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'A lot of tears, a lot of trash': How a self-taught baker from Arizona won 'Baker's Dozen'

Arizona Republic logo Arizona Republic 10/18/2021 Priscilla Totiyapungprasert, Arizona Republic
Tess Levin, known as Fluff Cups on social media, grew up in Scottsdale and lives in Los Angeles. The self-taught baker won on season 1, episode 3 on Hulu series 'Baker's Dozen.' © Courtesy of evolve pr and marketing Tess Levin, known as Fluff Cups on social media, grew up in Scottsdale and lives in Los Angeles. The self-taught baker won on season 1, episode 3 on Hulu series 'Baker's Dozen.'

A self-taught baker from Arizona took home the top prize after competing on Hulu's new original series, "Baker's Dozen."

The show is hosted by former White House pastry chef Bill Yosses and Tamera Mowry-Housley, who rose to fame on the '90s sitcom "Sister, Sister" and co-hosted FOX talk show "The Real."

In each episode, 13 contestants test their skills as they compete in a series of challenges. Tess Levin, a social media personality, wowed judges enough with her sweet confections to take home the $5,000 cash prize and a golden rolling pin.

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Levin grew up in Scottsdale and graduated from Arcadia High School before moving to Los Angeles, where the 26-year-old currently works in corporate marketing.

She said that baking changed her life when she was at a particularly low point and hopes through her social media, she can inspire others to take care of their mental health.

Mermaids were her secret weapon

Levin uses her online platform — @fluffcups on Instagram and TikTok — to share more than just "pretty bakes," she said.

From dance videos about how cake orders make her anxious to conversations between her and her failed cakes, Levin hopes people can relate to her struggles and know that, ultimately, the goal is progress, not perfection.

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In "Baker's Dozen," Levin was among the top five contestants who impressed judges with their candy art. In the second round, each of the five contestants had to bake thirteen identical desserts. Levin advanced to the final round, where she was declared the winner after presenting an under-the-sea, mermaid-themed macaron tower.

Levin said it was the first time she had ever made a macaron tower and wanted to make something that was eye-catching.

"One thing we see time and time again, at parties or costumes... mermaids. Mermaids are so big with children and adults alike," she said.

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From stress relief to small business

Levin said she has always been someone with a sweet tooth, but when she was a young adult in Los Angeles, pastries became more than a treat. After graduating from the University of Southern California in 2017, Levin worked in entertainment advertising where she felt unhappy with her job, she said.

"I was like holy s---, I hate this," Levin said. "This is the worst. This can't be what life is. I need to do something to relieve my stress... Maybe I'll bake some cupcakes, maybe some doughnuts, maybe I'll eat some of it and maybe I'll feel better."

Levin said she began baking, mostly cupcakes, and it was a therapeutic process. But eventually, her bakes started taking over the surfaces of her apartment. Her roommate told her she needed to eat them, toss them or sell them.

Levin started an Instagram page and began selling her pastries for pickup in the Los Angeles area. She branched out to cream puffs, eclairs, cakes and macarons — the latter of which took about 18 tries to perfect, with "a lot of tears and a lot of trash."

Keeping it real in the kitchen

Since so much of social media is curated, Levin said she tries to bring elements of comedy and authenticity, including her own feelings of anxiety, to her online platform.

"Baking is such a perfectionist industry where you don’t make mistakes, or don’t show the mistakes you make," Levin said. "I mess up all the time, so I thought why don’t I show that because I know people feel that?"

It's important to take a step back, see how far you've come, and celebrate your small victories, she said. She had to tell herself this even during the Hulu competition, where she battled "imposter syndrome to the max."

"I’ve started to really show the person behind the bakes," Levin said. "To be honest, my goal is not to have a bakery at the end of the day, it's to inspire people to bake or find a hobby that helps with mental health."

How to watch "Baker's Dozen" on Hulu

Watch all eight episodes of "Baker's Dozen," streaming exclusively on Hulu. Levin appears in episode three, "Macaron Tower."

Reach the reporter at Priscilla.Totiya@azcentral.com. Follow @priscillatotiya on Twitter and Instagram.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: 'A lot of tears, a lot of trash': How a self-taught baker from Arizona won 'Baker's Dozen'

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