It’s a sunny Tuesday morning on Field Road in Cos Cob. The quiet and calm of the residential street belies the beehive of activity behind the front door of the two-story white Colonial that is home to a collective “family” of bakers who create wonder under the name of Sweet Lisa’s Exquisite Cakes.
In a kitchen of stainless steel, a large metal whisk dances in a deep bowl of batter, twirling to the hum of the commercial mixer. Circular pans of baking cakes fill the air with a hint of chocolate. The phone is ringing. Gingerbread is being cut along a template to create walls for a holiday house. An assortment of Walkers shortbread cookies in varying shapes are being set with a sugary mortar to recreate the Scottish castle from the “Outlander” TV series.
Tuesdays are supposed to be quiet, Lisa “Sweet Lisa” Maronian tells a skeptical visitor.
A typical week starts off with planning on Tuesday and then, as the week goes on, builds and builds — literally layer by layer — until the cakes are delivered on Friday and Saturday.
But, no, this week is a bit different. There might be 35 cake orders to be completed by Saturday, but today is the day that 20-odd flourless chocolate cakes (all donated by Sweet Lisa) must be sliced, packed and delivered for a big fundraiser by the American Diabetes Association at the Greenwich Country Club. There are 280 guests who must each get a slice of this flourless and near-sugarless (honey was used) creation that will be topped with fresh crème anglaise.
Lisa’s on the phone when I arrive. She smiles and offers a welcoming arm sweep for me to enter her work area. She’s off the phone and springs past me to the oven where she removes four chocolate cakes. No timer needed. She’s done this since she graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 1986. (It’s at that same Hyde Park campus where she met her husband, Stephen. “He’s a savory chef who does intimate gatherings.”)
Lisa checks on her mom, Philomena, who is preparing gingerbread for untold dozens of miniature houses that will serve as centerpieces in clients’ homes for the holidays.
It’s this hyperactivity that is the answer to the question: How can you maintain a petite figure while sampling your decadent, delectable delights?
Lisa takes on each client’s unique dreamy desires — “anything you can imagine” — with a foundation rooted in the strict disciplines of the CIA.
“Steve and I are chefs at heart,” she says. Her “we approach everything from the inside out” is the reason her cakes not only look great but taste great as well.
Fondant made in some factory? Uh-uh. Not for Lisa. Everything is made in house with the finest ingredients. Her signature triple chocolate cake uses chocolate from the famed Belgian manufacturer Callebaut.
Her creations are far from simple. From the sugar flower petals on a wedding cake to a 4-foot-long pirate ship enveloped by a kraken, it’s all natural. “I’m not a proponent of plastic and foam” to fill or prop up a cake, unless it’s needed for, say, a 5-foot-tall rotating carousel cake for a lucky girl celebrating her bat mitzvah.
Cakes are not the only delights coming out of the oven. There are cookies, but they’re far from simple as well. We’re talking hand-painted miniature works of art that give one pause before taking a bite.
And the same goes for her cupcakes. Just because they’re small doesn’t mean Lisa and her team of seven assistants scrimp on the details. After 23 years in the business — 18 years at the Cos Cob location — she knows the proof is in the presentation and taste.
In need of a wedding cake? You have to place your order three to six months in advance. There are no pre-made cakes. Every one is a special order and that’s the way Lisa intends it to stay.
And when this dynamo is not creating in her kitchen, she’s teaching students basic baking at Norwalk Community College. Does she rest? Yes, only a half-day of work on Christmas Eve and then it’s two weeks of R&R.
The phone is ringing again and the queen of the beehive is buzzing.
Sweet Lisa’s Exquisite Cakes is at 3 Field Road in Cos Cob. For more, visit sweetlisas.com.