Flour Shop founder Amirah Kassem expresses herself in many ways, but if you ask her, she’ll list just two: cooking and jumping. Maybe blowing bubbles, too. The fashion-stylist-turned-“flourist” has built an empire out of sugar, eggs, and butter, preparing customized cakes (and pies and chocolates and cotton candy) for everyone— from Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg to bar mitzvah boys and Sweet 16-ettes.
Kassem’s baking studio is unmistakably hers. Oversize Crayola crayons and a gummy bear lamp are on display, along with much Mickey Mouse paraphernalia—she still visits Disneyland every year—a piñata, and a giant frosted heart on her wall from an early photo shoot. It’s impossible to be in a bad mood in the open space, with music playing and candy at arm’s reach. She gave Aftertastes a tour—and some cake balls for the road.
My mom made me this cookbook when I moved to LA for college. I grew up in Juarez, Mexico, and went to high school in Texas. When I was leaving for LA, she told me that she had made me a going-away present—I thought it was going to be a weird blanket but it turned out to be really cute. She decorated it with stickers!
It’s half-cookbook, half-memory book. Everything is written in Spanish, and she also included some funny notes. On a recipe for spaghetti that my grandmother always makes, she wrote, “remember your grandma with this recipe, she loves you so much!” An egg recipe says “don’t forget to eat breakfast every day, it’s the most important meal of the day!” She put the notes in the middle of the recipe, as if they just came to mind while typing.
My mom has always been the person in my family that everyone goes to for cooking, and I’ve always helped her in the kitchen. She’s really creative. She, like me, doesn’t follow rules. She also makes cakes. Growing up, I had insane birthday cakes—one time she made me a life-size Little Mermaid cake. I still don’t understand how she did that. It was so big, leaning against the wall. A lot of my recipes for Flour Shop are from memory, and they are recipes that I attribute to her. When baking problems come up, I call my mom and she tells me what to do. It’s like having an on-call YouTube coach.
When my mom comes to visit, she makes feasts, planning our menu beforehand. Once I asked her if, for dessert, she could make these crepes that I love; she said “of course!” and showed up with a crepe maker right out of her luggage! She also sends me food-related packages—tools, or maize, or different chiles that are hard to find in New York—and I use all of it. Like this spice from home that I miss: it’s called Tajin, and it’s dried chili, salt, and dried lime.
“I eat ice cream for breakfast—it’s my cereal.”
My family communicates best through food. My mom and I even have this WhatsApp thread with my aunt and cousin where we share the foods we ate, or tried to make, or came across on Pinterest. Before I go home for Christmas, I send my mom a list of things for us to make that I would never make on my own. Our Christmas dinner is the biggest feast ever; my mom loves making a Turducken.
There was never a decision to renovate the baking studio. It grew slowly, as needed. Eventually, I brought in all the racks and compartments for my tools. All decorative items are in one section. Anything that is functional—my candy thermometer, chocolate pens, edible markers, weird brushes—is in another.
I custom-make a lot of molds for work. It’s so easy to customize molds these days—I can make a replica of someone’s book cover for a book launch, or the Versace designs—molds that I know nobody else has. My diamond ring pops are my favorite ones. I don’t buy a lot of the same molds because I know that they will just accumulate in my baking studio, so I try to work with as little as possible. I make everything in small batches; that’s how everything is with Flour Shop. I even hand-stamp the boxes.
I have a lot of fun appliances. I have a cotton candy maker, which I used for jobs with Bon Appetit and Vogue. I made different flavors with glitter in them, and the cotton candy looked like sparkly clouds. I have a Quik-Pop Maker, a machine that makes popsicles in seven minutes, because you know how, when you’re little, you hate waiting until the next day for a home-made popsicle? I also have an ice cream maker, which I love. I eat ice cream for breakfast—it’s my cereal.
My childhood is my biggest source of creative inspiration: Mickey Mouse, cartoon-looking flowers, rainbows, smiley faces, and ice cream, sprinkles, bubbles! I also love making mini things, like burgers and ice cream cones. Candy—I always have candy out. I love sour rainbow candy, it smells so good. If I were a genie, I’d be trapped in a jar filled with rainbow candy.
You know how color palettes put you in certain moods? Well bright colors, rainbow colors, sparkly things—the color pink!—always make me happy. Which is funny, because my bedding and my room are white, like a canvas. I like waking up with a blank slate and then deciding what to make that day.
“I also love having five-course dinner parties where the courses are really silly or fun, like gazpacho shots.”
ON COOKING FOR PLEASURE
It’s really hard for me to cook for just one person. At home, I always invite my neighbors—who are also my best friends—over. I love making pizza because it’s super fun to customize; once we made emoji out of pepperoni. I also love having five-course dinner parties where the courses are really silly or fun, like gazpacho shots.
At home, I don’t keep a well-stocked fridge. I always cook by recipe, and the recipe always depends on my mood. I make a lot of mac ‘n’ cheese, pizza, and mini-burgers with funny decorations. During the winter I love making this soup called pozole, which is made with hominy and five different kinds of peppers.
Appetite is 50% visual. When I cook for myself, I always take care to make my food look good. Even yogurt with granola and strawberries, I’ll make into something cute. I really think that eating pretty makes food so much better. Think about kids: they won’t eat boring foods like broccoli, but if broccoli was sparkly or rainbow they would eat it. I think that’s why I love Mexican food—it’s full of color and spice. And that’s why I am always adding color to Italian food, like pasta, because I love pasta but I want it to be something more.
I love making colorful pasta from scratch. I got a pasta machine last Christmas with a special attachment but I’ve always had one for lasagna, and I also have a gnocchi maker. Once for a dinner party, I made linguine in different colors for each person at the table. I also made rainbow bowtie pasta, which was so cool. It took me a long time to put it all together. We just ate them for lunch. That’s the thing, I’ll just get an idea in my head and that’s what I’ll be doing that day.