“Baking became my outlet and therapy in a really dark time,” he explained.
After watching hours of online videos and baking shows on Food Network, he perfected his first creation — a molten chocolate cake.
But rather than attend culinary school, he enrolled in a mechanical engineering program at Kennesaw State University.
“But toward the end of college, I realized engineering wasn’t my passion,” said DeDiego.
During his senior year, he launched a YouTube channel, Bake It With AJ, and started posting videos of his favorite recipes, like profiteroles and the molten chocolate cake he loved baking in high school.
After graduating from KSU in 2017 with his engineering degree, he took on a series of odd jobs while building his baking business on the side.
“At the time, I didn’t really know how to have a job in baking or how to grow my social media presence,” he admitted. “There are so many factors that go into making a successful channel, and in the beginning, I was posting just to post.”
His breakthrough came in March 2020. Furloughed from his then-job as a flight attendant for Delta Air Lines, he posted a short clip, “Three Desserts You Can Make With What You Have,” to his YouTube channel.
“At the time, grocery stores were out of a lot of things like eggs and flour,” he said of the inspiration for the video that featured simple desserts like brownies and chocolate-dipped fruit.
The timely content — combined with DeDiego’s approachable, energetic delivery — was a hit for a newcomer, racking up 1,500 views in less than 24 hours.
“He is literally the only person who says that you can do the recipes with things you have at home, and it’s true,” commented one new YouTube fan.
The overwhelmingly positive feedback combined with a surge in Instagram followers made DeDiego realize he could capitalize on the momentum to build his dream: a full-time baking business.
He continued to post similarly formatted videos with voiceovers, so “people feel like they’re having a conversation with me while watching me bake,” he explained.
Over the next several months, he revamped his website, Bake It With AJ, launched an e-commerce store with products like his now-bestselling dry dessert mixes, and started making elaborately decorated layer cakes and other custom creations for his growing local clientele. Last year, he quit his job with Delta to focus exclusively on his baking business and content creation.
“I spend more time than I care to admit scrolling social media accounts, but it’s kind of my job,” he said of his digital strategy.
“TikTok, YouTube and Instagram all have different times and days when interaction is at its peak, so I make sure I’m on top of that and posting at good times, so there’s a better chance of more people seeing my stuff,” he said.
His social media savvy landed him paid partnerships with national brands like the Fresh Market, and a spot on Season 8 of Food Network’s “Halloween Baking Championship.” He has also authored two books — including his latest release, “Time for Dessert” ($29.99).
But his first love is still cake, and his vivid creations with perfectly piped roses and elegant chocolate drips are still some of his highest-performing videos.
“Even better if I’m making a cake for a client and getting paid for it, while also making content that gets views,” he laughed.
When asked about his success, he credits it to time, diligent study and patience.
His advice for aspiring influencers? “Your following is unique to you, so test out times and subjects, and pay attention to when your followers are on the app and what resonates with them so they see what they want to see when they’re on the app,” he explained.
“It took a lot of experimentation and effort to make this my job, and for so long, I wondered what it would feel like, and it’s very scary and very cool all at the same time.”
AJ DeDiego’s Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes
“I love this recipe for the holidays,” said baker AJ DeDiego. “It’s a very easy recipe because it all just goes in one bowl and doesn’t need any special mixing equipment.” He recommends using a 2 3/4-inch cookie scoop when adding the batter into the cupcake wells so all the cupcakes are the same size. If you only need a dozen cupcakes, you can prepare the entire batter recipe and transfer half to an airtight, freezer-safe container and freeze it for up to two months. Just thaw the batter to room temperature before baking, and remember to cut the frosting recipe in half.
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