RD-58

Not Your Ordinary Sweets

A North Fork cake baker, a South Fork weaver, and their confectionary creations.

GREENPORT—They pass as quite benignly ordinary chocolate cupcakes—until the first bite. Then impressions of merlot and blackberries dance with rich chocolate across the palate.

Last May 1, 60 food lovers on a Greenport Slow Food Crawl crowded into the edible art shop of Miche Bacher and Nanao Anton to sample these cakes and other desserts and to view the shop’s display of stunningly decorated wedding cakes.
“If they open a store in the South Fork, that’s it. I’m lost,” says Linda, a Slow Food member, who shook her head and grinned. As an avid Internet shopper, Linda assuredly is now lost. Bacher and Anton have just launched a new Web site carrying many of the sweets in their Greenport Shop. They have changed their name from Sacred Sweets to Mali B Sweets, and it’s worth spending five minutes
checking out the cake gallery as an art form on Malibsweets.com.

If you dare venture into the online shop, you’ll encounter several dozen temptations ranging from herb-flavored cookies, spiced nuts and homemade marshmallows to chocolate bars and cakes made with fair-trade Kallari chocolate, produced by a coalition of 850 indigenous Kichwa families in the Napo region of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Soon to be offered: a bar with Amagansett’s Art of Eating potato chips made from Balsam Farms organic potatoes.

It’s been quite a journey, first from a spare-change exercise and the start of the business in 2002 to the one that supports local growers and wineries and products like Kallari, with a wedding cake featured in the September issue of Brides magazine as one of the 24 most beautiful in the nation.

Bacher, trained as an acupuncturist and doula, is a self-taught baker. “I was the stay-at-home mom who always brought desserts to the party. A friend asked me to make her something. The next thing I knew, people were calling.” In 2006, with the business pushing up against what she wanted to handle herself, Bacher joined forces with Anton, a fellow mother at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton.

“I dragged Nanao into it because I wanted someone who was my equal,” says Bacher. “Nanao, a weaver, has an art background and an incredibly open palate as well as an open eye.”

Today, the collaboration involves dreaming up and sketching designs for cakes, then working side-by-side painstakingly executing the idea, molding designs in sugar dough and creating the unique flavors, which are the underlying point. “It’s incredibly long hours, for incredibly low pay. I work seven days a week, and the average day is 14 hours,” says Bacher of the peak wedding season. (Recently they’ve created many new designs for same-sex weddings.)

Watch Bacher and Anton in the kitchen, and they’re motivated as much by the challenge as the art. Every cake and cupcake is made only to-order after confirmation by telephone or in person, because they feel freshness is imperative to maintain their standards. Cakes run $7.50 to $60 per head. “Isn’t it traumatic to think of someone cutting into your beautiful wedding cakes?” a visitor asks. “I don’t see it that way,” replies Bacher, “I consider ours a transient art. There are artists who do sand sculptures on the beach that are meant to be washed out.”
Bacher continues, “We put days” (“Days,” echoes Anton) “into something that’s going to be decimated in moments.” Their record creating a cake: 50 to 60 hours over three days.

“The best things we make come out of our synergistic relationship. The flavors that we produce work,” Bacher says. “We do a merlot, a chardonnay, a sparkling wine, a black duck porter in cakes, in cupcakes, in cake pops”—their fudgy confection that the Food Network Magazine featured a while back.

Even those who aren’t buying a whole cake can still preview the duo’s cake-making skills and the fillings of the moment by buying a few Twinks, their take on commercial Twinkies, in the shop or online, which feature whatever flavors they are currently playing with.

“We’ve had carrot cake with cream cheese, passion-fruit filling, Mexican chocolate,” says Anton. In the realm of cookies, there are variations with lavender, bourbon, fennel and sesame seeds, and buckwheat with cocoa nibs, as well as green-tea brownies.

They’re perfecting a line of savory biscuits that particularly appeal to the women—one with cranberries, herbs and a little cayenne, another with almond and rosemary, apricot and sage—“savory crackers and things for your cheese plate that are elegant and upscale,” says Bacher. Then there are the chocolate bars available in seven standard flavors, from the most popular dark chocolate with toffee and sea salt to milk chocolate and bacon, plus three extra flavors monthly. The Web site offers a tasting sampler for sweet-tooths among us who like to plan ahead: a year of three special monthly flavors for $300.

“Our sweets are never terribly sweet…,” begins Anton. “…because we use only organic sugar,” finishes Bacher. Although the bakers aren’t sure why, the unrefined, certified-organic sugar they use seems less sweet than conventional sugar and allows their myriad other flavors to shine. “Neither Anton nor I love sweet things,” reflects Bacher. “That may be where we differ from other bakers,” she says.

You sense that their enthusiasm for the business extends to their families, with both husbands and teenagers contributing their time. Mali B Sweets is named for Bacher’s mixed-breed year-old black dog, Mali, pronounced Molly, and Anton’s mixed-breed six-year-old, Brownie, because, says Bacher, “Our dogs sustain us with unconditional love and support.”

“I am extremely grateful,” muses Anton. “Art is a lonely way of working, and it’s rare to find a partner. We get along beautifully, feed off each other, are able to make beautiful things that taste spectacular every day. And we laugh.”
Geraldine Pluenneke writes from Montauk where she is completing a book about flavor.

Mali B Sweets is located at 130 Front Street, Greenport, 631.477.6762. This past summer season its confections were carried at Sag Harbor’s Java Nation and Sylvester & Co., in Southampton at Schmidt’s, in East Hampton at Hampton Country Market, and currently at the Village Cheese Shop in Mattituck.
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Geraldine Pluenneke

Geraldine Pluenneke has written for Newsday, the International Herald Tribune and other publications, and is writing a book on recovering America’s lost flavors and nutrients. She is hooked on Eli’s Health Loaf, toasted and thickly spread with chèvre.