Baking is a science experiment.
The specific ingredients in the correct order transmuted through the correct application of heat and time into something new a spongey-cake, a loaf of bread or a perfectly moist chocolate chip cookie.
But at its heart, baking transcends simple science. It is also an art. Bakers are sculptors, molding batter into delightful wonders limited only by the bounds of imagination and fondant.
They are painters who work in brightly-colored, sugary icings like Van Gogh worked in oils or Georgia O’Keefe in water colors.
For Michele Davis, owner of AttiKats Cakes and Confections in located in This Old House Resale Market in White Pine, baking is science and art and more. For her, baking is also form of healthcare.
A school nurse at White Pine School, she began baking in earnest roughly three decades ago when her son was a year old and she was outraged at the price of birthday cakes.
For years, baking was a hobby. She’d make cakes and confections for friends and family. Delivering a dose of happiness in the form of an intricately dinosaur cake with working volcano.
Four year ago, the hobby became something more. A friend had some retail space in a building she owned in White Pine and it didn’t take long to transform the space into a small bakery.
“We just went to work and put a little bitty bakery in place and that’s where we are now. Hopefully we’ll grow and grow…,” she said, adding her family has been very supportive. “My husband is my No. 1 supporter. We’ve been very blessed.”
Davis is White Pine through and through.
“Born and bred,” she said, adding they left for a while but found their way back home.
She married her high school sweetheart and they have four grandkids. AttiKats is a portmanteau of the oldest two grandkids’ names - Atticus and Katherine.
The business is the natural extension of the life-long passion.
“I love to cook,” she said. “My grandmother taught me everything I know about cooking and baking and how to love people through food. And I just enjoyed the hobby of cake decorating, so it just kind of came together.”
She’s mostly self-taught, but credits a Walters State extension class in Newport decades ago on cake decorating for helping her learn the basics.
Davis said they do all types of baking but mostly they work in sweets.
“I love to decorate and sculpt things,” she added.
Davis says she sees baking as an extension of her day job – even though she refers to herself as a stern school nurse.
Ultimately, she said the job of a nurse is to make the patient feel better, to feel happy. And, in a way, that’s what she’s doing as a baker as well.
“You want people to feel good and make people happy,” she explained. “It’s the same thing, just through sugar.”
There’s some self-treatment involved in the process as well, she said.
“It’s something that I can get away by myself and do in my mind and shot out all of life’s problems,” she said. “You see a lot at school, kids who have harder times than anyone else. And, my dad’s terminally ill. He’s on hospice care with cancer. It takes you away from all your worries for a while.
“Then when someone comes to get their cake and they’re all happy and they call you and tell you how much everyone enjoyed it… I’ve made some life-long friends, just somebody calling to order a cake. Then, they come back again and we find out we have things in common. It brings people together.”
Not just people, though, it brings together her hometown, too.
Davis gets emotional talking about the role her little place plays in a small town like White Pine.
“Our home and our community is everything to us,” she said. “Some have suggested we move to a larger place like Knoxville or Morristown. But White Pine is our home. We don’t charge as much as the big places do. We can stay here and keep our prices low. And the children at our school, who maybe can’t afford to have a nice birthday cake, can afford to have a nice birthday cake.”