Joanne Marracci comes from a family of “makers of things.” She continues the tradition in every aspect of her professional and personal life. While most people may associate her name with beautiful handmade jewelry of metal and gemstones, Joanne expresses her creativity in a wide range of mediums: pottery, woodworking, jewelry, music, fashion – and cakes.
“My dad was the sweet maker, he would make puff pastry napoleon cakes,” Joanne said. Her mother, also a talented baker, threw an extravagant tea party every October. “She would start baking months in advance,” Joanne reminisced, “dozens of cakes, hundreds of cookies.”
Joanne was inspired by her parents, and learned everything from her mom. “My parents were makers of things, I am a maker of things. Cake is another medium to discover,” she said.
Her creative interest is in designing and building three-dimensional pastries. “I love reverse-engineering to figure out how to make it,” she explained. “I’ll take it apart in my mind to decide what materials to use, what skill sets I’ll need, and how much time to devote to the project. I’ll wake up at 3 a.m. with ideas!”
To bake, layer and ice an idea into reality, Joanne researches photos before mapping out proportions onto a paper pattern. This holiday season, she built the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore in gingerbread. “The hardest part was the engineering,” she said. Her cathedral was constructed of over 50 individual pieces of gingerbread. The entire creation took a week and a half to bake and assemble.
Joanne does not have formal pastry training. She does have a rich history of generational knowledge and resources at her fingertips. “I watch videos and read books as I’m trying things out,” she said. “The Great British Baking Show” is her favorite.
“I’m always challenged by things that I see, I want to see if I can do it,” she said. “My dad bought a ranch in the Methow Valley in the 1980s. He decided to learn how to fly and earned his pilot’s license to travel back and forth to the Methow Valley.” His life advice was, “If you say you’re going to do something, do it – try.”
I recently asked Joanne if she would consider making a cake for my boss, Dr. Thomas McCord, director of the planetary research center, the Bear Fight Institute, in Winthrop. Joanne does not create cakes commercially and I thought she would turn me down. Joanne had just finished reading the 1982 novel “Space” by James A. Michener and was excited to explore the planets via cake.
“I think the space program is important to humanity. [It] allows us to look at a planet intimately,” she said. “And here is this guy in my back yard, [Tom], that helped get us there.”
She was excited to bake a cake celebrating Tom and his life’s work. She created a half-dome chocolate cake of Ceres covered with marshmallow fondant and featuring the Occator crater with its glittering salt crystals. A hand-painted sugar wafer model of the Dawn spacecraft hovered above the planet’s surface.
Joanne finds joy and inspiration in creating beautiful art out of many different mediums. For cake though, she does not fill bakery orders for a living. “That would not be joyous for me,” she explained. Her pastry creations are a labor of love: time, engineering and creating.
“With every stir of the spoon, you focus on who you are making it for, you take the time to put love in it at home,” she said.