How The College Confectionista baked her way through U.C. Berkeley and into a promising career.
Photos by Paige Green Photography
Anamaria Morales keeps a mock acceptance letter from U.C. Berkeley framed in her bedroom.
The dean’s signature is so expertly photocopied onto it that you’d never know it’s not real. The straight-A student sent herself the doctored letter after applying to her dream school for the second time, confident that even though they’d rejected her before, this time she had done everything she needed to do to get in. “I knew I was good enough to be there,” said Morales.
Indeed, she was right—but she’d have to wait another year to finally be admitted on her third try. “Once I got my real acceptance letter,” Morales admitted, “my fake one felt even more valuable to me.”
Another remarkable thing about her Berkeley education? The first-generation college student graduated in 2021 completely debt-free—all thanks to cheesecake. What started as a night of stress baking some seven years ago has blossomed into a full-fledged business that landed its creator on Good Morning America and a new Food Network show.
An Inspired Night
It was a weeknight during her senior year of high school in 2016. Unsure about how she would pay for college application fees, let alone four years of tuition, Morales soothed herself as she had for years: firing up the oven, cracking eggs into a bowl, and baking something completely new.
“My family has alwaysshared their love through cooking,” said the Healdsburg native, who pulled from a few different cheesecake recipes to create one that was all her own. The next day, her mom brought the leftover cheesecake to work, and when a coworker called to ask for the recipe, Morales listened to her gut: “I thought, I’d better keep that a secret,” she said with a smile. Instead, she offered to bake one for her new fan, who gave her $40 for ingredients—and a brilliant idea.
She advertised on social media, explaining that all proceeds would go towards her college tuition, and her top-secret recipe did its job. Orders and payments were jotted in a notebook, cream cheese softening daily to meet demand. The young entrepreneur decided to enroll in online classes at Santa Rosa Junior College, which gave her the freedom to excel in both her classes and in her new venture. Morales is still in touch with SRJC counselors, teachers, and even President Frank Chong, who requested her cheesecake for his birthday one year.
In August of 2019, just before starting at U.C. Berkeley, Morales found herself in the kitchen of the Times Square Studios in New York City with her mother at 4:30 in the morning.
She ran the mixer and wondered, “Did Good Morning America really fly me all this way just to bake a cheesecake for Robin Roberts?”
And then the famous anchor was knocking on the door, a camera crew behind her. Once on stage, “the lights were so hot!” recalled Morales, who was presented with a check for 10 thousand dollars and a giant red mixer that she calls George Michael (there’s also the original, Lil’ Miss Thang).
A few months later, she was one of 250 people scouted to become a contestant on a new Food Network Show, Bake It ‘Til You Make It.
Her dear Uncle Matt filmed her hour-long audition tape in the Berkeley warehouse where she lived with some 40 people: “I baked, and we all danced.”
“Honestly, I wasn’t always sure what the main goal or prize was,” admitted Morales, the youngest of seven total contestants chosen to fly all over the country to compete in regional contests. She and Uncle Matt picked grapes in Healdsburg that she brought to a competition in Georgia, where they were sugared, crushed, and squeezed into a wine-infused red velvet cheesecake.
Not until January, when the show finally aired, did Morales get to see how they constructed her story, what judges said about her cheesecake entries (spoiler alert: they liked them). Except for that one judge in Marin who said her blackberry cheesecake “looked like a murder scene.” Morales laughed. “It was a mess, yes, but it was a delicious mess.”
Finding Her Why
The same drive that did not deter Morales from Berkeley even after her second rejection is what fueled her through four days of nearly nonstop baking in a rented commercial kitchen this past December. She owed her customers 300 cheesecakes, and she delivered. It takes her about 20 minutes to get four cakes ready for the oven, Sam Cooke classics and Oprah podcasts to keep her company. “It was creepy being all alone in that kitchen, with huge windows, at 3am!”
Dubbed Soco Style—“My take on NY Style, but better!”—her cheesecakes are dressed to the nines and seasonally inspired. Lemon curd (“Not subtle!”) in winter, blackberry in summer, poured into either a graham cracker or pecan walnut crust (with nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove, naturally gluten-free) and adorned with all manner of sauces, drizzles, ganaches, whipped creams, jams, and cookie crumbles. Chocolate is always popular, as is her Abuelita Mexican hot chocolate with cinnamon and homemade dulce de leche.
This year, she’s baking some 40-50 cheesecakes one day a week out of the commissary kitchen at Sonoma Family Meal in Petaluma (see her website for ordering and pick-up info). “I really like the women who run the show there,” Morales said. “I know they’ve got my back.”
She dreams of having a cheesecake (and only cheesecake) storefront someday, but right now Morales is making time to mentor young people in need of guidance about how to navigate the college application process: “I want to give young people the support I wish I’d had. I have found my why, and it’s giving back to my Latinx community.”
Anything else? Her smile warmed up the chilly cafe. “And I just want to keep kicking ass.”