CLARKS SUMMIT – Before it was a bakery, the building at 323 Northern Blvd. was a carpeting store. A few hints of its past remain, including the carpeted stairs leading to the second level, also covered with shag.
Upstairs is where Christine Magnotta, the owner of Creative Cakes & Desserts. takes prospective customers so they can look through thick binders of photographs which show many of the items she has prepared over the last 18 years. The viewers frequently are young women planning a wedding reception.
Sitting there, examining the color depictions of what Magnotta has created before, they often smell what she is currently making. In the kitchen downstairs, two industrial ovens provide olfactory evidence that the former carpeting store is now a bakery.
“It doesn’t take long at all,” Magnotta said. “And generally, with the internet and everything now, a lot of brides already know what they want.”
Creative Cakes & Desserts opened in West Scranton in 1999. Three years later, because of increasing sales and tight space, Magnotta bought a building and moved the shop to Clarks Summit.
“Business is very good,” she said recently, as the bakery made its annual transition from the busy May-October wedding season to the holidays of November and December, which she projected will be another period of brisk sales.
While in high school, Magnotta studied cosmetology. After graduation, the prospect of decades spent styling hair left her cold. She had attended cake-decorating classes when she was a young teen and enjoyed working in the kitchen with her mother.
“My passion was baking,” Magnotta recalled. She chose a gig in a bakery over a hair salon.
Her title was cake decorator, though the job was more of an apprenticeship. The shop employed a number of veteran bakers, and they did things the old-fashioned way: they used their eyeballs and experiences over recipes listed in a book.
“I would get my cakes done, and then I would go over and I’d work with them,” Magnotta said of the veteran bakers. “It was hands-on training instead of a textbook.”
Some of the baking secrets the old timers shared with Magnotta are still used at Creative Cakes & Desserts.
Other than fruit fillings, which are procured from a supplier, all items are made in the shop, including the mousses and frostings. The owner and her four employees make the cakes and desserts by scratch.
About 80 percent of revenues are from the sale of cakes, with desserts accounting for the rest, according to Magnotta. Cookies and pastries, including miniature crème puffs, are the sales leaders for the dessert segment.
The standard cake flavors of vanilla, chocolate and marble are still ordered by many customers.
“But red velvet is popular. Banana is popular,” Magnotta said. “We have coconut, lemon, butter cream cheese, pound cake, and strawberry.”
The shop is open Wednesday through Saturday and the owner sometimes sneaks in on days when the bakery is closed to get caught up on paperwork.
In-store bakeries are common fixtures inside many groceries and big-box retailers, though Magnotta does not consider them competition. The chains typically bake cakes as inventory and decorate them as needed when they are sold. Magnotta keeps a few cakes on hand but most of her baking involves specialty items pre-ordered by customers.
“When someone comes to me, I’d like for it to be above and beyond what they would get in a grocery store,” she said.
Cooking programs have been on television since the 1940s and, with cable channels devoted to food preparation, individual broadcasts focus on narrow portions of the kitchen arts, including cake-baking. This has changed the types of requests made at Creative Cakes & Desserts.
“People come in with these really elaborate cakes, for even first birthdays or 16th birthday parties,” Magnotta said. “Before these cake shows came out, they would just order a sheet cake.”
There is only so much decoration Magnotta can apply to a sheet cake. She is more of an artisan with three-dimensional cakes, whose depths make them seem to rise off the baking pan. Magnotta has baked many, and recently did 3-D cakes that resembled turtles, elephants and a pig.
Her creations are temporary – and don’t sit for long in the bakery, awaiting pickup or delivery, and they don’t survive long before they are consumed.
Magnotta takes a photograph whenever she has made a new type of cake and adds the photo to one of the photo binders, up those carpeted stairs.
“There are some cakes that I do get attached to before they leave here,” she said. “But the good thing is we can always make another one.”
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