Cassandra Heikkila feels most at home when she’s baking cakes and producing films in Los Angeles. Inspired by her mom’s cooking skills, Cassandra would always bake as a form of therapy and helping others smile. “I think I developed a love of baking early on in my life because my mom is a cook. She was always baking and cooking, and I loved her desserts.”
As a child, Cassandra would often help her mom bake cookies, cakes, brownies, and anything sprinkled with love (and a little bit of sugar). Cassandra’s love for baking eventually grew with time. Several family and friends even asked for recipes after enjoying a variation of unique flavors and herbs that Cassandra lovingly added to her baked creations.
“Any time I was anxious or stressed about family, work, or health issues, I would make time to bake cookies, cakes, brownies, and anything I could! It’s almost meditative for me; a form of therapy,” Cassandra told Mornings with Moni.
Cassandra says that while she’s not a traditional baker who makes fancy cakes with cartoon characters or elaborate designs—she prefers baking with simple ingredients to create minimalistic and earthy baked goods.
“I love adding edible decorations, like berries or herbs. I also love incorporating delicious flavor combinations like earl grey and lavender, or thyme and almond. When I find flavors I love, I try my best to turn them into a dessert.”
Cassandra bakes a variety of delicious cakes, cookies, muffins, and more. She also specializes in using fresh ingredients, herbs, and providing plenty of alternatives for people with dietary restrictions. She also makes gluten-free cakes and uses a stabilizer like xanthan gum. “I love using herbs and berries in my cakes and then of course tea! My chai tea cake is another favorite of mine!”
She’s even created her own version of london fog latte, or earl grey latte, in cake form. Since london fog latte is usually her go-to order at any coffee shop, she thought it would be a perfect way to experiment with the flavor as a cake. “It was my very first original recipe. It’s an earl grey cake with a mascarpone lavender whipped cream topping and it’s just to die for.”
Originally from New Hampshire, Cassandra moved to Washington D.C. where she studied film. After graduating from college, she ended up getting a job as a film producer and decided to stay in D.C. for a few more years before venturing out to the Los Angeles area where she continues to share her passion for producing and baking.
But for many years, Cassandra lived undiagnosed with lupus for about 12 years. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can cause pain and inflammation in the body. Currently, approximately 1.5 million people in the U.S. are living with lupus.
For Cassandra, navigating this disease was complex and debilitating at times. “I had continuous health issues that seemingly were unrelated—from joint swelling and pain to costochondritis to random severe rashes. I got a bunch of different diagnoses over the years that didn’t seem to make sense.”
It wasn’t until last summer when Cassandra noticed that she had a few hives on her elbows and cheeks as a result of sun exposure. From there, she experienced extreme pain, inflammation, and itching from head to toe. Her hands were so swollen that her fingertips turned blue, raising an alarm that something was wrong. “I went to the ER three nights in a row and it eventually led to my lupus diagnosis, and then I eventually got diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease on top of it.”
For Cassandra, her lupus diagnosis lifted a cloud over her head and provided a sense of closure to the never-ending cycle of misdiagnoses. “I was relieved at first because I finally had a reason as to why my health was such a rollercoaster. It’s definitely a difficult disease to live with, but knowing what it is and how to manage it has been a game-changer.”
After being diagnosed with lupus, Cassandra started looking into ways she could support other individuals living with lupus. Today, a portion of the proceeds from her baked goods go to lupus research.
“Lupus is a very hard disease to diagnose because it looks like so many other conditions and it’s so individualistic. Every single person experiences it differently. It mostly affects women, and primarily women of color. There isn’t a cure yet, but we get closer and closer every day with research,” says Cassandra.
As a small business owner, Cassandra is happy to see how much joy her baked creations bring her customers. “Taking the risk to sell my baked goods was definitely a life-changing moment. During my first order, I was so nervous and kept checking my phone, waiting to hear back from the customer. She ended up calling me that night to tell me how amazing the cake was and how special it made her birthday; it made all the nervousness worth it.”
-written by Monica Luhar for mornings with moni
To purchase or learn more about Cassandra’s baked goods, visit instagram.com/cassheikkila. You can also place an order at forms.gle/AEhxo6R8J8feodK59 if you’re in and around the San Gabriel Valley.