AT ONE LEVEL, Kevin Moulder is no square. The baker is creative, playful, energetic, boundary-pushing — always thinking out of the box, you might say.
At another level, he’s all about the squares and the box.
His Wallingford business, Cubes Baking Co., features square- and cube-shaped pastries, specializing in work-of-art wedding cakes and flavors that pay homage to the Mexican panaderias of his Texas childhood. His rich tres leches cake has spun off into a side business, Tres Lecheria, stocked by markets around the Northwest.
The cube theme — even his cupcakes are square “cupcubes” — came from a savvy side hustle he developed to pay off a Nissan Cube car. “What if I delivered cube-shaped cakes from my cube-shaped car?” he wondered.
In a world of fondant and frosting, it was also a sharp way to stand out: People could identify his products at a glance.
Moulder moved to Seattle a few years back, and since then, his cakes have become a local signature, a Food Network feature, and a reminder of how newcomers can build on Seattle’s traditions and expand them in a delicious way.
Moulder was raised in San Antonio, partly by his Mexican-born grandmother, who would let him collect fresh eggs from the chicken coop on her farmland and tell him to bake with them.
He loved art, and thought he might become a high school art teacher, until his own teacher suggested it wasn’t an ideal career. “What else do you like to do?” she asked.
He studied at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Austin, then developed recipes for a grocery chain (the same place he bagged groceries as a teen). One day, a bakery manager asked whether he knew how to decorate cakes.
“You’re good at art. It’ll come naturally,” she told him.
He spent the next several years working his way up to bakery manager, finding, “The moment you become a manager, you stop being so hands-on.” Next, attracted by the design work of Mike McCarey, owner of Redmond-based Mike’s Amazing Cakes, Moulder wrote a goal on his bathroom mirror: “Move to Seattle. Work for Mike McCarey.”
While the second part didn’t happen (McCarey didn’t have an opening, he said), Moulder went all-in on Seattle. Working as a pastry chef for Lake Union Café, he started making a local name for himself, plus a side business in inventive wedding cakes. The landlord at his Ballard rental became a friend, then backed him in making his own business a reality.
“If you’re creative … you’re always going to get to a point where you want to know what it’s like to do it for yourself,” Moulder says. He thought there was a niche for a relaxed spot stocking “my idea of what’s cool and what’s delicious.”
The space is laid-back but supercharged with sugar, with a cartoon mural painted by his brother and a wall lined with elaborate models of the “Ru Paul Drag Cakes” Moulder builds after each episode of “Ru Paul’s Drag Race,” inspired by Dalmatian prints and origami folds, sequin dresses and hand-painted tattoos.
“I was just doing that for fun from the basement before this place opened, to keep myself creatively fulfilled,” he says. “Now, of course, anything I watch on TV, I’m like, ‘Could that be a cake?’ ”
His Instagram feed caught the attention of the Food Network, where he won the “Winner Cakes All” show with a sea-themed cake incorporating a working faucet that poured real Champagne. He’s returned for other shows, along with head baker Mayra Sibrian. If all that didn’t keep him busy enough, he’s also created the Seattle Cake Convention, a dessert exhibit, educational event and competition.
“I always make it a point to reach out to (other bakers) and try to become friends. We have exactly the same hobbies and interests.”
Moulder’s cakes are fancy and sometimes formal, but the flavors are lighthearted, like cinnamon-vanilla-bean churros or guava pumpkin empanada, or a Gansito that’s “basically the Mexican version of a Twinkie.”
Tres leches cake, traditionally made with sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and cream, wasn’t in his original plan: “To me, it was so common. Where I’m from, it’s like, ‘What’s so special about tres leches cake?’ ” But he made them as thank-you gifts for friends and family before Cubes opened, and the requests started coming in for more.
“It’s like you took a scoop of ice cream and just melted it into the cake, that’s how I like my cake,” he says.
He’s happy to be in Seattle, a place that “gave me opportunities I never would have gotten.” Seattleites in turn have appreciated the opportunities he’s provided for dessert and decoration. (Is that what we call squaring the circle?)
His goal for his Food Network winnings was to bring his grandmother up to see the business she inspired. And even his high school art teacher still checks in, he says.
“I let her know I did what she said.”