Mamie Brougitte Cakes
Delicate pink roses, their fragile petals tinged with green, a spray of Lilies of the Valley, bold sunflowers and lacey ferns. All these and more adorn the exquisite cakes produced by Marion Attal, owner of Mamie Brougitte Cakes, a purveyor of deliciously made and artfully decorated cakes for special occasions.
Attal, who draws on her rich multicultural life in the production of her cakes, adapts each creation to the esthetic needs of her customers. “All my cakes are customized from start to finish,” she said. “That means I create a very low volume because every cake is unique. I don’t make more than two or three a week.”
Ideally clients should contact her six months before the event’s date but she tries to accommodate shorter notice. “I tell people to come at least a month in advance,” she said. “Then there is a chance I might be able to get them in.”
She revealed that the design alone for a six-tier cake with sugar flowers can take one hundred hours. And that is only the design phase—the hand-built sugar flowers and decorations take hours of preparation ranging from 10 minutes for a single leaf up to two hours for such blossoms as roses and dahlias.
Attal named her business for her grandmother and it is an appropriate choice for it was the older woman who introduced her to the world of baking. As a toddler, Attal would climb to the countertop to observe her grandmother in the kitchen. “‘Mamie’ means grandma in French,” she explained, “and Brougitte was her name. She was French and when I was younger we made French things. I have been baking my whole life.”
Her life took her to South America and South Africa where cultural esthetics--whether they be the intricacies of delicate handmade French lace from her summers in France or the bold Brazilian tiles of historic towns in Bahia where her father lived--permeated her soul. Born to artist parents, her life drifted naturally toward the arts. “Prior to going to South Africa, I was doing theatre in New York and Paris,” she recalled. “But in my small town in South Africa there were not a lot of theatrical opportunities so I started baking for the Farmers Market.”
Her grandmother’s teachings rang in her ears and she made all her goods with the best ingredients, including her own homemade butter and buttermilk. “Pretty soon, people were asking me to make cakes,” she said. “Truthfully, I wasn’t interested. But then, I did some research and discovered (sugar) flowers. I decided that if I could do that, I would be interested.”
With a vision of what she would like to do, she set about educating herself as to how to execute it. She never attended culinary school but read and watched videos of how the flowers are made and arranged. “I worked at that over years,” she said.
Six years ago she moved to the Berkshires and started her business. She maintains a storefront at 26 Church Street but the cakes are baked and constructed at her West Stockbridge kitchen and personally delivered to her clients across the country.
The process of creating the cake starts when the customer gets in touch with her via email. A quick telephone call gives her more information about what is needed and a design meeting is arranged. Attal then creates a design sketch before a deposit is put down.
The cakes start at $2,000. “When you include everything—design, making the cake and delivery—it ranges from $25 to $100 a slice,” she says.
Most of her clients are in tune with the kinds of cakes she makes before the process begins. “A decent percentage have an idea what they want,” she said, “Not specific, but ideas. My artistic sense has been well-translated through Instagram and my website so when people come, they already want something in my style.”
With design in hand, construction of the cake begins. “The flowers are made from sugar paste that I make myself out of egg white, Crisco, icing sugar and a thickening agent. It looks like Playdough. Depending on what flower I’m making, I use food colorings for the base color. After that, there are a variety of techniques.”
The paste is rolled out and cutters are used to create the shapes of flowers, edible lace, botanicals and fruit.
“Then I use tools to spread the petals thinly and arrange them on floral wire,” she explained. “The flowers need to dry overnight, then are dusted with petal dust which is an edible pigment powder that gives that extra something to make it more realistic. I like to give little extra touches such as green on the ends of the petals, suggesting aging.”
With the fabulous cake constructed, the next stage is the most hair-raising: getting it to the client. The cake is incased in a specially made box that holds it securely. “The top part of the box has a pillar that inserts through the cake where the dowel rod goes. The pillar locks into the base of the box and the cake can’t move. When it is removed from the box, the dowel rod is put back in.”
The cakes are handled with care. “We don’t ship baked cakes,” she reported. “If it is very far we’ve driven them or, other times, we have flown with the cake. Delivery is the most stressful part and I would never put that stress on anyone.”
She said people are surprised at how heavy the cakes are and that it usually takes two people to move a large one.
If it takes several days to create and deliver the cake, how does she keep them fresh? “Wedding cakes have developed a reputation of being beautiful but not good to eat,” she confessed. “I have no desire to add to that reputation. If a cake is due on a Saturday, the batter is made on Wednesday and it is baked Thursday morning. It’s frosted that afternoon, and in the evening, it’s covered in fondant. On Friday, it’s decorated with the sugar flowers, which are made in advance. It makes for a couple of intensive days, but we won’t make the cakes weeks in advance and freeze them. We want them to taste fresh. That’s why I can’t take on many orders in one week.”
Fresh and flavorful, the cakes might be consumed in minutes at the special occasion but Attal has a way that clients can savor the moment far into the future. “Sugar flowers are unique in that, if they don’t get wet and are collected after the event, they will last forever. Clients can arrange them in a vase or I can arrange them for them under a glass dome. If you were to eat the flowers, they wouldn’t taste like anything but sugar. I tell people to eat the cake and keep the flowers.”
She is devising other products to share her artistry with the public. A couple of years ago she went to Provence where an American photographer, Jamie Beck, is working. Beck photographed some of her flowers and Attal turned the photographs into prints and phone cases. “My cakes are not accessible to everyone and I like to have something accessible to a broader range of the public,” she said.
Resistant at first to making cakes, she confesses, “In the end, it’s absolutely perfect because I enjoy baking and it comes naturally. It doesn’t seem like work. Just ordinary baking didn’t have the creative process I needed and wouldn’t have been this fulfilling for me.”
Mamie Brougitte Cakes, 26 Church Street, Lenox, MA; 631-765-7667; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org