MACKINAW, Ill. (WMBD) – When Ryleigh Stephens isn’t juggling high school and homework, she’s baking and now she’s doing it on the national level.

Stephens is one of about 20,000 bakers participating in The Greatest Baker competition. But she’s hoping to go all the way. 

“You get $10,000. You can use that toward whatever, but I’d like to use it toward my culinary education if possible and then you get a feature in the ‘Bake From Scratch’ magazine,” she said.

Stephens started baking when she was about seven years old, learning from her great-grandmother and grandmother.

She said, “We did Sunday dinners with the family. So every Sunday, I’d be out in the kitchen with them, helping them cook and making a dessert. And a lot of it, they just told me to make something and I’d whip something up for dessert.”

“I really love it. It’s truly my passion. And it’s the one thing I can see myself doing forever.”

Ryleigh Stephens

After a few years of baking for family and friends, the now 16-year-old owns her own baking business: Ryleigh’s Sweets. She makes homemade cookies, elaborate cakes, pies, and cinnamon rolls out of her Mackinaw home.

“It was a lot of how many orders I was getting. And right around the seasons, I’d like—Christmas time, Thanksgiving is when I did a lot of it. So I’m like people always ask me if I had cards or if I had a business, so then I decided to take it another step further,” said Stephens.

She’s also encouraging other young people that might be interested in entrepreneurship.

“It is really hard at first. It’s a lot to do. Sometimes you don’t know which direction you need to go in, but having people to help you or asking questions is really easy to get you started,” she said.

Stephens has advanced to the semi-final round of The Greatest Baker competition and with enough votes, she’ll progress to the quarter-final round.

She said, “It’s nerve-racking to find out if I move on, but it’s really heartwarming to see all the support from people even I don’t know.”

You can vote for Ryleigh Stephens until Thursday, December 15 at 9 p.m/CST. She’ll find out if she advances to the quarter-finals Friday morning.