At Colgate, there are countless opportunities to learn, connect, and have fun. And in the rare occasion that there is something missing in Colgate’s student life, the gap is filled before you can even say “chipwich.” Over the past few years, you may have noticed just a few more chances to get involved with students at Colgate and with the greater Hamilton community through baking. If those weren’t on your radar, you certainly could not have missed the two Midnight Cookie Calls that took place over this semester. These experiences, and more pastry bliss provided to campus, are all the doing of a bubbly, charismatic and confident female student by the name of Erica Pais.
Pais is currently a Junior at Colgate from the Boston area, double majoring in Sociology and Educational Studies. At Colgate, Pais serves as both a Tour Guide in the Office of Admission and an intern at Career Services, but her main involvement is with the Thought Into Action Entrepreneurship Institute, and specifically, her business called Baking Connections. Don’t know what that is? Check below for an interview with Pais, as she dishes on what exactly Baking Connections is, her own baking background and experiences, and where the company is headed.
So how did the love for baking begin?
I have had this obsession with food since I was young. I remember seeing an episode of Top Chef from Season 1 when I was 11 years old, and something clicked in my mind. I decided I wanted to try out cooking and baking and it just stuck. I grew up watching every cooking show I could find. The Great British Bake Off is my favorite. I also love Master Chef because Gordon Ramsay is my favorite celebrity chef. Plus, the show is actually about the food, not as much the drama.
I started baking by making cupcakes for my friends in middle school for their birthdays, and realized it was something that was not only fun, but also therapeutic. I began baking solely from scratch in high school and haven’t turned back since, even though I do love boxed brownie mix – it is just so good! Throughout high school, I participated in the annual Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, for which you need to raise $1,800 to participate. In my junior year, I started selling baked goods for $1, and ended up raising $900 just from that. The next year, I had similar success.
Going from then to now, what exactly is Baking Connections? What’s the mission of the company, and what services does it provide to get there?
Baking Connections is a business that brings groups together around community-building baking sessions to foster team cohesion and morale. We organize and facilitate baking sessions, where groups gather in a communal kitchen and work through a dessert recipe together. The sessions are collaborative in nature and each participant contributes a step to the recipe that is necessary to make one delicious dessert. Participants work together, and then get to enjoy their creation together. In addition to sessions, I fill custom catering orders and also do Midnight Cookie Calls, where we deliver fresh, warm chocolate chip cookies across campus between 10 pm and 2 am.
What inspired you to introduce the world to Baking Connections?
When I got to Colgate, I was eager to continue baking. There were no clubs or anything that catered to that passion, so I would go to the ALANA Cultural Center and bake with a couple of friends for hours at a time. Coming to Colgate, I was excited to be a part of this small-town community and tight-knit environment. Come my first year, however, I felt disconnected to the town and many fellow students. I wanted a way to get people together in a fun, social space where we could connect and make new friends.
What has been the scope of the baking sessions? Who have you worked with?
So far, I have worked with a couple of groups on campus, like the Benton Scholars Program, and have hosted a couple of birthday parties. Last year, I ran a few sessions where I brought Colgate students together with people who live in Hamilton, to bridge that gap that I saw. We had a ton of fun!
Why does Colgate in particular need Baking Connections?
A small community like ours needs a way to bring people together. It is especially important to forge relationships in such a small setting. We are only here for four years, so we should try to find the most happiness we can in that time. Baking Connections brings people together who otherwise may never meet.
As of late, many students know you as the mastermind behind those Midnight Cookie Calls that you mentioned. How was it being on the other end of the event, fulfilling orders and getting them out to customers? And what made you think to do the Calls?
At our launch, we were swamped with orders – a good thing – and it was chaotic, but thanks to my amazing team, we got through it successfully. We used it as a learning experience and streamlined the process for the last event we did on March 31. As for the second part, I think it offers a service that we don’t have at Colgate. Who doesn’t want a homemade, warm cookie delivered to them while they are studying or hanging out late at night?
The chocolate chip cookie can go so many ways. What’s the aim with your recipe?
My chocolate chip cookie recipe has taken years to perfect. I’m not exaggerating at all. Some people love super thin, crispy cookies, which is what I used to make, until I figured this recipe out. My professor ordered cookies at the last cookie call and I loved the description she gave. She said the cookies were like “little clouds of goodness.” I shoot for a soft, slightly chewy cookie that is just the right amount of sweet without being over the top. A simple chocolate chip cookie is best in my opinion!
Which of your creations is the most popular among your customers?
Definitely my Nutella-filled mini chocolate chip cookie cups. Recently, people have also been going crazy over my red velvet chocolate chip cookies, one of my personal favorites. I tried them out for Valentine’s Day orders and they were really well received.
What’s the most inventive pastry that you have baked?
I think the most inventive thing I have made was a three layer cake: A layer of eggless cookie dough, a layer of cheesecake and a layer of chocolate cake, all covered with a Nutella frosting. It was an experiment, and ended up being delicious.
Do you have any new pastries on your hit list? If so, which ones?
Yes! I am determined to take on French pastry next. I am self-taught, and learn from practice and experimenting, but pastry is a different level of complexity that takes time and focus. I can already make French macarons and creme puffs, so my next goal is baking chocolate-filled croissants.
Taking a step back once again, what do you see in the future for Baking Connections?
This summer, I hope to test Baking Connections at a few businesses, since I will be in New York City, closer to my target market. My goal is to bring Baking Connections to companies searching for corporate bonding and team-building activities. At Colgate, I love working with students and the Hamilton population, but I am excited to see how Baking Connections works in a new setting.
What can Baking Connections do that no other company can?
I think that Baking Connections is unique in that it combines team building with something that we all love: food. Not only do our sessions encourage teamwork, but they also teach a new skill, and offer a space for open communication. When you think about it, food truly brings us together. Whether it is a holiday, a party, or a random gathering, we celebrate with loved ones around food. Why not take advantage of the fun that goes into creating it as well?
As a culmination of her time working under Thought Into Action, Pais will be taking part in Colgate’s Entrepreneur Weekend. She will have a Baking Connections booth (with cookies!) set up during the Student Venture Demos from 11 am to 3 pm in the Hall of Presidents, and will be making her pitch on stage at 1:10. Additionally, you can follow Pais’ baking and other food adventures on her Instagram. If you would like to take part in a baking session or help with a cookie delivery, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.