Since 2004, Penny Stankiewicz has been decorating cakes for a wide range of celebrities: Tony Bennett, John Mayer, Wyclef Jean, Hugh Jackman, Adele, Haylie Duff, Russell Simmons, Betsey Johnson, Donna Karan. Her work has been featured on Life in the Fab Lane with Kimora Lee Simmons and My Fair Wedding with David Tutera, and in print publications ranging from the New York Times to The Knot. Now the celebrated cake decorator is offering a taste of her sweet and savory treats to everyone at her first retail outlet, Sugar Couture (386 Graham Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-349-1440).
Officially celebrating its grand opening today (Stankiewicz opened the doors with a soft opening last week), the shop offers a selection of sweet and savory pastries as well as the custom cakes on which the baker built her reputation.
While the shop is the culmination of more than a decade in the pastry industry, it’s also further expression of an incredible career change for Stankiewicz. A former filmmaker, Stankiewicz decided to take a 12-week pastry class at the Institute of Culinary Education while working on what seemed like a never-ending documentary. She loved the class, but wanted more; when it ended, Stankiewicz enrolled in a professional course. As her film project slowly rolled on, she started making cakes on the side. Somewhat frustrated with the long, drawn-out process, when it finally ended, Stankiewicz dedicated herself to her new art full-time. “I love that you can make something in a week’s time and get it out the door,” she says.
At her new shop, you’ll find individual portions of desserts, like pumpkin fig cheesecake ($5.50) with a cinnamon graham cracker crust and poached pear pistachio tarts ($2.50/$5). Handheld options are offered as well, including chocolate-covered caramel candies ($.85), black and gold cookies ($3.50), and chunky pecan raisin brownies ($3.50).
But the shop also offers a chance to sample Stankiewicz’s cakes without a custom order — she’s serving her signature flavors by the slice. Selections range from lemon ginger cake with strawberries and passion fruit buttercream to banana cake with caramel buttercream ($4.50 to $6.50). “I wanted a place I’d like to eat at: simple and easy to understand, but with my own twists,” says Stankiewicz.
It’s not just about sweets, though. Stankiewicz wants the small space to become a neighborhood hangout. She’s serving savory pastries and seasonal soups (think roasted apple or butternut squash and sage) for those looking for a more satiating meal. And rather than offer basic sandwiches, Sugar Couture is serving house-made focaccias ($6.50 to $10), like short rib and broccoli rabe, roasted brussels sprouts and goat cheese, and butternut squash. For breakfast, she features a bacon jam croissant ($5.50) as well as baked egg in puff pastry ($5).
Many options are already vegan, but Stankiewicz plans to add some gluten-free offerings as she settles in. “I specialize in gluten,” she says. “But I want to be able to offer something to everyone who walks through the door.”
To round out the menu, the spot serves Toby’s Estate coffee, SerendipiTea, Manhattan Special sodas, and house-made drink infusions in flavors like lemon verbena ginger.
The retail space is a result of more than a year’s worth of work, between the business plan, financing, and build-out; however, for Stankiewicz, it’s been a long time coming. The former filmmaker is passionate about her new career, but she’s been missing the collaborative nature of working closely with other people. “Cakes can be very solitary,” she says. “I’ve done that a long time; I wanted more. You get to play a small part in people’s most important life event, and I love that, but a lot of times, I don’t even get to see the reaction when they taste the cake. It’s nice to see someone bite into something.”
Sugar Couture is currently open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., but Stankiewicz plans to eventually extend the hours to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.