Sweets' success helps others

When the weekly coffee klatch at the Edenwald retirement community in Towson folded in December, Amalie Ascher, a regular contributor, turned to friends to eat her rum balls and meringues.

But there was only so much they could do.


Ascher -- a dessert diva who never cooks the same sweet twice -- was running out of mouths to feed.

"I was literally going around the building and asking people, 'Would you like to try this?' 'Would you like to try that?'" the 77-year-old widow said recently.


Then, in April, she launched a bake sale.

Nearly four months and an untold number of coconut white-chocolate cakes, lemon pound cakes and cheese wafers later, she's still measuring, folding and mixing.

Ascher -- one of more than 8,500 bakers who signed up to participate in the second annual Great American Bake Sale -- has raised more than $2,000 to feed hungry children this year.

Last year, the average sale raised $227, organizers said..

Her bake sale earnings -- not to mention her Herculean efforts in the kitchen -- have piqued the interest of sale organizers, who say she is one of the top individual bakers in the nation.

She has donated all of the ingredients as well as hundreds of hours of her time in the effort.

"Amalie has set herself apart by the energy she has put into this and the high quality of her baked goods," said Lisa Wilson, bake sale volunteer coordinator and a staff member at Share Our Strength, a Washington-based nonprofit group that is organizing the fund-raiser with Parade magazine. "She has done an outstanding job."

Next month, Great American Bake Sale officials will honor Ascher at a local reception, an event for which she is already baking.


"I finished my 12th cake today," she said Tuesday. "Now it's time to start on the cookies."

'Queen of Desserts'

Ascher is no nut-bar neophyte.

She and her husband, Eduard Ascher, a psychiatrist and Johns Hopkins University professor who died in 2002, entertained often at their Guilford home. Amalie Ascher -- a former gardening columnist for The Sun who also hosted a flower arranging show on Maryland Public Television -- always enjoyed coming up with new desserts to serve their guests.

"Cooking is an adventure," she said recently from the cramped but highly functional quarters of the kitchen in her Edenwald apartment. "I read cookbooks like other people read novels."

Fellow residents know that Ascher is a kitchen geek. She won a prize at a Halloween party last year when she attached dozens of culinary tools to her clothing, placed a bundt cake pan and tiara on her head, and christened herself "Queen of Desserts."


The bake sale, however, is her crowning glory.

Big business

More than 100 fellow Edenwald residents have ordered cookies and cakes from a set menu -- she said she decided that she couldn't come up with a new recipe each time if she wanted to sleep.

Offerings include fudge, chocolate dream cookies with Grand Marnier, and a bounty of cakes flavored with whiskey, rum and coconut.

Bags of eight cookies sell for $2. Prices for the cakes vary depending on the ingredients. An especially decadent cheesecake made with chocolate, pecans and bourbon sells for $35, while a basic one goes for $6.

Orders, some of them written out on notes slipped under her door, have poured in.


One customer, a relative of an Edenwald resident, bought four cheesecakes in succession after his doctor ordered him to gain weight. A female friend has gone gaga over the lemon sugar cookies. Another woman ordered so many cheese wafers that Ascher suspected she was reselling them at a markup.

Some customers also swear that Ascher's rum balls, when frozen, taste just like a daiquiri.

"She has the faculty of selecting things that are a little bit different and things that have a lot of flavor," said Ascher's neighbor and taste tester Marie Cosgrove, 92.

"She is a very ambitious lady," Cosgrove said. "I always say, 'Aren't you tired?' And she says, 'No, no, I have another cake to bake.'"

'On a mission'

Even now, as the bake sale winds down -- the last day is today -- Ascher is busy baking for clients who want to stock up.


Friends wonder whether she'll be able to lay down her spatula.

"Whenever I ask her how she's going to ease out of this, I never get a direct answer," Cosgrove said. "I think as long as people want something, she will make it for them. I get the impression that she is on a mission."