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How this aspiring actor made cake decorating her job at Buttercream Bakeshop

Real flowers in Alexandra Mudry-Till’s garden inspire the sugar versions that top Buttercream Bakeshop’s cakes. (Allie Caren for Express)

Name: Alexandra Mudry-Till, 34

Position: Lead decorator and partner, Buttercream Bakeshop

What she does
Many mornings for Alexandra Mudry-Till start with a trip outside her home to her flower garden, where she prunes, waters and generally checks in on her little muses. Then she heads back into her kitchen to recreate what she sees.

Mudry-Till is a lead decorator and partner at Shaw’s Buttercream Bakeshop. Her specialty? The time-consuming sugar flowers that top cakes for weddings and other special occasions.

Making sugar flowers is a craft that calls for mounds of patience and a delicate touch. An average rose can have up to 30 individual petals; one flower can take days to perfect. Mudry-Till plays a role in decorating 20 to 30 cakes on any given weekday. She isn’t much involved in the production of things like cookies, bars and other sweet treats customers see in the shop’s display case — except for those pretty macaroons, which she makes from start to finish.

Mudry-Till is often responsible for cakes that people will enjoy on very important days, like weddings or big celebrations. She says it’s both “terrifying and wonderful” to bring a client’s dream cake to life.

“It’s so amazing how different interpretations can be of [one] concept,” she says.

How she got the job
As a child in Pleasantville, N.Y., Mudry-Till says she was always doing one of two things: cooking or acting. But when the time came to start applying to college, her parents said she had to get a “regular” degree.

“OK, then I’m doing theater,” she told them. Still, when she packed her bags for Catholic University, she brought her madeleine pan and cooked the spongy cookies in the dorms so often it became a running joke.

After completing her degree in D.C., she headed to New York City and began waitressing, picking up office jobs and auditioning on the side. It wasn’t long before she says she began to feel “a little disheartened.”

“The only thing that sort of kept me happy during that whole time was continuing to cook and bake,” she says. “It was something I had always loved.”

Mudry-Till began her yearlong culinary school journey at the Culinary Institute of America in 2008, and when she finished, she knew two things for certain: She wanted to work in a bakery, and she wanted that bakery to be in D.C. She maintained that dream as various jobs took her around the world.

Ironically, Mudry-Till was let go from her post in Italy the same day that a headhunter reached out to her with a job with the D.C. area’s Neighborhood Restaurant Group in 2010. That’s how she met her now-partner in Buttercream, Tiffany MacIsaac, who then ran the pastry program for NRG’s 14 properties.

Mudry-Till worked closely with MacIsaac at Buzz Bakeshop, where the two women expanded and experimented with their wedding program. MacIsaac and Mudry-Till whipped up a separate concept within Buzz Bakery that eventually became Buttercream Bakeshop.

Who would want the job?
To be successful at any bakery, Mudry-Tull says you should be creative, malleable and comfortable with constant change.

“It’s a lot of guessing,” she says. “It’s a lot of trying out new techniques and failing.”

She says in acting, she learned that you often have to try a new way of conveying a line or an action, and sometimes it just doesn’t work. “You have to learn and fail and move on,” she says.

How you can get the job
A pastry program like the one Mudry-Till completed at CIA will teach you the techniques you need, but at a faster pace than you might expect. “You have such a small amount of time in culinary school to learn a lot,” she says.

Additionally, practical time in any kitchen is invaluable.

“I’m so happy that I worked in restaurants first,” Mudry-Till says. “It made me learn a sense of urgency that you cannot learn just in bakeries. Try some different things. You don’t necessarily know what you’ll end up loving.”

And when you show up for that interview at your dream bakery, Mudry-Till’s No. 1 tip is to be honest about what you want out of your new job. If you’re working the register, but dream of experimenting in the kitchen, make that clear.

“If you’re coming in at one position but you’re seeking something else, I think be direct and honest about that in your interview so that everybody’s on the same page,” she says.

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