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A Smart Cookie

Young Alum’s Online Bakery Business Puts Sweet Spin on Celebrating Year of the Tiger

By Shannon Clark M.Jour. ’22

Lunar New Year-themed macarons

Airy, light-hearted macarons from the alum-owned Sweets by Caroline evoke the Lunar New Year holiday celebrated today in Asian countries and communities around the world.

Photos courtesy of Caroline Ta/Sweets by Caroline

Nibbling on a French macaron seems an unusual way to celebrate Lunar New Year, non?

But then you haven’t yet seen the adorable face of a tiger cub, delicately worded symbols for luck or the smiley mandarin orange on the cookies handmade by a recent University of Maryland alum and online bakery owner.

Caroline Ta ’21 runs Sweets by Caroline out of her parents’ Germantown, Md., kitchen, where she creates whimsical and sophisticated desserts that recently garnered a shout-out from Washingtonian magazine in an article on fun ways in the DMV to celebrate the Year of the Tiger today.

Caroline Ta ’21 headshot with pink and purple macaron illustration

“I really love baking and sharing and being a part of (customers’) birthdays or events,” said Ta.

During her childhood, Ta remembers standing beside her mom and carefully passing ingredients while they whipped up cakes to celebrate family members. But it was during a brief stint as an accounting and finance major at Montgomery College when baking became an escape for Ta.

“I was always stressed about schoolwork, so I would turn to baking,” she said.

Ta transferred to UMD as a marketing and supply chain double major in 2019 and entered the 2020 Pitch Dingman competition hosted by the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, where she won $1,000 as a Pandemic Perseverance in Entrepreneurship winner. She also participated in the Dingman Center’s Terp Startup summer accelerator and Ladies First programs and was awarded the 2021 Rudy Award for Student Entrepreneur of the Year.

“Caroline was seamlessly able to balance running her business while excelling in school,” said Haley Raphaell Mates, events and marketing manager for the Dingman Center. “Being passionate about your business is so important for an entrepreneur, and Caroline exudes love for what she does.”

Since graduating in May, Ta has turned Sweets by Caroline into her full-time job, creating cakes, cake pops, cupcakes and themed macarons. She packages the crispy, brightly colored cookies in tiered cakes, boxed sets for bridesmaids, and even inside a clear Christmas ornament. Next up: Valentine’s and “Galentine’s Day” sets. Most recently, she’s incorporating her own Chinese heritage and culture into the flavors she bakes. Her Lunar New Year set features three new ones: strawberry guava, mandarin orange and black sesame.

“When I first started my business, I was kind of straying away from the Asian flavors and my culture because I wasn’t sure if people would be interested,” said Ta. “(During) the past Autumn Festival, that was when I decided to start doing the Chinese New Year set, and start showing people who I am. They have been the most popular sets.”

To produce a perfect macaron, Ta has to make sure the air quality, humidity levels and ingredient measurements are all precise, so her delicate, airy creations won’t dry out, fall or break and keep their round shape. To meet these standards, Ta accepts pre-orders on her website after she launches new holiday sets on Instagram.

Ta will soon be moving Sweets by Caroline into a commercial kitchen in Frederick, Md., where she plans on hiring her first employee. The new workspace will allow Ta to extend her pre-order limits, while providing a work environment separate from her home.

“As time goes on, I would really like to open a bakery,” she said. “That’s the end goal.”

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