MSU Alumna builds connections through baking

March 25, 2021 - Asia Siev

To simply call Kat Stuehrk (B.A. ‘14) a baker is a disservice. She is an artist whose medium happens to be baked goods. Her cakes are bold statement pieces, made even more beautiful because of their impermanence.Kat Stuehrk Her pastries are a labor of love and patience. “I can’t remember not baking. There’s a lot of photos of me and my grandma baking, from as soon as I was helpful in the kitchen,” she says. 

Yet, Stuehrk never considered baking as a career path. She graduated from MSU with degrees in Arts and Humanities (RCAH) and Social Work and was an Honors College student before moving to Chicago and obtaining her Master of Social Work from the University of Illinois at Chicago. cake“I fell in love with youth work. I became really really passionate about social work and youth work, but got really drained. I kind of hit a wall that I think a lot of people do after a few years in a job that they thought was their dream.” 

So, Stuehrk combined her love of baking with her passion for social work. She became an After School Matters Culinary Instructor. “I started making stuff I thought was cool, and other people thought it was cool and started ordering it,” she explains. Butter Bird Bakery eventually emerged out of her home in Chicago. “This past year I’ve realized it’s totally possible to have a life doing baking, which I had never really considered as a true option.” 

Being a small business owner means wearing multiple hats, from baker to CEO to communications manager. “I never pictured myself becoming a small business owner. I’m learning as I go,” she says. “The thing I keep coming back to is the intention behind things like scaling up. I’m taking time to think about what my vision is–that sounds so corny–but taking time to reevaluate ‘is this where I want my business to be going, is this in line with what I want it to be?” 

Butter Bird Bakery is more than a small business, it is a way for Stuehrk to connect with her community. “I’m getting let into people’s lives in a way I never thought I would just as a baker. Being a part of someone celebrating something important to them has been really cool,” she says. pastryPeople have allowed her into their most important moments, from birthdays to graduation to anniversaries. “The baking is a medium for making connections with people I wouldn’t have been connected to.” 

Her favorite baked goods to make are croissants. “They’re delicious and they take a couple of days. It slows you down. Making them from scratch is a very technical process. I like things that make me slow down.” 

Earlier this week, Stuehrk hosted Cakes & Conversation with the Honors College and RCAH where she shared a live demonstration of top techniques and tricks. She also discussed her personal and professional journey in baking for a cause, and going from a Honors College and RCAH grad to a trauma-informed worker to pastry chef and entrepreneur. You can watch a recording of the event here

As a college student, Stuehrk lived in a tiny studio apartment that only had a two-burner stove and a microwave–the same tiny studio apartment I live in now. So, here is a dorm room and studio apartment friendly cake recipe, courtesy of Kat Stuehrk and small world connections. 

Black and White Mug Cake

Vanilla Pastry Cream

  • 1 cup milk 
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch 

  1. Boil the milk with the butter, vanilla, and half of the sugar over medium-high heat.
  2. Mix the rest of the sugar with the egg yolks and cornstarch, in a small mixing bowl. 
  3. Pour a little bit of the warm milk mixture into the egg mixture and immediately whisk it in, so the egg doesn’t curdle. 
  4. Strain the egg mixture into the pot on the stove that has the warm milk in it. This will get out any bits of cooked egg. 
  5. Continue to whisk as the mixture cooks. As soon as you feel the mixture getting thick, take it off the stove for a moment and whisk until the mixture is smooth. 
  6. Put the mixture back on the heat and let it boil for about a minute more, all the while whisking. This will take the starchy flavor out from the cornstarch. Pour the custard into a clean mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and cool completely before using. You will have extra pastry cream, or enough to fill and top several mug cakes. Pastry cream lasts for 2 weeks in the fridge, or longer frozen.

Dark Chocolate Mug Cake

  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour 
  • 2 tablespoons dutch cocoa powder (regular is fine, too)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 pinch sea salt 
  • 1 pinch baking soda 
  • 1/4 cup milk, water, or coffee, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (canola or vegetable works too)
  • Splash of vanilla extract


  1. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda until combined. Blend in your liquid (milk/water/coffee), oil, and vanilla until the batter is smooth. Pour batter into a sprayed or greased 14-ounce (or larger) microwave-safe mug with straight sides.

  1. Microwave on high for 1 minute to 1 minute and 15 seconds. You will be able to smell the chocolate when it is cooked through and the top of the cake will look slightly dry. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes before turning upside down to release the cake from the mug. 

  1. Let cool, slice in half horizontally, and fill and top with the pastry cream. Decorate with mini chocolate chips, fruit, or flowers, and enjoy!

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