cakes are flavored with Dominican rum and imported vanilla.
She makes various fillings, including tropical fruit flavors like guava and mango, and more traditional ones like strawberry and chocolate. But her most popular filling is dulce de leche.
First she makes the suspiro Dominicano, a thick meringue frosting that is a key component of Dominican cakes. Andujar says buttercream frosting isn’t used in the Dominican Republic.
Andujar assembles the cake, putting a cake layer on a cardboard base, spreading on pineapple filling, then adding another layer and suspiro. The suspiro also helps to keep the cake moist, another signature of a good Dominican cake.
Then Andujar covers the whole cake with a thick layer of white suspiro and dyes another batch bright red. She layers the red over the white so she doesn’t have to use as much dye, which she says can give the cake a bitter taste.
Andujar adds the finishing touches to Karen’s cake, including a tiny umbrella and some flip-flops to give it a beach look.
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Von Diaz is a writer and radio producer based in New York City. She is a self-taught cook who explores Puerto Rican food, culture, and identity through memoir and multimedia. Her work has been featured on NPR, American Public Media, StoryCorps, WNYC, PRI’s The World, BuzzFeed, Colorlines, and Feet in 2 Worlds.
Von has an M.A. in journalism and Latin American and Caribbean studies from New York University. A graduate of Agnes Scott College, she earned a B.A. in Women’s Studies and focused her research on women in Latin America. She is a currently a producer at StoryCorps, and previously worked in community advocacy and communications for nonprofits focused on women, children, art, and Latino culture.