//Hajra Khan, owner of the custom home bakery Just Us Cupcakes, pipes icing on her chocolate cupcakes in her home kitchen in Centennial on July 21. Khan also works as a lawyer. Photo by Ali Mai | firstname.lastname@example.org
Hajra Khan knows how to serve up justice. As a lawyer and baker, she opened Just Us Cupcakes in 2017 as a way to honor her Muslim heritage and that of others in the Denver metro area. Plus, her business serves as an outlet to wholeheartedly unleash her creative side.
In the world of custom cakes and edible creations, Khan has seen vast underrepresentation of women like herself leading the pack. On top of a lacking display of diverse cultural holiday treats, she feels that food media is notorious for gatekeeping creators of color from social platforms. Though, looking ahead, she says that norm is slowly being dismantled.
“When we think of a baker in the traditional sense, we tend to think of someone who looks like a Southern Belle or a white, Midwestern woman,” Khan said. “There are so many more people in the baking industry beyond that—people with diverse backgrounds and ethnicities.”
Just Us Cupcakes celebrates World Hijab Day each year with Khan’s Hijabi cookies, and this year was no exception. With Muslims all over the world, she wants her cookies to showcase the various appearances, nationalities and racial identities that compose Muslim women. When a young girl said she finally felt seen through these cookies, Khan realized the profound impact a singular treat could have.
“That’s a really important creation of mine that I take a lot of pride in because it’s not only important to me as a visible Muslim woman who wears a hijab, but it also allows me to be creative in what I offer to clients,” Khan said. “It gives my clients something that reflects a little about them that they can be proud of. It’s always heartwarming to see the reactions these cookies bring out in everyone, particularly young girls who see themselves in these edible creations.”
Khan’s cultural heritage often presents itself in the designs of her desserts. For example, her mehndi, or henna, cookies are especially popular during the wedding season.
As a self-taught baking artist and one-woman team, Khan’s decorating style is vibrant and masterful, but her expertise goes beyond aesthetics. Using culturally appropriate ingredients is the backbone to her brand.
“One of the things that I take a lot of pride in is making custom cakes and cookies and other desserts with a nod to my cultural heritage, with respect to the ingredients that I use,” she said. “I use things you find a lot in South Asian desserts, like cardamom, rose water and mango.”
Her creations tap into various flavor palates that the typical cake shop may not have in mind. At Just Us Cupcakes, customers will see not just chocolate, vanilla and red velvet; they’ll also be exposed to ras malai, vanilla-cardamom, Mexican chocolate, mango lassi and many more options.
“Oftentimes, diverse faiths are not represented in the baking industry, both in terms of decorating products and supplies offered, as well as baked goods commercially available,” she said. “In addition to making creations for holidays like Christmas, Easter, etc., I also make a special effort into providing my clients with high-end, custom desserts that celebrate important Muslim occasions, like Ramadan and the Eid holidays.”
For Ramadan this year, Khan collaborated with Wilton Cake Decorating to create a mango kulfi cake in honor of Eid ul-Fitr, a celebration that marks the end of Ramadan. She utilized traditional Islamic symbolism combined with modern decorating techniques and mediums in its creation.
“I might not fit the mold of who you imagine would be making an incredible creation for a big company like Wilton Cake Decorating, but here I am,” she said. “There’s definitely a lot that people who look like me have to offer to the world.”
Similar to the baking world, Khan felt like an anomaly while attending law school in Ottawa, Canada just over a decade ago. While she made lasting friendships and earned her degree, she felt isolated amongst her racially uniform class. That trend bleeds into the legal field as a whole, where over the past 10 years, the number of lawyers of color grew less than 3%, according to the 2020 ABA National Lawyer Population Survey.
“In my own experience, I have had the opportunity to work with lawyers from various backgrounds and ethnicities, but there is a large portion of the legal profession that is still white and male,” Khan said. “That’s going to take time for it to change. In this field, there is an emergence of different people, culturally and educationally, but a lot more diversity is still needed. Diverse professionals are needed in order to have the progression of laws and policies that will benefit all aspects of society—not just the status quo.”
Today Khan works at a general practice firm while she grows her home baking business and spends time with her children. The way she divides her time ebbs and flows depending on the needs of her family, law career and baking business at any given time. Balancing these unique demands with her own has required taking time off when needed but knowing she can always return again. This method has garnered her the ability to “do it all,” as she puts it.
“If you would have told me some years ago that I would be doing law and baking at the same time, I would’ve thought that’s the craziest thing,” she said. “But it’s never too late to work on something that you really want to do.”
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