Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice
article by Vanelis Rivera | photography by Kelly Moore Clark
Shopping the over 40 locally-owned antique shops, boutiques, and specialty stores on Trenton Street in West Monroe, Louisiana, just got a whole lot sweeter. Only in their eighth week of business, Cake has been luring passersbys with the promise of their appellation. Though the bulk of the business gravitates around the airy, frosted staple we’ve grown to expect during special occasions, a visit inside the redbrick storefront reveals an array of other goodies. This small-scale modern, southern bakery owned by Chef Becky Thompson and managed by Emily Kemp generates big flavor profiles in the form of pristinely decorated treats ready to give your day that pick-me-up only a confection can offer.
After graduating from West Monroe High School in 2002, Thompson attended “Ole Miss,” the only one in her graduating class to attend the prestigious institution. There, she completed a Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Management. “I knew in the end that I wanted to be in food service,” she says. For her, that meant dragging her college sweetheart, turned husband, all the way to the windy city of Chicago where she attended The French Pastry School. “It was such an amazing experience,” she beams. Her exposure to such a bustling city coupled with the guidance she was receiving from master pastry chefs solidified her craft and her drive. Upon completion of the program, she moved to Greenwood, Mississippi, to work for the Viking Cooking School, an extension of Viking Range Corporation, an American appliance company that manufactures kitchen appliances, including the cooking equipment used on the Food Network. For twelve years, she worked there as a chef instructor, “among other things.”
The idea of setting out on her own, not having a regular paycheck, “leaving working for the man” and working for herself didn’t become real until four years ago. Having moved back home, she was able to begin making her “ultimate goal” a reality by freelance baking for local shops and taking on a small batch of clients for weddings and special occasions. While the pandemic cost them a few bookings, fortunately, they didn’t have as much overhead because they had not yet ventured into opening a brick and mortar. Having her sister as a business partner made that venture much more feasible. “I could not live without her. She is the left side of my brain. The right brain comes up with cookies, and creative designs for cookies and cakes and things, and the last half my brain doesn’t know what I need to do next,” laughs Thompson.
Once pandemic restrictions loosened, brides started rebooking, and the business was on the rise once more. During that boom, the Trenton location fell in their lap, allowing them to better adjust to a growing clientele. “Oh my gosh, just the space. We’re not on top of each other.” exclaims Thompson, who took a quick and eager glance around the widespread baking space, an open kitchen that can be admired from the outside of the building. The increased efficiency the extra space affords allows the pair to better serve their custom orders as well as walk-ins. “And it helps with the flow of prep and production, but also separating work from home, which is unfortunately not a lot right now. Because I think my family is here more often than we are,” says Thompson who emphasized the importance of cherishing the time with her children. Even then, Thompson and Kemp have been able to curate a space where gathering takes place, whether it be extended family members like fathers and husbands, or clients: “We have the big table there that we use for wedding consults, which also was a great place for us to gather and eat… it’s not just a bakery, you know, it’s an extension of our home.”
While the bakes being whipped out of Cake are high-end, the atmosphere portrayed is one that’s personal and amiable. “You’re not just a number,” stresses Thompson, adding “we try to make sure and project that to people who come in.” An assortment of details contributes to this effort. From the exterior of the building, a metal rack displaying colorful cookie cutters can be admired through the glass door: stars, pumpkins, elephants, and even pineapples. For a while, Thompson considered blocking off the door, but it was hard to pull the plug after witnessing the number of kids that would press forehead to glass to take a better look. Another display adding color and frivolity can be found in the interior–a six-tier shelf bunched with clear boxes of sprinkles of different shapes, colors, and textures. One of the most delightful combinations is the tiny, avocado-shaped sprinkles! “I’ve gathered sprinkles for a long, long time. And I’ve got another shelf ordered that’s exactly like that one,” Thompson smiles. “I wanted it to be like a statement.”
The space’s sleek minimalist design characterized by a white counter table and bakery display is contrasted by the professional-grade kitchen featuring stainless steel sheet pan racks, reach-in fridge, Southbend convection oven, and industrial packing tables. The baking space holds its own appeal, especially when customers can glance at Thompson diligently glazing chocolate ganache over brownies or dripping brightly colored frosting on her latest cake order. Ultimately, it’s where she can sift through creative ideas uninterrupted. Recently, she put together a cinnamon roll cake, a vanilla-base cake with stirred in ground cinnamon filled with cream cheese icing, which Thompson claims is even better the next day, in the morning, popped in the microwave just for a few. “Look, it is so delicious,” she says, admitting that eating cake is not as exciting to her as munching on a brownie or a cookie. But, coming up with a cake version of the popular breakfast treat was thrilling. “People have absolutely loved it.”
“We have a policy. No butts, no boobs, no bodily functions,” says Thompson, referring to the strange requests she has gotten over the years. “Don’t come and ask me for a toilet paper roll cake,” she laughs. That’s not to say that she doesn’t have an adventurous tendency, but her excursions take the form of playing with nontraditional flavor profiles. Strawberry lemonade is one of those summer specialties (strawberry cake, cream cheese icing, and lemon curd drizzle). “That’ll be really fun when it starts getting warm again.” For these cold months, spice cake is her preferred concoction, along with Italian cream cake, and pumpkin cream cake. Thanks to her custom orders, she has added to her selection of cake options, one stand-out being a peanut butter cake originally created as a groom’s cake (vanilla sponge cake with strawberry filling, and peanut butter mousse icing). The unusual pairing was such a hit that the groom’s wife returned to order the same dessert for his birthday.
Two elements of Thompson’s cake creations that are most distinguished are her use of cream cheese icing and her decoration aesthetic. Why cream cheese instead of the go-to American buttercream? “Because it’s my favorite,” she proclaims, adding, “it sets us apart.” Her cream cheese icing is made from scratch, and though she swears by it, she will happily acquiesce to making a buttercream if a client so desires. Thompson creates a Swiss meringue buttercream, a combination of sugar, egg whites, butter, and vanilla paste (Madagascar bourbon vanilla paste; the highest quality vanilla paste from Nielsen-Massey). The result is a light, fluffy, and smooth buttercream. “The sky’s the limit, really,” she says, stressing that she loves a challenge, especially those requested for custom cake orders. She gravitates toward modern, minimalist designs that incorporate splashes of color either brushed on, dripped down, or glazed on a sponge. A scroll through her social media reveals delectable toppings, including her intricately adorned sugar cookies, fanciful sprinkle patterns, gilded macarons, chocolate-covered strawberries, mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, an array of fruits, and show-stopping flowers. Thompson takes pride in elevating cake design and is happy to go “over the top,” if the occasion calls for it.
By far, Cake is not just cake. Their storefront holds incredible sweet snack options: sticky toffee pudding brownies covered in chocolate ganache, chocolate brownies with salted caramel glaze, macarons, and a flurry of cookies. One of her recent developments is a campfire cookie, a sweet and savory delight of chocolate chips, marshmallows, and Dot’s Homestyle Pretzels. These giant cookies are just a little underbaked in the center and crispy around the edges. When it comes to commissioned orders, Thomspson’s decorated sugar cookies stand alone. Not only are they tasty, but the decorations span the gamut: Harry Potter, horror movies, Star Wars, Friends, and Fortnite. From pop culture themes to corporate logos and cute animals, Thompson can traverse one end of the spectrum to the other.
At Cake, Thompson and Kemp are marrying their childhood favorites–pralines, millionaires, fudge, and cookies–with the foundational techniques of traditional French baking. A big-city style with an at-home feel reflects their demand for excellence through simplicity. At this bakery, each confection is a celebration, a centerpiece, and a statement. And, Thompson’s eye for design and flavor literally and figuratively takes the cake.
Cake is located at 115 Trenton St, West Monroe, LA, and is open Tuesday through Friday between 10 AM to 6 PM and Saturday from 9 AM to 2 PM. Visit them on Instagram and check out their website (https://www.bmakingcake.com/) for some sweet-spiration. For commissions call 6-8 weeks out to (318) 855-3442.