Sassy and Sweet

12/30/2022 01:45 AM By Lisa Anderson
The Chews Letter
Ashleigh Bennett
Ashleigh Bennett
Story by Cynthia McFarland • Photos by Joshua Jacobs

Sassy & Sweet

Home Baker Survives Grief with a Smile & a can-do Spirit

When it comes to personality, Ashleigh Bennett sparkles. Her bubbly, over-the-top approach to life can be tasted in every bite of her delectable sweets.

“I tell everyone, ‘I’m the sassiest baker you’ll ever meet, and my desserts are the best you’ll ever eat!’” declares this accomplished baker and the owner of Ocala-based Sassy Sweets.

“There’s no occasion too big or too small for cake. It’s not a celebration without a cake,” says Ashleigh, who bakes other desserts as well, but specializes in cakes. Red velvet is her signature and most popular cake—and her personal favorite. She loves both the baking and decorating aspects, but her greatest satisfaction is seeing a customer’s reaction after tasting her cakes.

“I have people tell me, ‘I don’t eat red velvet cake, but I like yours.’ I have had the pleasure of turning some red velvet haters into red velvet lovers,” she laughs.

“When people ask me what makes your cakes so different, I tell them, ‘That’s the love you’re tasting. You can’t get that off the shelf!’” exclaims Ashleigh.

Her cakes are not only rich in flavor, but also incredibly moist. She believes both characteristics are essential for a memorable cake.

Baking Institution

Ashleigh was still in elementary school the first time she helped make cakes for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Born in Gainesville and raised in Marion County, she attended Dr. NH Jones Elementary and Howard Middle School and graduated from West Port High School. The youngest of six children in a close-knit family, Ashleigh has four brothers and one sister. “Not only do I come from a big family, but my mom and dad did too. Food has always been a very important part of any family gathering,” she says.

“My mom is an excellent cook, but baking was never her forte. I believe my gift of baking came from my paternal grandmother, who was known for baking in her town of Hawthorne, Florida. I inherited my love of baking from her,” reflects Ashleigh. “She passed on a recipe for a red velvet cake, but once I became more comfortable with my baking intuition, I made changes and made my own recipe.”

Ashleigh’s slogan is: “We don’t just bake, we create.” As she explains, “Anyone can mix up ingredients, but it’s the science behind baking that impacts what you create. Baking is all science and a series of chemical reactions.”

The baker attended the University of Florida, graduating with a degree in health education and behavior. She then returned to school and earned her nursing degree. While serving as Class Representative (president), she often delighted fellow students with the rewards of her baking endeavors.

“I was so excited to get my career started, and then COVID hit,” recalls Ashleigh, adding that the pandemic struck painfully close to home. “My entire family was sick with COVID,” she relates. “On August 11, 2021, my sister suffered a miscarriage. Four days later on August 15, my father passed away, and then my sister’s husband died on August 19. My father was just a day shy of his 61st birthday. He and my mother had been married 38 years.”

A Triumph and Testiment

While the story is truly heartbreaking, Ashleigh insists it’s not one of defeat and sorrow. “My family’s story is one of triumph and a testament that even in your toughest times, there are still opportunities to be grateful and thankful. We were all pillars for each other. Losing my earthly father made me even closer to my Heavenly Father,” she notes.

For some months, Ashleigh took a break from everything and grieved.

“This caused a big transition in my life. What seemed so clearly destined to be my future became very uncertain. I shifted my focus from nursing and decided to focus on my faith in God, my family, and my love of baking. Reflecting on everything, I’m very grateful,” she says.

“I’ve been blessed beyond measure with my parents and family,” asserts Ashleigh. “My mom and dad, Tony and Wanda Bennett, raised their family with faith. My parents taught me to always trust in God through all circumstances,” says Ashleigh. “They were an amazing dynamic duo—committed to each other and committed to their kids. They made a great team and really invested in us, which set us all up for life.”

Tony Bennett was a U.S. Marine, and after serving his country, he worked as a master control operator at TV20 in Gainesville and wrapped up his working career as a corrections officer.

Wanda Bennett also worked for the Department of Corrections. “My mother always knows the right thing to say,” adds Ashleigh, noting that she’s taken to heart her mother’s advice to “remain true to yourself and speak the truth.”
Ashleigh Bennett

Twice Blessed

What started as a hobby years ago has turned into a fulfilling career for Ashleigh. She considers it a “double blessing” to make a living from something she enjoys so much.

While Ashleigh considers her baking ability a God-given skill, she takes her business seriously and recently completed an entrepreneurship training program. “I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur and always loved baking, so I’m optimizing my skills and learning more about the business of baking,” she states. “I’m very excited about the direction my business is headed. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for Sassy Sweets!”
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