Flavourful twist to sugar cakes
When Maria Joseph was a teenager, her grandfather, Vincent Stuart, didn’t like to see her idle during the long summer vacation. So, he taught her how to make sugar cakes.
She had to husk the coconut, grate it before turning it into delightful bites of confectionery. But she saw it as a chore and did not think it would benefit her as an adult. Years later, however, she is glad she did as she is able to pick it up with ease and turn what started as a joke into Sweet Genius, her three-year-old company.
“It was a challenge from friends who said younger persons weren’t really liking the flavours that were available, [and said] they were just dye, sugar and water, not flavours that they could relate to in this time.
“That was the challenge at first, and then I said yes, I can make them with some different flavours. It was a joke in the beginning and I started to do it when I went to the [University of the West Indies] and it took off afterwards,” she said.
Forget the traditional flavours of sugar cakes such as almond, strawberry and ginger which she makes, and think rum and raisin, cheesecake, lime daiquiri, pina colada, strawberry rum and orange rum punch, all of which she developed to make her products stand out. She “married” the alcohol and the coconut thinking they are a lot of tourists trying out the sugar cakes to get a taste of Barbados.
“We have something for children and for those persons who do not like those flavours we have cheesecake that they gravitate towards and we still have the traditional flavours,” Joseph said.
She makes the flavours herself and after the response to the rum and raisin flavoured treat, the others followed. A year ago, she added cheesecake to her offerings because the miniature sugar cakes are being used as wedding favours.
As word spread about the delights, she said that the majority of her customers are Barbadians living in the diaspora who called or messaged to place orders before they returned home to sink their teeth into a childhood treat. It was that response that prompted her to get the products in major supermarkets.
What she finds interesting is the increase in sales during the Crop Over Festival and in December.
“I have had a small increase during Independence because persons who are celebrating independence at their various institutions might call to get an order but it is not as major as Crop Over or December. I’m surprised at December. I’m amazed at that. I don’t know if it’s because of the winter season and there’s an influx of tourists,” she said.
Exhibiting at BMEX was also “encouraging” and she noted that “as much as I was out there thinking that I was reaching persons”, about “90 per cent” of patrons who stopped by her booth had not heard of Sweet Genius and did not know her flavours existed or had tasted them.
While she makes the cakes, her husband does the deliveries and merchandising and together they make it work.
Joseph is mindful of the high sugar content of the products and balances the authenticity of a good old-fashioned cake with the need for reduced sugar content while not compromising the taste or texture.
The confectioner is also mindful of passing on her craft to someone and would welcome the chance to do so in a couple years. She does not have a date yet but she is optimistic that she can expand the business, employ at least another person, and grow.
She also wants to increase the number of products she offers adding to the nut cakes, flavoured nuts, pone, cheesecakes and other cakes.
“Trying to supply and keep the shelves intact poses a little challenge. I didn’t want to start making additional things without fully [keeping up the supply]. One of the challenging things with the products is that it’s a lot of work. It is labour intensive and there is no easy way in doing it. There’s no new way of doing it. It remains the same way it was years ago. I got that from my grandfather who was a sugar cake lover…” she said.
“I enjoy what I do. Growing up, I realised that cooking was really my thing…I even did a couple courses at [Barbados Community College]. … Anything to do with food is my passion. We do small catering jobs but confectionery is what is do seven days a week”. (GBM)