Apronomics: Lia Weber of Made. by Lia
When it comes to a challenge, Lia Weber isn’t one to back down, especially if it’s of the culinary variety. In 2014, she competed on and won TLC’s baking competition The Next Great Baker. Last year, the hometowner proved she lives up to the title. She successfully launched Made. by Lia, a bakery she opened last August despite the hurdles presented by COVID-19.
Weber grew up in North County and currently lives in Old Town Florissant. “It’s a hidden gem,” she says of the neighborhood. “I like the tight-knit community. Everyone knows each other’s names. When I was younger, I always thought I’d want to live somewhere bigger and better, but I love St. Louis. It has a more intimate feel. Even if you leave at some point, when you come back, it always will feel like home.”
One of five siblings, Weber spent a lot of time in the kitchen from a young age. “I always loved making dinner and Christmas cookies with my family,” she recalls. “The kitchen was always a happy place for me.” She knew she wanted to pursue a culinary career and eventually decided on baking. While earning a bachelor’s degree in business from Fontbonne University, she also worked toward an associate’s in baking and pastry arts from Saint Louis Community College-Forest Park.
While working in a local cake shop, Weber was presented with the opportunity to audition for season four of The Next Great Baker. The show was looking for teams of two to compete, so she and a co-worker started the application process. “They asked about every single little thing, and we had to turn in a video audition to show our personalities,” she says. “They also flew us to New York for an in-person interview. It was really stressful, but exciting. We were one of the final 10 teams selected.”
Most of the show was filmed in New Jersey over the course of two months, but the finale was shot in Las Vegas. “It was crazy to pack a suitcase not knowing how long I was going to be there,” Weber says. “The nonstop filming was exhausting, but we just kept winning, and I realized we had a shot.” After winning the competition, she and her partner split a $100,000 prize and were offered the chance to work with Buddy Valastro of Cake Boss. “Ultimately, it didn’t feel like the right fit for me,” she notes. “I wanted to stay in St. Louis to be close to my friends and family. It’s where my roots are, and I wanted to build my business here.”
In 2019, Weber began the process of opening her own brick-and-mortar bakery. She had been working out of the Cortex complex as an AB Mauri baking ambassador to build her business, but it was time for the next step. Wondering what to do, she found the answer walking in her neighborhood with her family. “We saw a building for sale that would make the perfect bakery a block away from our house,” she says. “I wasn’t sure if I was ready, so it was very intimidating, but it kept pulling on my heart. It felt like it was what I was meant to do.”
With the space secured, Made. by Lia was on track to open in the spring of 2020. However, as it did with so many things, the pandemic threw a wrench into the process. With the official opening postponed, Weber decided to host a pop-up event in May for Mother’s Day. “The response was amazing,” she says. “We decided to keep doing pop-ups throughout the summer. It really helped us keep the buzz going for the business.” She also launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the opening and was amazed by the community support. “We exceeded our goal within 24 hours,” she notes. “It was the last push we needed to open in August.”
Weber says opening during the pandemic was crazy, but it did have some upsides. “We developed a great support system, so now I feel like we can tackle anything,” she explains. She’s looking forward to being able to operate under full capacity and continuing to grow the business, including adding a second baking space in the basement, planting a garden in the back and expanding vegan offerings, which the shop is already becoming known for. She’s also excited to make more wedding cakes in the near future. “It’s definitely been an adventure,” she says. “People who watched the show and followed my story are coming in to show support. It’s exhausting, but I’m having so much fun.”
gluten-free, vegan lemon poppy seed donuts
¼ c packed brown sugar
¼ c granulated sugar
Zest from 2 lemons
¼ c coconut oil, melted
2 tbsp vegan butter, melted
1 flax egg
(in a small bowl combine 1 tbsp ground flax and 2 tbsp water, let set for 2 min.)
¾ c unsweetened almond, coconut or soy milk
Juice from 1 lemon
1 c gF all purpose flour
¼ c almond flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
½ tbsp poppy seeds
1 c powdered sugar
1 tbsp soy creamer
(or dairy free milk/cream)
Juice from 1 lemon
Lemon zest, poppy seeds and edible flowers for garnish
- Preheat your oven to 450°F. In large bowl or mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine coconut oil, vegan butter, brown sugar, sugar, vanilla extract, flax egg and lemon zest. Mix in almond milk (or dairy free milk of your choice) and lemon juice.
- In a separate bowl sift together gluten-free flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add in almond flour, and stir to combine. Slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet, then add poppy seeds and mix until smooth. Make sure everything is combined and there are no lumps. But do not over mix!
- Spray the donut pans, and fill with batter until slightly under the rim with spoon or using a piping bag. Place into the oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes until slightly golden, and the cake springs back when touched.
- Remove from oven and let set for a second before turning pans over onto a cooling rack and popping out the donuts. Let the donuts cool completely before dipping into glaze. For best results allow them to cool before tasting; the texture will develop as the donuts cool.
- While your donuts are cooling, make the lemon glaze. Place powdered sugar, soy creamer and lemon juice into a small bowl and whisk until smooth. You can add more dairy free cream if the mixture is too thick or more powdered sugar if it is too thin. It should look glossy and be of dipping consistency. Dip your donuts into the glaze and place onto a parchment lined tray.
- Once all of the donuts have been dipped, you can garnish. Let the donuts hang out until the glaze has set. Store in an airtight container for one to two days.
Photos: Bill Barrett