Sugar, spice, and everything nice. Three apt words for describing the following local business.
Hecho Con Amor (@amor_bakedgoods) is a one-woman baking business right out of bustling Jersey City. Started last year by twenty-five-year-old Amanda O’Neill, Hecho Con Amor has been on my radar for a while.
Not because I’m deeply passionate about baked goods, but because Amanda has been a friend of mine for years. Baking is deep in her blood, and it resonates with her everywhere she goes. I can personally attest to that, having now seen her at work.
To illustrate just how important this kind of work is to her, it’s not just a side hustle. Originally intent on studying biochemistry, Amanda found her lifelong interest in making desserts when she tried it academically. She joined the culinary program at HCCC, graduated, and began working in the business of sweets and sugary delights. Outside of Hecho Con Amor, Amanda’s full-time job is also baking. She works as a baker five days a week in Hoboken and spends the rest of her time baking for her business. This is her passion through and through.
When I sat down to talk to her in early September, I really wanted to know how she managed to do this with such precise consistency and effortless speed, day in and day out. All I had to do was see the process. “Baking is an art; it’s not quite like cooking where you go off a feeling. There’s a precision to baking that, if not followed, can really make or break your work,” she said.
Baking is chemistry, whereas cooking is alchemy, so to speak. As someone who enjoys cooking quite a bit — and having learned all of it by trial and error — I can one hundred percent get behind that. I can confidently make some of the best fried calamari imaginable, but it’s all guesswork. For cooks, it’s about proximity. For bakers, it better be on point.
Mistakes are not frequent in Amanda’s station. She treats her home kitchen like a commercial one. Every instrument is used expertly and with careful consideration. However, unlike the typical schmuck who is scratching their head trying to figure out how they f***ed up the Pillsbury cookies they bought an hour ago, Amanda has worked it all down to rhythm.
It’s all muscle memory and rigid retention of the skills she’s had her whole life. All of that to say, it has paid off big time. While I interviewed Amanda, she was preparing a Minnie Mouse cake for a client, and I got to try some of the excess cupcakes and surplus Swiss buttercream used for this particular cake.
Now, the bias of being her friend aside, that Swiss buttercream was one of the best parts of any dessert I’ve ever had. It wasn’t too sweet, and it was far from dull. There was a nice fluffy texture to it and actual nuance to the flavor. What’s more remarkable is that making that buttercream is just instinctive to Amanda at this point.
All of this is made possible by her loyal clientele and her decision to reinvest into her business, as most of what Amanda makes goes back into strengthening her repertoire of baking equipment. She elaborated, “I buy everything wholesale. Without places like Costco, I could not pull this off.”
Finally, I watched her carefully package her client’s cake. She set it aside with the cupcakes she had prepared simultaneously. Applied to the top of the box was a sticker with the name of her business. To me, it’s a reminder: everything from that kitchen is not only made with care but also with an unparalleled love for the craft that permeates through every bite. I don’t think I know anyone who loves what they do as much as Amanda does, and that’s why I can guarantee that everything she makes is Hecho Con Amor.
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