WHERE EVERY FLAVOR HAS A STORY
Monica Smith’s family-owned and operated small batch bake shop, Bake 318, specializes in fresh, from scratch sweet and savory treats meant to satisfy anytime a craving hits.
ARTICLE BY VANELIS RIVERA AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY KELLY MOORE CLARK
Unpopular opinion–we don’t need dessert; really, we merely desire dessert, expecting at the end of a savory meal something sweet to satisfy more than just our palates. Recognizing this emotional tie to our favorite part of a meal, Monica Smith, owner of Bake318, adopted for her business the maxim, “Where every flavor has a story.” By this, she refers to the memories tied to food, “especially if you come from a big family where that’s part of the culture.” Not only is food nostalgic, but making a meal for someone is a praiseworthy love language. When someone makes you dessert, serves you a sweet parcel of ingredients meant to indulge your senses rather than nourish you, well, that can be akin to a tender hug or a kiss on the lips. Though you shouldn’t expect anyone to hug or kiss you at Smith’s family-owned and operated sweet factory (because… well, social distancing), this small batch bake shop specializes in fresh, from scratch sweet and savory treats meant to satisfy anytime a craving hits.
Smith is from Rayville, Louisiana, and was a teacher there for about 14 years. It was in the classroom that her baked goods started to gain some traction with the ideal customer–her students. She would have baking parties at school, and began rewarding them with treats. Steadily, she turned her hobby, which started out as “a stress reliever,” into a successful side-business. When she met the man that would later become her husband, she moved to Ouachita Parish, but a hiring freeze forced her to look at other job options. After turning in applications to a few local bakeries, one of them snatched her up. It was there she was able to learn the ins and outs of running a bakery, but particularly she began to notice the kind of delicacies that kept people coming back. When the opportunity to open Bake318 presented itself in January of last year, little did she know that she would find herself starting a business during a worldwide pandemic. Luckily, nothing says “Everything is going to be okay” quite like a baked good, and the months of quarantine thankfully didn’t affect the start-up.
“My grandmother and mom have always been very good cooks,” says Smith, recalling the first bake she learned to make was a southern tea cake; her grandmother’s recipe. Growing up, there was always dessert on the table after dinner. Mostly, it was something her family did for fun, especially when she would give her grandmother a helping hand. Yet, her grandmother seemed to be communicating a valuable lesson to Smith about putting in the extra effort to make the guests at her table feel valued and special. “I don’t want to get emotional,” warns Smith before delving into a childhood memory about her grandmother’s role in what has become her passion. She explains that one of the reasons there was always dessert on the dinner table was because her grandmother wanted to make something sweet for everybody she knew was coming over. She had some grandsons that liked her Texas sheet cake, so she would make one. If Smith’s uncle came to visit, his favorite would be waiting–chocolate pie without the meringue. “It was always something for everybody,” says Smith, who has carried that legacy to Bake318.
The amount of sweets available makes it near impossible to choose just one–brownies, cookies, cookie cakes, chocolate-covered strawberries, petit fours, macarons, and more. The largest selection of flavors can be found in a sweet most people can never say no to, cupcakes! At Bake318 they come in three different sizes–mini, regular, and jumbo. Delicious and hand-decorated, customers can select from classic flavors like chocolate, yellow cake, black forest, and red velvet, or venture into bolder flavors like coconut, pineapple, and butter pecan. Not only do they feature a flavor of the day, but seasonal recipes rotate in and out of the menu. Smith’s current favorite is the king cake cupcake with cream cheese icing. Like most Bake318 treats, the cookies are made from scratch daily and feature Smith’s take on some classic and inventive flavors like chocolate chip (another Smith favorite), ultimate oatmeal raisin, toffee butter pecan, chewy toasted coconut, and soft molasses.
One of the more unexpected sweets found at Bake318 is a French classic, macarons. Don’t let these tiny meringue-based confections fool you, they are quite the little rascals to perfect. Made with egg white, icing, sugar, almond meal, and food coloring, it’s easy to vary flavors that pack a scrumptious punch. Smith perfected her macarons using Youtube videos, “lots of videos.” Customer favorites include the vanilla, strawberry, coffee caramel, cookie butter, and cotton candy varieties, but the king cake flavored macaron is taking center stage with purple, gold, and green exterior and a cinnamon buttercream center. When it comes to macarons, “you can do anything,” explains Smith, who doesn’t shy away from playing with flavors. Another unexpected popular item has been Smith’s hot cocoa bombs. This end-of-the-year trend is apt for the kind of year we have had, releasing a bit of sweet just in time for cold weather. Recently she added a twist to these transformative treats, cappuccino bombs! “They work exactly like cocoa bombs and are every bit as delicious. Ya know, with an extra punch of caffeine.”
At the heart of the Bake318 operation is the sweet item that holds special occasions together; be it birthdays, weddings, or anniversaries, we all want to eat cake! Smith’s customized cakes are not only greatly desired by customers, but keep getting more elaborate by the order. One of the most challenging cakes made at the shop is the Doberge (dough-bash) cake. This confectionery delight originated in New Orleans and is made of six to seven layers of cake and dessert pudding. “Those are very heavy. They’re complicated because you can mess up so many elements and then you’re in a bind,” says Smith. Usually, customers know exactly what they want, and have introduced Smith to cakes she otherwise wouldn’t have considered making. One such novelty that Smith had to figure out was a geode cake. These cakes are a marvel to look at, as they are meant to mimic the stunning rock formation lined with crystals. To complete the effect, Smith had to carve chunks of the cake from the finished product, then fill the cut-outs with edible crystals. She has also learned to use metallic icing, used mostly for drip cakes. They are as popular as they were difficult to learn. “The metallic cake has been quite a challenge. It’s hard to find because you have to order all these specialty products, and that’s trial and error,” admits Smith. The most enjoyable cakes to make thus far have been gender reveal cakes. Smith finds it thrilling to be handed an envelope, the contents of which are only privy to her and an OB-GYN.
Of course, before the baby and the baby carriage, first comes love! For the month of February, Bake318 is gearing up to create desserts fit for two. “Sharing something with the same fork, there’s something sexy about it,” gushes Smith. To appease those struck by Cupid’s arrow, Smith is creating a 4 inch, chocolate covered strawberry cake, as well as a heart-shaped mirror glaze cake. “I was pretty impressed with myself when I learned how to do the mirror glaze,” she beams, and rightfully so as mirror glaze is a show-stopping technique that makes any dessert look refined. “I have this heart-shaped pan and it looks like a faceted jewel when it comes out of the pan. And, then you pour that mirror glaze over and it’s just the coolest thing ever.”
Considering the bakery an extension of both her kitchen at home and her own heart, it wasn’t far-fetched for Smith to start a lunch menu. Mostly serving hearty comfort food like chicken pot pie soup with homemade biscuit, shrimp po boy sliders, and chicken and dumplings, their meals are increasing in popularity, so much so that some days they sell out. Though the lunch menu changes every week, popular items will stay on repeat at least once or twice a month.
Being a Bake318 customer is like becoming part of the Smith family. Her daughter bakes with her, Smith’s cousin can occasionally be found running the front of the shop, and even Smith’s 16 year-old son, who has followed in her footsteps becoming quite the baker himself, has been thrown into the baking frenzy now and again. Additionally, from her days baking as a side business to her new venture with the shop, she’s watched many kids grow up. Gender reveal cakes turned into baby shower cakes, and bridal shower treats into wedding cakes. “You get to know people over time,” says Smith, grateful that sharing something as simple as dessert has translated into a microcosm of human experience. Like her grandmother, who is now 90 years old, Smith is in the business of nourishing people–body, mind, and soul… and sweet tooth.
Bake318 is located at 4900 Cypress St Suite 1, West Monroe, LA 71291. It is open Tuesday through Friday between 10 AM and 6 PM, and Saturday between 9 AM to 3 PM. Visit their website https://www.bake318la.com to browse all their treats and follow them on Facebook to keep up with specialty items.