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Alexandria, Minn., native helps design Betty White's 90th birthday cake

Alexandria native Jennifer Kalinowski was recently given the opportunity to help design a cake for actress Betty White. (Contributed photo)1 / 2
Television icon Betty White posed with her three tier triple chocolate cake designed by staff at the Betty Crocker Kitchen at General Mills in the Twin Cities. (Contributed photo)2 / 2

"It was always my dream to work in a professional test kitchen," former Alexandria resident, Jennifer Kalinowski said. "I've been fascinated by recipes and cookbooks for as long as I can remember."

Kalinowski, a graduate of Jefferson High School in Alexandria and daughter of Jerry and Carol Kalinowski, had her first taste of cooking from her childhood cookbook, a hand-me-down from her mother: the second edition of Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook.

"My mom still has that book and we still make cookies from it every Christmas," Kalinowski noted. "The first recipe I remember making from it was Chocolate Chip Cookies. It was the go-to cookie recipe in our house. I used to make them with my mom and then gained the skill and confidence to make them on my own."

Pursuing her dream, she graduated from the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities with a bachelor of science degree in dietetics and a master of public health degree in nutrition. She then started working with the editorial and marketing teams at the Betty Crocker Kitchen for General Mills in the Twin Cities.

She currently serves as assistant manager of the food content marketing team.

"We work on food trends and recipe campaigns like 'The Betty 10: Red Hot Holiday Trends'," Kalinowski explained.

Though she has been in her position for seven years, the highlight of her career occurred on January 16 when she and the Betty Crocker Kitchen were given the opportunity to create a cake for the 90th birthday celebration for an iconic television star: Betty White.

"Everyone at Betty Crocker was honored and excited to be chosen to make the cake for Betty White's 90th birthday," Kalinowski said. "Coincidentally, Betty Crocker also turned 90 this year, so it was special to celebrate both."

The cake was to be featured on a January 16 special on NBC entitled Betty White's 90th Birthday: A Tribute to America's Golden Girl, which commemorated White's long career in entertainment.

The birthday special included appearances by Ellen DeGeneres, Morgan Freeman and Tina Fey, along with White's former co-stars Mary Tyler Moore, Ed Asner, Valerie Harper and Gavin MacLeod from The Mary Tyler Moore Show and her current co-stars, Valerie Bertinelli, Wendi Malick and Jane Leeves from Hot in Cleveland.

Creating the cake took a team of 15 talented people and collaboration with two baking kitchens - Gateaux Cakes and A Wish and a Wisk. Kalinowski was part of the team that designed the cake.

"The opportunity to be creative is what I have valued most in my career and creating this cake gave me the opportunity," Kalinowski noted. "It took hours of research and sketching to come up with the design, which reflected Betty's vibrant personality and the many things we love about her."

The cake was a three-tiered creation with decadent chocolate cake layered with both chocolate mousse and chocolate ganache.

"It was a mix of classic flavors and modern design," explained Kalinowski.

The cake also supported red, orange and magenta icing, as well as edible pearls, golden candles and 75 handmade fondant roses to represent White's character, Rose, from the Golden Girls television show.

Along with the birthday cake, 300 individual cakes were made for the celebrity guests who attended the show. Each mini chocolate cake was wrapped in orange fondant and topped with a single fondant rose, identical to White's cake, as well as a gold border and edible gift tag.

Once finished, the cakes were flown in a private jet from Minneapolis to the Baltimore Hotel in Los Angeles, California where the NBC special was being taped.

"We packed the extra special cake and gave it its own seat on the plane," Kalinowski said. "Luckily, there was no problem transporting the cake."

Kalinowski, Ann Stuart, manager of Betty Crocker Kitchens, and Kristen Olson, food editor, transported the cake. Ultimately, it was Olson who presented the cake to White.

"Betty White genuinely seemed to like the cake. Her favorite touch was the small replica of her dog, Pontiac, that was perched on the cake," recalled Kalinowski. "This project has been great - it has brought Betty Crocker to a new generation. In the future, I hope to remain in a creative role working on food content."