Sarah Basch, baker, founder, and sole proprietor, has a wide smile and a quick conversational style paired with a frankness that makes her easy to like and – despite her willowy frame – even easier to trust. Part artist and part chemist, Basch combines her love of baking, her background in marketing and her strong work ethic to create a booming business of impressive cakes, desserts, pastries and cookies – all made from scratch and just the way we like them.
Years ago, main street bakeries in small Midwestern towns were as common as corner diners. Sunday mornings meant pastries for church coffee hours, birthdays meant flipping through laminated photos of sheet cakes, and graduation, wedding and retirement cakes were a bakery’s mainstay. Nowadays, box mixes and chain grocery stores have made it difficult for small, dedicated bakers to make a living anywhere outside of large cities. But despite the lack of storefront (or maybe because of it: low overhead, no employees), Basch has managed to create a successful, sustainable business reminiscent of the family-owned corner bakery.
For over four years, Basch has worked as the pastry chef at Alexander’s, a popular Fish Creek fine dining establishment. In addition to the daily baking (stop in and try Alexander’s signature dessert – an unbelievably decadent peanut butter mousse cake layered with dark chocolate ganache), Basch uses this kitchen to test new recipes, bake old standards, and create hundreds of special order cakes and desserts for her FlourGirl customers.
“I’m incredibly lucky,” she says, “Bruce [Alexander, owner of Alexander’s] is really good to me and has made it possible for me to do this. It’s mutually beneficial. Customers stop at Alexander’s to pick up their orders and end up eating and drinking there. Or, they love their meal and dessert, and find out about me that way. It’s great advertising.”
If you haven’t been lucky enough to visit Alexander’s for a taste, you can start by looking. Basch’s creations are visually stunning. Visit www.flourgirlpatissier.com for photos of birthday, wedding, groom, retirement, and all sorts of specialty cakes, as well as cookies, cupcakes, bars and other baked goods. You’re bound to see something you like, but if not, Basch enjoys the challenge and creativity of designing custom-made orders.
“A few years ago, a woman brought me her mother’s recipe – along with the appropriate baking pans – for a Norwegian Cransikaka,” says Basch. “She remembered her mother making it while she was growing up, and wanted to surprise her for her birthday. It took some experimenting, but it turned out beautifully.”
She continues, “I make traditional cakes, of course, but I’ve also made some really crazy cakes: Stanley Cup cakes, golf cakes, ice fishing cakes, lighthouse cakes, and all sorts of unusual groom and wedding cakes. If a customer can describe it, I can usually make it.” In addition to her website, Basch keeps her Facebook page very current, and photos of every cake she’s ever made are posted there. Just a word of warning: once you’ve ordered one cake, you may be prone to habitual ordering.
“My repeat business is huge,” Basch grins.
FlourGirl started in 2009, and if you consider decades of training an overnight success, then it’s truly an overnight success. From an organizational standpoint, Basch has a business management and administration degree from Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. After college, she worked for five years as a manufacturer’s representative (“That’s where I learned how essential it is to be really organized, super organized,” Basch says, “and how it can make all the difference in the end result.”) And on the baking side of things, Basch apprenticed for years in various establishments throughout the country, working her way from entry-level positions to pastry chef at places such as Off the Beaten Path (Steamboat Springs, Colorado), Door County Bakery (Sister Bay, Wisconsin), Merenda Restaurant and the French-inspired Sparrow Bakery (both of Bend, Oregon), and Alexander’s (Fish Creek, Wisconsin).
“But actually, my training started earlier – I just didn’t know it.” Basch says. While growing up, her grandmother had a huge garden and was always cooking. Her mother made everything from scratch and taught 4-H classes in cake-making and decorating.
“My mother is a much better baker and cake decorator than I am,” she says, emphatically. “She claims that I never baked much as a kid, just sat on the counter and ate raisins. But I’m grateful… I must have absorbed something.”
And like many small business owners, Basch continues to rely on her family to help make things run smoothly. Her mother is on call for advice, her father helps deliver and set up cakes, and her husband Mark is jack-of-all-trades. In addition to helping deliver cakes and offering encouragement, he is also a good taster and reliable critic, helping to keep FlourGirl’s standards high.
“When it comes to cakes, every detail is important,” says Basch. “For every event, but for weddings especially, because you don’t get a do-over. Wedding cakes are really, really fun. I take the responsibility seriously and I love being part of the celebration. Cakes are happy things.”
I agree. Basch sent me home with a sample box: vanilla cake with vanilla butter cream frosting and key lime curd, chocolate cake with chocolate butter cream frosting, carrot cake with citrus cream cheese icing, and a handful of brochures and business cards. The cake was light and moist, and the frosting had that not-too-sweet, tangy texture that I love; cakes are happy things. As I finished the first cupcake (no sacrifice too great for journalism…) and read the literature, I notice that FlourGirl Pattissier’s tagline reads: “Elegant…Simple…Delicious.” Elegant and delicious I’ll buy, but simple?
“It’s taken years of baking to get me to this point, but really a lot of what I do is very simple: everything is made from scratch. Flour, sugar, butter, eggs. I think my attention to detail and the fact that I just love what I do – I really love it – makes it all work.”
Amen, sister, I think, peeling the paper off of the second cupcake. Pass the milk.
Photography by Sarah Doneff.