A piece of cake

She notes that the wedding season now starts in April and goes into October. "I joke that's it's the weather, the effect of global warming."
She notes that the wedding season now starts in April and goes into October. "I joke that's it's the weather, the effect of global warming."
Posted: October 22, 2009

This fall marks the 10th anniversary for Sweet Jazmines Pastry Shop, where Kim Davis Cuthbert, in her signature baker's skullcap, still turns out close to 200 wedding cakes a year even as she adds retail items - chief among them moist, homey sweet-potato muffins and 10 flavors of cupcakes.

She is a focused baker, methodical and meticulous, in her steadiness a hint of the accounting training she pursued before heading off to the Culinary Institute of America to study pastry-making, a craft that she polished under the wing of Eddie Hales, the legendary head baker at the Four Seasons hotel on Logan Square.

That was all before, as she puts it, she bought herself a job - setting up shop in a converted bungalow next door to the Berwyn Fire Company.

It is a shipshape space, rolling pins stowed next to baking pans, long pastry tables paralleling the stack ovens.

But it's a block or so off Lancaster Avenue, the main drag of the Main Line, so after a Caribbean vacation with her husband, Chris, they painted the stucco a deep lavender with lime window trim; partly as memento of the colorful cottages they loved, partly to stand out as a commercial, not a residential, location.

Rick Nichols: The shop is sort of tucked off the beaten path. How do people find out about you?

Kim Cuthbert: By now it's word of mouth [mostly from the Merion Tribute House to beyond Paoli]. But then sometimes, people waiting for their cars at Tires Plus down at the corner smell the baking and wander down to check us out.

R.N.: I bet it didn't hurt to have your rosy, three-tier wedding cake on the cover of Philadelphia Magazine in 2005.

K.C.: No, I think we got maybe five new weddings out of that. What I wish I had the film of, though, is the NBC10 interview they did with Will Smith. He was eating one of my muffins at the time, and kept saying, with his mouth stuffed, "Boy, this is good!"

R.N.: When you started out you were making six or seven wedding cakes nearly every weekend. That must have been a killer pace.

K.C.: I had to go for a better balance in the business - retail, wholesale, the cakes, and Internet sales. You throw a son into the picture [she and Chris have a son, Jordan, now going on 7] and you can't be here until 2 and 3 in the morning every weekend.

R.N.: What does Jordan think of the business?

K.C.: I brought him in last weekend and we did the hand-washing and we went over weights and measures. He's good at cracking eggs. He wanted to bake chocolate chip cookies for his dad. And we did. But we only took two home. We gave the rest to the fire guys over at the Berwyn Fire Company.

R.N.: So have you made peace with scaling back slightly on the wedding cakes?

K.C.: Well, this is scratch baking, which I hate to say is a dying breed. We use all fresh ingredients; we make the lemon curd out of 40 pounds of lemons. So, it takes time. But now I have three full-time helpers, and a couple part-time high school girls. And my father is delivering the cakes. I've always said you should work so you can live, not the other way around.

R.N.: What's this I hear about you adding a sweet-potato cake with caramel buttercream and cinnamon cream cheese frosting to your signature raspberry 'n' cream, and lemon curd lineup?

K.C.: We call it the "Sinfully Southern Cake." People hesitate. Then they try it and go, "mmm." They like it.

R.N.: Maybe it's a good autumnal offering. There seem to be more fall weddings. Are you seeing that?

K.C.: They're starting earlier, in April instead of June. And they're going longer; more into September and later October. I joke that's it's the weather, the effect of global warming.

R.N.: Any catastrophes?

K.C.: Not really. But we had a near miss. We delivered a cake in good shape. But somehow a layer began to slide off - it was strawberry shortcake style. I said to my husband Chris: "Don't talk to me. Do what I say!" I had him get strawberries. We sliced them. We had lemon curd. We made the layer again, and had it there in time to repair the cake before the reception.

R.N.: Any advice for the brides-to-be that you see?

K.C.: Well, don't stress out over things you don't need to stress out over. You don't need to try to know everything about everything. Don't lose sight of the real prize - the prize at the end of the altar. I

Contact columnist Rick Nichols at 215-854-2715 or rnichols@phillynews.com.

Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/ricknichols.

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