Breaking with buttercream

Master's student Michelle Bonsu, in her Woodbridge, Va., kitchen. "It wasn't until I was in nursing school that [cake-baking] became an outlet."

Nursing graduate finds respite, resilience in cake-making 

f-letter or Michelle Bonsu (College `15, CNL `17), nursing’s no cakewalk.

Even with an undergraduate track in pre-med, Bonsu – who graduates this spring from UVA School of Nursing’s Clinical Nurse Leader master’s program, a fast-track to nursing program for non-nurses entering the profession – describes her acclimation to nursing as “a marathon,” even while adding in the next breath that she’s “found exactly what [she’s] meant to do.”

But a side gig as a baker of high-end specialty cakes has also offered Bonsu a breather from the dense, demanding courses and clinical rotations, albeit one steeped in butter, sugar and eggs. Baking, says Bonsu, gives her a chance “to do something I’m good at that’s not nursing.”

Initially, cake-making posed a personal challenge. Never a life-long baker, Bonsu admits it didn’t come naturally. “Missy’s Cakes” grew out of her stubborn pursuit of the perfect cake, some pent-up creative energy and a love of sweets. After digesting dozens of YouTube videos, Bonsu launched her one-woman business last winter after refining her recipe base and declaring a couple of caveats.

Bonsu-quote-CNL Only real buttercream frosting. Only assignments she can handle alongside her studies. And no fondant, except as a flourish.

Today, that means she bakes between two and three specialty cakes each week, out of her diminutive Woodbridge  kitchen. And so far, there’s no shortage of work. She’s tackled birthday cakes, retirement cakes, baby shower cakes and anniversary cakes. Of the ten to 12 weekly order requests she receives, she says yes to only a few.

And even with a job lined up as a labor and delivery nurse in a Fairfax hospital after graduation, Bonsu’s got no plans to scrap the baking business, because, she still finds great relief in the recipes.

“Sometimes, I start at 7 PM, working through the night,” she explains. “I look up, then, and it’s 5 AM, and I’ve been completely lost in baking. I can focus completely on it, put all my energy into it, and get all that creative energy out. It’s also something I can do that’s not nursing, and there’s great relief in that.”

“People always ask me, ‘Did you do this before?’ It wasn’t until I began nursing school that it became an outlet. But in my head, it makes sense, because in nursing, you just have to throw yourself in there and do it” while also finding ways to keep your own spirit buoyant.

Nursing’s “a lot to handle, and gets you out of your comfort zone, pushes and challenges you,” she adds. “But I feel like I’ve found what I’m meant to do.”

Her UVA peers have not only been taste testers, they’ve been her champions. That warmth and camaraderie, says Bonsu, is what she’ll most remember about her time at UVA.

“When I came to the School, people were saying, ‘Hi!’ opening doors for me, knowing my name, and I was sort of shocked that everybody was this nice, and waited for it to wear off,” she laughs. “But it never ended. It’s really a place with a different, a special kind of culture. I’m grateful for that.”