Connie Palmer's love of baking started early. She was about 7 years old when she helped her Mom bake simple chocolate cakes.

Now 18 and about to graduate from Carbon Career and Technical Institute's culinary arts program, Palmer, one of the school's top two students, has been accepted at the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia.

Although that classic childhood chocolate cake remains her pastry repertoire, Palmer's skills have become more sophisticated. Her favorite recipe is now Italian Love Cake: a rich melding of chocolate, sweetened ricotta cheese and fluffy whipped cream.

On Wednesday, Palmer was honored at CCTI's Senior Recognition Night. She is the Salutatorian of the Class of 2010.

Palmer, of Lehighton, won a DECA award; Outstanding Senior in Culinary Arts; National Vocational-Technical Honor Society Seniors recognition; Culinary Arts Achievement Award; and recognition for her performance on PSSA tests.

Her journey through CCTI's culinary arts program began when she was in ninth grade and toured the school.

"I wanted something different, and I like to bake," she said. Her family makes dinner together, and so her cooking skills are also exemplary. "I love vegetables, so I like doing stir-fries and Italian dishes," she said.

While Palmer has learned and grown as a baker and cook at CCTI, she also credits the school with helping her to learn and grow as a person.

"I've learned a lot of things, especially coming here and meeting new people," she said. "I've matured a lot. I used to just not care, and coming here helped me focus on life, and real life. It brings you to reality: You're working and going to school. Half your day you spend in academics and the other half you spend in work. it matures you."

Her biggest challenge, she said, has been in academics. "Doing homework. I had to learn to discipline myself. When I was at my home school, I was kind of distracted by everything else. here, there are smaller class sizes, and you're more by yourself. They are more focused on the students than sports and things like that."

Palmer sees her self one day owning her own bakery. Until then, she wants to work decorating cakes and "not exactly the Ace of Cakes, but doing wedding cakes and birthday cakes and doing a lot of hands-on work with pastries."

Does Culinary Arts teacher Nadine Harbove think her student will be successful?

"Absolutely. Absolutely," she said. Palmer is an "excellent student - an 'A' student all around," Harbove said. She said that in her three years with Palmer, the student "matured. She blossomed. She takes responsibility well, shows initiative, gets along with her peers and elders. She's a good student."