Katherine Sabbath has skyrocketed from high school teacher to Instagram dessert queen. Time Out steps into her Sydney kitchen to find out what's next in her sugar rush to baking fame
Katherine Sabbath is a rising star in the dessert world. The 28-year-old is a former high school teacher who's racked up more than 104,000 Instagram followers (and counting) for images of decadent cakes and sweet treats. It's a following that's doubled since the beginning of the year, propelling the hobbyist from home baker to a next-generation Internet entrepreneur.
"I don't know what to call myself," laughs Sabbath, a Sydneysider, originally from Shellharbour. "I don't feel like I'm good enough to be called a cake maker. I'd rather teach people how to learn these skills than have my own cake shop."
Sabbath bakes in her Marrickville home. Two months ago, she stepped down from her full-time job as a HSIE teacher in Campbelltown to "see if [she] can make it." Many of the cakes she creates can take several days to construct. She tells us about a cantilever-inspired one she prepared for an architect friend: "We drilled wooden boards into this skeleton structure and made the cake around that. It took around four to five days from start to finish."
Adriano Zumbo and Heston Blumenthal are two of the celebrity cooks that Sabbath looks to for inspiration – Zumbo for his childlike approach to colour and flavours, and Blumenthal for his scientific methods. But Sabbath's own flair, design and her outlandish style set her apart from the TV chefs. One of her most ambitious cakes weighed nearly ten kilos.
When asked why she makes cakes that are so labour-intensive, she answers, "If I'm going to do something I like doing it properly. I get stressed out when I'm rushed. I hate that. I want all of the components to be really delicious."
Astonishingly, Sabbath's skills are entirely self-taught. Growing up in a Vietnamese household, she says she didn't grow up with Australian desserts – so no Women's Weekly birthday cakes. She squeals, "I've actually got that book. My mum never made me one. I grew up with Asian cakes so they'd have mung beans and durian, but never a butter cake with frosting. I'm compensating for it now."
Sabbath first got into baking when she was in high school, making sweet treats for her friends. "Each time I'd want to outdo myself, and then people started asking if they could buy caramel slice." Things spiralled from novelty shapes with fondant icing to her go-to base of fudgy chocolate or caramel mud cake. "It makes the house smell so good! I love rich, sticky cakes with lots of flavour."
The one she's decorating during our interview is a vanilla sponge with layers of thick raspberry ganache. "I just threw it all together and stopped when it tasted good. I know it's got peanut butter, cream cheese, salted caramel, chocolate chips. There's a bit of whiskey in there as well – to give it a bit of a hit."
As Sabbath launches into a brave new freelancing world, she says she's not interested in making cakes to order. She doesn't see herself as a competitor to Sydney's existing cake makers. Sabbath makes her money by working and collaborating; she's been an ambassador for Pyrex, run workshops at Peters of Kensington and worked alongside chefs like Luke Mangan and Anna Polyviou.
Soon she'll appear at the Cake, Bake & Sweets Show, teaching people how to create her celebrated upside-down ice cream cone cake. (That ice cream is a mushed-up cupcake in disguise).
"I don't like plastic things stuck in a cake. I'd rather really good quality ingredients like freeze-dried raspberry powder, or beetroot powder."
A fan on Instagram sent her a miniature ornamental version of the upside-down cake, which she displays in the kitchen, alongside kitsch toys and motifs. They're some of the things that give her inspiration to try new textures and designs.
So how can you get your hands on a Katherine Sabbath cake? As Sabbath doesn't intend on opening a shop any time soon, the best way is to try your hand at one of her recipes. Her top tip: "make a giant vat of chocolate ganache and put it in takeaway containers to freeze them. Instead of making one cake, make two."
It all seems so simple. But, has anything ever gone wrong? "Yes," she whispers. "Then I freak out. And those ones never appear on the Internet."
Quick six with Katherine Sabbath
Favourite cookery show: I love SBS's Food Safari, Poh & Co and Rachel Khoo. What emoji do you wish existed? A really cool rainbow, with a cloud coming out of a cloud. I'd love a cupcake emoji. There's no cupcake emoji! Hot tip for taking food photos: Work with a side that you like and stick to it. I take all of my photos during the day. Use an app to edit photos, like VSCO Cam. Equipment you can't live without: My handheld electric mixer, my Pyrex measuring jugs and my cake turntable, that's really good for icing cakes. Where do you shop? For gourmet ingredients, like freeze-dried powders, I go to Essential Ingredient in Rozelle. For sprinkles, I go to Cake Decorating Central in Campbelltown. For sugar, butter, milk and eggs, I go to my local supermarket. Hobbies? I love art, dancing, bootcamps and tough mudders. Because I need to! As soon as I started doing more cakes, I started signing up to things like City2Surf. I also love shopping and death metal concerts.