When West Coast-based bakery chain SusieCakes opened its first store in Houston in early December approximately 350 feet from my favorite nail salon at 2563 Amherst St. in Rice Village, I knew it was The End.
The delightfully sweet end, that is, to me having any restraint when it came to coupling my “treat” of a manicure with another edible treat in the form of some confection from SusieCakes. My only hope for moderation would be if miraculously I only liked a few things on their menu.
Miracles happen every day, but not on my first visit to SusieCakes, when I tried their whoopie pie, which deviates from the traditional New England version by eschewing chocolate cookies with a cake-like consistency for ones thicker and chewer and via its use of vanilla buttercream instead of a fluff-based icing. Those substitutions combined with the intense dark chocolate flavor of the cookies made for a far more decadent whoopie pie, definitely an innovation I can regularly embrace.
Nor did that miracle occur on the next time, when I stopped by to pick up a frosted sugar cookie and snagged a sample of SusieCake’s seven-layer bar. The buttery sugar cookie could have held its own without icing given its melt-in-your-mouth richness, though I appreciated the additional sweetness from the decorative glaze. Furthermore, even just a taste of the seven-layer bar, with its strata of chocolate chips, coconut, pecans, and graham cracker crumbs, was enough to convince me that a full serving should be in my future.
The proof of SusieCake’s power to endure in the Houston food scene, already home to many successful bakeries, cookie shops, and cupcakeries, would be in the execution of their namesake product. First, however, I wanted to hear from founder Susan Sarich. Sarich’s approach to her products is simple and retro in the best sense of the word: “If it wasn’t in the pantry in 1950, it’s not going in our baked goods.”
Having grown up on a street sandwiched between her grandmothers Mildred and Madeline, both of whom were skillful bakers, Sarich developed a respect for the emotional fiat of a pie, banana bread, or layer cake shared between loved ones during times of celebration. She also translated her recognition in the importance of making time for family in the corporate design of her bakeries by restricting opening hours and closing on all major holidays.
When pressed to name her favorite baked treat, Sarich replied without equivocation, “The Celebration Cake. I still find myself eating it two to three times a week.”
Obviously, it was a slice of the Celebration Cake, whose blue frosting pays homage to the hue of Sarich’s grandmother’s Pyrex mixing bowl, that I would try on my third visit. And once again, no miracle occurred, unless you count—and I guess I should—the revelation that occurred when I realized a few forkfuls into this marvelous creation that Sarich had utilized a ratio of butter, eggs, and flour that rendered the layers to be essentially pound cake. Their incredibly moist texture and bold vanilla essence was the ideal complement to the equally rich icing, dense with sugar and salted butter. Although its name suggests consumption should be to mark a momentous event, I think the merits of the Celebration Cake itself is cause for celebration and therefore enjoying a slice with a friend is totally permissible on an ordinary day.
At least that’s what I will continue to tell myself when I stop by SusieCakes for my baked goods fix.