The poet David Whyte says that one mark of a spiritual person is the ability to see wonder in the world. As we draw closer to living a truly meaningful existence, we begin to marvel at the beauty of ordinary life — the light that streams in the kitchen window in the morning. The simple, ancient act of setting some greens in a pot on the stove and filling our house with aromas — these become small sorts of miracles, in their own right. And our days become richer and fuller and more keenly lived.*
But if a poet poking around the kitchen can find such food for his imagination, can you imagine what the place means to a chef?
Pastry chef Erica Suffoletto, who in May celebrated her 10th year at Mystic Market, says that the childhood days spent in her mother's kitchen served as the template for her life to come.
"It was the true inspiration for what I do. Watching my mother, whether she was making something [from] scratch or out of a box — it didn't matter. I'd be leaning over the counter or standing on a chair, watching her, waiting to lick the beaters," she says, smiling at the memory.
Now Erica is the one holding court in front of the oven, overseeing all the baked goods Mystic Market and Coastal Gourmet Catering offer, from muffins to wedding cakes.
"Everything we make here is from scratch," she says proudly, explaining that scratch kitchens are both an esteemed and disappearing breed.
But just as she holds a place in her heart for homemade pastries, she makes sure that when it comes to wedding cakes, she is on top of the latest trends.
Wedding cupcakes? "Obscenely huge trend," she confirms, noting that 30 percent of her clients last year opted for cupcakes in lieu of cakes. One reason for their popularity is that they can double as favors. "You can put it in a pretty box, and people love taking it home."
Cakes with nautical themes are also popular, as is a general preference for simplicity. "We see people wanting cakes that are whimsical and beautiful, but low-key," she explains. "Nothing too extravagant or formal."
Bride and groom cake toppers are also becoming less common, though she has seen different variations on that accessory, including custom-made bobblehead toppers that beared a striking resemblance to the wedded couple.
The best part of her job, she says, is working with couples toward their big day.
"I'm with them from the beginning," she says. "They taste the cakes with me and we work together and I'm the one delivering it on their wedding day."
"It's the culmination of a lot of hard work. A little stress, and a lot of fun."
Choosing a wedding cake, she explains, goes far beyond pointing to a picture in a book.
Some people have an definite image of what they want, but more often her work involves dreaming up a cake that matches "what they want their wedding to portray to people."
It's very important to her, she says, that each customer gets a "one-of-a-kind cake."
If there's a downside to all this love and yumminess, it's that for more than half the year, her job requires early mornings (think 4 a.m.) and long hours.
"It's full on for 7-8 months, through Christmas. You have to have a true passion for this or you'd burn out."
If she has any baking advice, it's "don't give up on a recipe even if it doesn't taste exactly how you think it should."
"There are so many variables; like the kind of oven you're using" can be a big factor, she explains.
"A recipe is a good guideline but don't be afraid to try something different."
ORANGE WHITE CHOCOLATE PISTACHIO BISCOTTI
3/4 cup unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons orange extract
4½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup of pistachios
Preheat oven to 325° and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Cream butter, sugar and salt until soft and fluffy. Add eggs and extract, mix until combined. Scrape bowl and mix again.
Add all dry ingredients, mix until a dough is formed. Add chips and nuts; mix together.
Dust working area with flour, place dough on flour and divide into 2 equal portions.
Form into logs about 3 inches wide, 2 inches thick; place on cookie sheet.
Bake until the biscotti turn
golden or are firm to the touch. Let cool.
Remove from sheet and cut logs into 1-inch wide pieces. Place back on cookie sheet, on their sides, and bake again for abou 12 minutes or until hard.
Cool and serve.
Name: Erica Suffoletto
Education: Pastry degree from Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, 1997; bachelor's degree in food management, 1999.
Her weekend starts: Monday
In her off-hours she: Loves family time with her husband and 7-year-old son
Does she bake for parties? Yes. “But I like to treat it like a mom cake, yummy but not super-professional.”