Elizabeth Gilbert traveled to Italy, India and Indonesia on her incredible journey of self-discovery. Another Elizabeth, Elizabeth “Liz” Garza, didn’t have to go so far. She stayed home, remodeled her kitchen and found herself exactly where she wanted to be.
Born and raised in Elsa, Liz spent time in Mexico each summer with her maternal grandmother, a master baker. Starting at the age of six, Liz’s grandmother began teaching her the art of baking. Liz had no idea at the time that these lessons would have an incredible impact on her life.
Liz was the oldest of three girls. When she was nine, her mom, a seamstress, decided to teach her how to cook so she could help with family meals.
“And then my dad made me a stool so I could reach the sink,” Liz said, “because my mom told me, ‘If you’re going to cook, you have to do the dishes, too.’”
At school, Liz participated in various clubs and activities. She was a cheerleader in high school. After graduating from Edcouch-Elsa High School, Liz decided to go to college in Houston. There, too, she was a cheerleader, but after the cheerleaders were involved in a serious car accident, Liz’s parents felt she should be closer to home. Liz returned to the Valley.
She married Pablo Garza, Jr., and the couple had their first child, a son they named Pablo III. In preparation for Pablo’s first birthday, Liz wanted to buy him a special cake. Astounded by the cost, she decided then and there that she would not only make Pablo’s cake but all of the birthday cakes for her family from that point forward. Unknowingly, she had built another section of her road to self-discovery.
Liz had two more children, daughters Elizabeth Ashley (known as Ashley) and Iannelli. When Iannelli turned four, Liz returned to college, this time at the University of Texas-Pan American. But with only 14 hours left to earn her degree in mass communications/broadcast track with a minor in Spanish, Liz put college on hold once again.
“My kids have always come first. I don’t want to miss a moment of their lives,” she said.
By this time, the family had moved to Weslaco. One day, Liz heard about cake decorating classes being offered. She wanted to take the classes to see what she could learn about cake decorating.
“All I needed was one class, and I took off,” Liz said.
Liz began creating. She started with recipes passed down to her from dear friends and others that she adapted until they met her high expectations. Vanilla almond, coconut pecan, bananas and crème and other flavors, all skillfully blended to please the palate of anyone lucky enough to take a bite.
All of her frosting, too, is made by hand.
“I make about 80 pounds of frosting a week,” she said. But her frosting is not merely spread across the cake’s sides and top. It is used to create a masterpiece.
“I take pride in every piece I make, that it’s perfect and that it’s unique,” Liz said.
For more than 20 years, Liz made cakes and other baked goods for her family and friends. That changed when Iannelli left for college.
Liz’s life had revolved around her children and their friends, and suddenly a hush fell over her house. She considered returning to school to complete her degree, but the timing was still off.
“If I started school and something came up with my children in college, I wouldn’t be able to go,” she said. She had to wait a little longer.
Her road to self-discovery had encountered a roadblock.
“Why don’t you just bake?” Iannelli asked her.
Bake? To everyone who had ever tasted one of Liz’s cakes, it was obvious. She was meant to share her talent with others.
Pablo readily supported the idea and had the kitchen remodeled to meet the demands of a cake artist. She had to have plenty of room to mix, the proper equipment to bake, and even more space to create.
Liz’s life was back on track and running smoother than ever. She filled her first cake order August 30, 2008. Her excitement grew as she received each order because she had an added incentive for baking. With Pablo III in law school, Ashley in the pre-pharmacy program at Our Lady of the Lake and Iannelli at Cornell studying hotel management, orders allowed her to help pay for their education.
Since that first order, word has spread quickly about The Cake Pantry … Once Upon a Cupcake, Liz’s company. Each order requires not only a fresh product but a fresh idea.
“Every cake is a challenge,” she said.
In anticipation for the Aug. 13 release of the movie Eat…Pray…Love, Liz had the challenge of creating a themed cake. First she researched the book and learned that the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, went to Italy to discover great food, India to learn true prayerfulness, and Indonesia in search of the meaning of love. Then Liz went to Barnes and Noble so she could hold the book in her hand and see what struck her about it. The cake began to take shape.
Like a true artist, Liz sketches all of her cakes before she makes them. For this one, she decided to make the cake look like the book. She used yellow Twizzlers for “Eat” because they looked like the spaghetti Gilbert would have found in Italy. She originally planned to use blueberries for “Pray,” but even the smallest berry was too large to match Liz’s design. She discovered she could pipe blue frosting into perfectly-sized beads. She used Fruit Roll-Ups to create the ribbons that formed “Love.”
At the top of the cake, Liz used frosting to write, “Julia Roberts,” who will star as Gilbert in the movie, and at the bottom “August 13,” the release date. Along the “spine” of the cake, Liz wrote, “Let yourself go…” Gilbert’s words and the essence of the author’s year-long journey.
Liz then sprinkled her signature glitter on the cake, one of the extra touches for which she is known. Almost perfect, but not quite.
“It’s not a cake without flowers,” Liz said, so she added edible flowers and leaves for the cake’s finishing touch.
The artistry of the cake’s design meets only half of Liz’s expectations. All of her baked goods must also taste so good that her customers are left wishing for more. Liz takes great pride in her cakes’ freshness, insisting that they never be frozen.
NOTE: Liz Garza can be reached at 580-4400 or 207-0404. Her email address is MRSPGJ@aol.com.
“I am a midnight baker,” she said. She often begins baking in the wee hours of the morning so her cakes will be perfectly fresh when her customers pick them up or have them delivered.
Liz is especially known for her cakes and cupcakes (with flavors like Brandied Chocolate Cherry, Lelly’s Color-Me-Pink, and Madame Royale), but she also offers other delectable fare like flan, brownies and specialty cheesecakes. Orders come from individuals who need them for events like birthdays and anniversaries, from schools and from businesses. Liz also creates one-of-a-kind wedding cakes.
What began as a way to relieve the ache of an empty nest blossomed into a means of supporting her children and discovering her own passion, and Liz’s daughters have seen the change in their mother.
“She’s gone from making cakes the old-fashioned way to any cake order she gets being another challenge,” said Ashley. “Now her cakes are so modern.”
Iannelli, who has already started following her mother along the cake-artistry road, added, “She creates her own design, which makes her cakes so unique. Even her glitter is edible.”
Wife, mother, cake artist, baker extraordinaire. Add to that cookbook creator because Liz published a beautiful cookbook that includes the story of her journey into baking.
As she looks over her life, Liz Garza readily recognizes her blessings: Both of her parents still living. Her sisters and their families. Her husband and children and her daughter-in-law. Her passion for baking.
In her eyes, her journey lacks only one major stretch of road.
“I have been blessed with so much in my life,” Liz said, “but I don’t have that one important piece of paper (her college degree), and I want it.” When her children have all finished college, Liz will return to school for her final 14 hours, and her journey will be complete.
Then, heaven knows where Liz’s road will take her.