By Tiffany Merlo Phelps
Growing up, Farah Mansouri enjoyed making pies and cinnamon rolls with her maternal grandmother who is from Dalton, Ga. “She is known to be a phenomenal baker in Dalton. She has always made extravagant classy cakes as well as dessert recipes that have been passed down her maternal line,” she said. Mansouri and her three sisters would help with “less skillful tasks” such as cutting strips of pie crust for the top of the pie or mixing the batter; however, the biggest takeaway for Mansouri was “getting the best tasteful outcome from various desserts.” This lesson has served Mansouri well as she began to explore cake baking the summer before her sophomore year of high school just as the pandemic began. She watched a lot of “Cake Boss” on television, baked her first cake for a friend’s birthday, ordered more supplies and started “Sweets by Farah.” Soon the cakes became more elaborate, and she received orders for birthdays, weddings and graduations — all courtesy of social media postings showcasing her work, primarily made by her very supportive mother and sisters. The feedback was positive, more orders came in, and Mansouri found that she liked trying more intricate designs as well as experimenting with recipes, including vegan options. She also had more time to dedicate to perfecting her skill because she spent her sophomore year attending school virtually. Now 17, Mansouri has turned her focus to baking cakes for children who live at the Homeless Coalition of St. Johns County. It is a passion for Mansouri, who is now a junior and back to in-person school. Most importantly to Mansouri, baking for the Homeless Coalition is a way for her to practice her faith.
Q: How does it feel to make a specialty cake for a child at the Homeless Coalition and to see that child’s reaction?
A: Their reactions are awesome. I put together a form where they indicate their interests, and I create a personalized cake based on this information. I have made Fortnite, lumberjack and princess cakes. I was trying to figure out something to do for the community with baking, and this fit perfectly. I have paused on baking cakes as a business for now, so that I can concentrate on fulfilling more orders for the Homeless Coalition.
Q: How does your faith impact your volunteerism?
A: In the Baha’i faith, service plays a pertinent part in navigating life. Baha’is believe that service to our neighbors gives meaning and purpose to life. “Service to humanity is service to God.” Making cakes for children who reside at the Homeless Coalition allows there to be bridges in the community, ultimately leading to unity.
Q: What have you learned from baking?
A: I have learned my skills and time are worth much more than I perceive. I put hours into my decorating which is my form of art and passion; I often underestimate my worth. Also, baking is very relaxing and therapeutic. It is a way for me to use my creativity.
Q: What is the most unusual cake you have ever baked?
A: I baked a hamster cake for my cousin. I tried to search for “hamster” cakes, but I had to come up with something on my own as it was so unusual. I used fondant to make the hamsters. I make my own fondant recipe using marshmallows and powdered sugar because it is easier to work with and tastes better than pre-made fondant.
Q: What other interests do you have?
A: I am very interested in ornithology — the study of birds. I love all types of birds, but especially parrots. In middle school, I made a PowerPoint presentation to get a parakeet, and it worked. Now I foster birds through a rescue organization called the Phoenix Landing Foundation in Jacksonville (main headquarters in North Carolina). I took a training class at the vet to learn proper bird care, and the class was run by Phoenix Landing. That’s how I got involved in fostering. I hope to pursue this as a profession one day.
Q: What is it like growing up the youngest out of four sisters?
A: I am not able to compare it with anything else because it is all I have ever known, but I love all my sisters and definitely would not want it any other way. I think growing up with three older sisters taught me to be vocal, independent, and also gave me three built in best friends.
[Author’s Note: To follow Mansouri’s cake creations, look for “SweetsbyFarah” on Instagram.]
Photo courtesy Farah Mansouri