Courtney Forrester: Boston's Cupcake Queen
by laurie kahle
photograph by bruce rogovin
|dress, stella mccartney ($4,195). saks fifth avenue, the shops at prudential center, 617-262-8500; saks.com|
The cupcake category keeps gaining traction, both nationally, with shows like DC Cupcakes on TLC, and locally, with newcomers like Cakeology and Isabelle’s Curly Cakes opening in town every season. But one Boston cupcakery continues to expand, despite the increasingly crowded field—Courtney Forrester’s Sweet.
With four shops in Boston and Cambridge— the newest near Downtown Crossing on School Street—a separate baking facility in Hyde Park, and two vans for delivery, the small chain isn’t slowing down. Behind it all is Forrester, who was frustrated by the limitations of home baking: If she wanted to serve eight varieties of cupcakes to dinner guests, she had to bake eight-dozen cupcakes. She realized what was missing in Boston—a cupcake bakery that offered more than a few flavors. “I backed into the business by way of my role as a hostess,” she says. “And I remained concerned about quality and how it would look when it got to someone’s table.”
Though initially trained as a journalist at Boston University, Forrester entered the hospitality industry, doing public relations for the Four Seasons Hotel Boston, and special event planning for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. At both places she honed the particular skills that she has incorporated into the Sweet experience. From the Four Seasons, she learned the importance of greeting guests; sincerity comes easy when she has confidence in her product. Working at the Gardner Museum instilled the importance of atmosphere and presentation when entertaining, Forrester says. Mrs. Gardner was a model for her. “When you entertain, you offer all that’s around you, not just the thing in front of you.”
With that in mind, at Sweet Forrester plays up the nostalgic appeal of cupcakes with retro display cases, pink quilted banquettes, and classic movie screenings. Cupcakes are presented in boxes with ribbon, and can be personalized with messages, photos or monograms. Forrester also drew on her journalism training and performed months of targeted research, touring patisseries and bakeries in other cities and taking notes. She interviewed commercial bakers; she covered her living room table with endless logo designs.
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To create those offerings, she confers with head baker Rob MacLeod. Every morning in the company’s commercial kitchen, MacLeod and his team prepare cupcakes and made-to-order specialty cakes with homemade batters, fillings, and frostings using Callebaut chocolate, Madagascar bourbon vanilla, and Bensdorp cocoa, among other premium ingredients. Forrester works with him on developing and tweaking the recipes— eight classic year-round flavors with about a dozen seasonal creations that change throughout the year. “Balancing the flavor of the cake, filling, frosting, and topping is usually the biggest challenge,” she explains, “An overly strong frosting or too-weak filling will send us back to the drawing board.”
With the Downtown Crossing location, Forrester has grown her staff to more than 40. She even admits to a certain amount of pleasure in the number crunching. “I enjoy the application of practical data,” she says, such as analyzing snowball cake sales figures from 2010 so she can plan for this year. “It’s the only way to quantify what we do.”
There’s also a method behind Forrester’s choice of location for each new shop—she reviews the delivery data. If orders aggregate in a particular neighborhood, she knows that would be a good location. As Sweet now prepares to launch online ordering, our appetite for her cakes continues to grow. 11 School Street, 617-227- 2253; 49 Massachusetts Ave., 617-247-2253; 225 Newbury St., 617-267-2253; Zero Brattle St., Cambridge, 617-547-2253; sweetcupcakes. com