Confession: I sooooo didn’t want to like this place. Not just because of my love-hate thing with cake, either (Ah, cake. How can something that tastes so good make me wear such ugly pants?)
No… let’s call it a misunderstanding between me & Sweet Nectar’s owner, baker Robin Smith. Or maybe bad timing. Possibly low blood sugar, probably a combination but whatever: our first meeting was a bit awkward. So here is my story — for better or worse.
Thinking back, I probably should’ve introduced myself before spending several minutes photographing her storefront and patio furniture. Instead, my crouching around kinda alerted her from her baking, and she met me at the door with a quizzical look on her face.
When I kept the camera out to take photos of her new establishment’s perfectly tidy, cozy interior, her uncertainty kinda teetered into alarm: “Oh please no photos! Please! The place is a mess today it’s a holiday week!” They were working on catering orders, couldn’t we come back when they had all the pretty cakes set up for photos?
But we don’t want those photos — that’s what Sweet Nectar’s website is for. We’re not here as marketing reps or catering clients, but as average locals wandering in after EFDC shared a link on their Facebook page:
We had come for cake, thank you. All natural ingredients, home made locally. Yes, please!
We’d been in about 8:30 am for what we’d hoped would be the best selection, but her assistant Latrice told us their test kitchen was in overdrive for Thanksgiving, and gave us a time to come back later.
So when we showed up on their patio at 10:00 am, I was seriously looking forward to cupcakes for breakfast. If not cupcakes, then at least pictures of cupcakes being born in such a cute corner of East Falls! Sweet Nectar’s vanilla-scented nook was a photographic wonderland: shiny bowls, fluffy frosting, flour-dusted pastry bags…
But see — the thing about bakers that I hadn’t realized (until I talked to friends who bake) is that bakers more than any other chefs rely on secret ingredients and processes to perfect their recipes.
Where I saw an active workspace, she saw an open play book. As I snapped what I thought would be “artistic” photos, Robin cringed to see her special fruit blend exposed for the world to see.
Robin’s all about delivering the magic, and wants no parts of sharing her “behind the scenes” action. And I was completely oblivious.
We’re laughing about it now, but at the time… wow. We were literally (comically?) shooed from the property, and asked in a firm and motherly fashion to delete the SD card immediately, d’oh!
As we shuffled off like scolded schoolkids, Robin called out to come back in 90 minutes, when we could taste everything fresh from the oven.
We returned to frosted red velvet cake and two kinds of cupcakes: lemon & chocolate-strawberry. Plus two kinds of chocolate chip cookies, and oatmeal raisin poppers.
And the most fascinating baker you could hope to meet.
Robin Smith is grounded & creative & totally local — she lives with her husband & son in East Falls, but her background includes international adventures in the Entertainment Industry as personal accountant to Jay-Z.
Wait, what? How does a music mogul’s money person come to run a natural-foods bakery in East Falls?
After her son was born, she began baking as a healthy way to satisfy her family’s sweet tooth. Figuring out how to substitute pulps, juice and other whole foods for refined/artificial ingredients in common recipes was like a puzzle for her.
She’s a math person, after all, and baking is science. She’s also a true perfectionist, keenly tuned to every detail. No wonder my random “slice of life” photo-snapping put her off. This woman is serious about baking! You don’t have to be a control freak to be a good baker, but it helps.
So Robin recruited an Iron Chef’s pastry chef to secure the best ingredients & techniques available to update her grandmother’s recipes, and favorites from her own kitchen, as well. She loves the clean, bright flavors of juices and pulps. Instead of food coloring, her Red Velvet Cake uses real beets, and the cheery neon swirls in her lemon frosting are pure zest.
Taste Test Time! We got two of every cookie they were selling and a cupcake. The idea was to get home and photograph it all first but then inexplicably we ate all the cookies in the car on the way home. Descriptions must suffice.
Oatmeal-raisin poppers: Yummy buttons — not flat, but like a little ball of oats & raisins, with the thinnest caramel-brown crispy-chewy crust.
Chocolate chocolate-chip: Like a Hershey bar turned into a cookie. Rich but crispy.
Traditional chocolate-chip: Tollhouse who? Again with the crispy-chewy crust, here. No nuts (which I consider another plus).
But how was the cupcake? Frankly, I was so preoccupied taking its picture I kinda forgot I was supposed to be “tasting” it, and just popped a bit into my mouth absentmindedly to clean the plate for a shot. Wham! A burst of fresh strawberries immediately snapped me to attention. Not just the taste but the smell and the texture, right there in the butter-creamy icing. I zoomed in on it, so you can see the real bits of berries.
Well played, Sweet Nectar.
I really wish we could’ve tried the lemon too that day but they sold out literally under our nose, that’s how quickly this little bakery is gaining popularity (they’ve only been open to the public less than 3 weeks!).
The wedding chapel nearby has also been a source of new customers — Sweet Nectar does a mean wedding cake, including vegan and gluten-free options.
Best wishes for delicious success to our Sherman Mills neighbor, Sweet Nectar.