For Rachel Fong, baking isn't just a fun pastime but a form of artistic expression.
Fong, a rising junior at Stanford University, has been experimenting with baking for the past nine years on her YouTube channel, Kawaii Sweet World, and has formulated hundreds of new recipes and techniques for desserts that are both visually appealing and easy to make. Some of her recent creations include doughnuts that look like alpacas, color-changing noodles and cakes that resemble sushi.
Now, at 20, she is releasing her first book, "Kawaii Sweet World Cookbook: 75 Yummy Recipes for Baking That's (Almost) Too Cute To Eat."
Fong's creations are not just meant to be aesthetically pleasing. Her recipes are often whimsical and incorporate a variety of colors, animals and the occasional pop culture reference.
"'Kawaii' is just the Japanese word for 'cute,' and it describes the style of things like Hello Kitty, Totoro, Pikachu, characters like that," Fong said. "The crafts, DIYs and desserts I make on my channel are all in that 'kawaii' style."
Fong started her channel in 2010 to enter a contest that required a video entry. She didn't win, but discovered how much she enjoyed making videos and decided to keep creating them.
"I built a small community that I really loved," she said. "Things just snowballed from there into making more videos, growing my audience and eventually building it out to where it is today."
The process of making her videos is arduous. She first has to settle on an idea and develop a recipe that will look and taste good. Once she's satisfied with the recipe, she'll spend anywhere from six to 10 hours filming at her studio in the basement of her family's house in Piedmont. She spends another five hours condensing the footage into an eight-minute video.
"It's a lot more work than most people think it is, but (it's) still fun for me and still worth it in the end," she said.
Going away to college made it much harder to find time to devote to the video channel.
"It was already difficult in high school to balance my time between YouTube and schoolwork, but then when I got to college it was even more difficult," she said. "Living away from my studio definitely put a strain on my time, and just trying to adapt to college in general while balancing my YouTube channel and writing the cookbook was challenging."
She is currently trying to choose between majoring in mechanical engineering and product design, an interdisciplinary program that incorporates mechanical engineering and design. She said she tries to incorporate aesthetics into both her baking videos and academic pursuits.
"When it comes to desserts, when it comes to products, even when it comes to something you're going to mechanically engineer, visual design is something that I think I'll always be interested in," Fong said.
It wasn't until recently that she seriously considered publishing her recipes.
"It's always been a dream of mine to write a cookbook and I didn't think it was possible until my manager said we could just go for it," she said. "I think you'd be surprised how much you can accomplish just going for your dreams and your goals."
Fong's cookbook, which was released on July 30, contains 75 new recipes of her own design, including emoji lemon cookies, narwhal cake pops and unicorn cupcakes. Information about it, and her YouTube channel, can be found at kawaiisweetworld.com.