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Tucson woman intertwines baking with art to create cookies and cakes
Meet Your Makers

Tucson woman intertwines baking with art to create cookies and cakes

The designs for Once Upon A Frosting's sweet treats include the UA, popular TV shows and movies

Fascinated by the cakes in wedding magazines, Noelle Mares at age 6 or 7 years old would replicate the cakes out of clay.

“I started caking when my mom would let me,” she says.

Now years later, Mares bakes and decorates cakes and cookies under the name Once Upon A Frosting.

Noelle Mares created this cookie of Lute Olson when he died in 2020.

“It’s honestly the artsy-ness of it,” says Mares, who grew up in Tucson. “Because I would’ve been content making clay cakes my whole life. I didn’t really care if it was edible. I just thought it was cool that there was a second step of it — that someone could appreciate the art of it and then devour it.”

Within the last year, Noelle Mares has made Once Upon A Frosting her full-time job.

Mares’ tasty treats are quite literally works of art. Sometimes they involve sculpting. Sometimes they involve painting with food coloring gel. Other times, she prints out reference photos to use as a rough stencil before free-handing designs.

Mares, who is known as Noelle Elizabeth, has created University of Arizona-inspired designs, treats with designs celebrating popular TV shows and movies, and very Tucson cookies in the shape of saguaros. Mares even designed a cookie to remember Lute Olson when he died in August.

“I love things where you have to be super meticulous and you get to be intricate,” she says.

Mares’ journey in selling her baked goods started when she was around 20 or 21, selling to neighbors and locals in Washington state. She later moved to Hawaii and did the same thing.

By 2015, Mares moved back to Tucson and took a break from baking. But within the last year, she picked up Once Upon A Frosting full time.

“Literally three weeks before the pandemic hit, I was like, ‘I want to do this full time,’” she says.

Mares originally started with cakes, later adding cookies to the mix.

“I had been wanting to learn (cookies) for years because I was so comfortable with cakes because of the clay I started with,” she says.

Noelle Mares of Once Upon A Frosting created these Tucson-inspired cookies when the gem show was in Tucson last year.

“Cookies fascinated me. The first time I tried them, I wanted to throw everything away. I was so frustrated. I was like, ‘How are these people doing it like this?’”

Mares of Once Upon A Frosting hand-painted this replica of an iconic mural that’s near North Fourth Avenue. She donated the cake to a local fire station during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mares eventually saved up her money to attend a cookie class taught by a well-known cookie artist who goes by @youcancallmesweetie on Instagram.

“I saw her in 2018 when she finally came to Arizona — in Mesa — and I was not going to miss it,” Mares says. “So, I saved my pennies and I went to see her and it was so magical.”

Beyond that class, she also started school while in Washington to learn more about baking. She also worked at a resort where she learned from her fellow chefs.

But as far as her artsy designs go, Mares is self-taught.

And if you’re wondering if Mares ever gets sad when people eat her creations, the answer is no.

“It would upset me if you didn’t eat it,” she says.

Mares originally started with cakes, later adding cookies to the mix. “Cookies fascinated me,” she says.

Contact reporter Gloria Knott at 573-4235 or gknott@tucson.com. On Twitter:

@gloriaeknott


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