HAMILTON -- The sun's rays warm the counter below the windowsill on a 70-degree spring day, but snowflakes are accumulating inside the Rostad family kitchen.
On a sheet of wax paper dusted with powdered sugar, Reilly Rostad places a few dozen flakes of varying sizes and shapes. And colors.
She's added a touch of blue food coloring to some as she crafts the final touches of a two-tiered chocolate birthday cake. The flakes, cut from a pliable icing called fondant, will sit aside overnight before Reilly attaches them as the cake's final touches.
"I'm a perfectionist," says the Hamilton High senior as she presses another flake, "so everything has to be perfect."
Her customers have come to expect as much. The 18-year-old, who balances a rigorous academic schedule while playing three varsity sports for the Broncs, runs her own baking business out of her parents' kitchen. Her most recent customer is the school's vice principal -- or more accurately the educator's grand daughter who, like most 5-year-old girls, has an unbridled affinity for the Disney movie "Frozen."
By her estimate, Reilly has filled more than 30 cake or cupcake orders since she went pro just over 2 years ago under the name Sweet Indulgence. Soon the business will take something of a temporary hiatus though. In a few months she's headed to Helena to run and jump with the Carroll College track and field team and study business.
So someday soon she can make a career running her own bakery.
Reilly can trace her sweet tooth back to baking with her grandmothers as a child, but it was around sixth grade that things got serious.
At 11 she started making cakes for friends and family. At 13 she churned out her first wedding cake. That's when she started thinking big.
"I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life so I might as well start figuring out how I can make it into a living," Reilly said. "Once I started getting non-family members asking me to make cakes, I (thought), '"Wow, I guess this really could happen.'"
She commandeered the family's kitchen for long stretches of time, taking between 6 and 8 hours per project as cakes grew more complex and daring. An avid watcher of the the reality television show "Cake Boss," Reilly let her imagination guide her.
And her parents, Lanell and Craig, provided the support. Birthdays and Christmases stocked Reilly's cabinets as her collection of baking tools grew. A KitchenAid here, an extra apron or rolling pin there.
"It's pretty easy to buy for Reilly," Lanell quipped. "There's always something new."
During the school year she takes on hardly one new order per month, she said, because baking is her go-to activity during her free moments. Through most of the year, though, Reilly's schedule provides little down time.
She grew up on soccer and basketball, which ruled the falls and winters of her childhood, but she didn't add track to the mix until her sophomore year of high school. She'd avoided the sport until then for silly reasons but was looking for something to help her stay in shape for her other sports.
"I think with track I was so nervous running because you get just one chance for every race and if you mess it up -- false start or something -- you don't get to redo it," she explained.
Hamilton head track coach John Stromberg helped usher Reilly into an event with a little more flexibility. She picked up the triple jump before finding her calling in the long jump, two events that allow for multiple attempts. The furthest of three tries can earn an athlete a spot in the finals where the best of three more becomes his or her final mark.
She qualified for the State A meet that spring in both jumping events. Now in her final year of prep competition, Reilly ranks in Montana's top 10 in each regardless of classification.
"It took her a while to warm up to track, but then she found her niche in the jumping events," Stromberg said. "... She's the easiest kid in the world to coach because whatever you ask her to try, she's willing to try it."
Her success in the field and her strong academic record -- she's one B short of a 4.0 GPA for her high school career -- drew the attention of Carroll College. In February, Reilly accepted a scholarship to compete for the Saints.
With two circular sheets of dense chocolate cake stacked on a rotating turntable, Reilly squeezes chocolate mortar from a piping bag before laying a third sheet on top of the pile.
She uses the edge of a spatula to spread a thin layer of buttercream frosting around the edge, spinning the cake on the turntable to ensure even application of the crum coat.
This is the easy part. The tough stuff comes later in the decorating.
"I would have never thought that I could sculpt little characters (from molding chocolate), but I'm not too bad at it," she says, spinning the cake like an artist throwing pottery.
The key is speed. The longer the molding chocolate is held, the softer it becomes before it melts beyond use. Reilly doesn't need to worry about sculpting a tiny Elsa for the "Frozen" cake though. She's picked up a valuable lesson in baking for pre-schoolers.
"I like to mold animals or characters," she continues, "but it's a good idea to use figurines for younger kids."
Because even after her artwork is consumed and gone, the birthday boy or girl is left with a toy.