Not even two months after Christmas, with little time to catch their breath, local bakeries are at it again this week.
Cookie sheets. Cake tins. They're back in the oven, this time for the busy Valentine's Day holiday.
At Paesano's Italian Bakery, 7421 Spring Hill Drive, Valentine's Day is extra special.
"It's our anniversary," said owner Sue Ceparano. "We opened on Feb. 14. We've been here six years."
While Italian baked treats are the specialty at Paesano's throughout the year, Valentine's Day prompts extra orders for chocolate-covered strawberries and other chocolate-strawberry concoctions, Ceparano said.
At ButterWinks!, a cookie-only, home-based bakery, custom work is prized as co-owner Mallory Chiavacci works from an artist's palette of icings that are applied to crisp sugar cookies.
"There are a lot of generic hearts out there," Chiavacci said. "You can go to the store and pick up a heart anywhere. Everything we do is custom."
As an example, Chiavacci mentioned a love-likened cookie on which she replicated the faces of a couple for their anniversary. The former artist-turned-foodie "paints" from photographs supplied by the customer.
Valentine's Day boosts cookie sales, Chiavacci acknowledged.
The cake beneath the frosting showcases the love at Cupcake Heaven, 2721 Forest Road. Ironically, the cupcake that might attract most appropriately on Valentine's Day is also the bakery's bestseller year-round.
"Everyone raves about our red velvet," said owner Denise Cornelius.
With the Christmas rush now a sweet memory, "the next-busiest (holiday) will be Valentine's Day," she said.
Lip-smacking tastes at Paesano's are sourced in cocoa, vanilla beans, candied fruits and piquancy that dates to the Columbus-era spice trade.
The bakery's output results in such delicacies as pasta croce and ciotti, sfogliatelli, strufolli, biscotti and cannoli. They are built, variously, of flaky crusts, fried dough and risen breads, with fillings of creams, specialty cheeses, nuts or macerated fruits. They often are awash in honey or snowed under by sugars.
Beyond the Old World delectables, Ceparano noted, "there's no such thing as a cake with writing on it anymore. The big thing now is fondant. (Customers) want something replicated, whether it be Mickey Mouse or a little car. They want it handmade for them."
ButterWinks! thrives on its custom work.
"Everything is handcrafted," said Chiavacci, the decorator.
She partners with her mother, Shelley Brown, who is the baker of Chiavacci's "canvas," the classic sugar cookie.
A gallery of ButterWinks! offerings on its Facebook page reveals a Crayola collection of colors on an array of geometric designs, carried out with a drafter's detail. As an example, a simple cowboy boot cookie bears seven hues of brown frosting with minute depictions, right down to the leather's stitching.
Cupcake Heaven's business card proclaims: "Cupcakes So Delicious … They Just HAD to Come from Heaven!"
Cornelius says of her three-year success, "I think the key factors are that we keep them as fresh as possible, make fresh every day, try to sell out every day, good recipes, small batches."
Cupcake Heaven's recipes, she said, come from "everywhere — family, co-workers, older cookbooks, just what my mother had. Even some of the celebrity chefs have some good recipes out there. I try them out, tweak them a little bit."
Beyond red velvet, popular cupcakes run from Oreo cookies and cream with a Kahlua mousse filling to the new Banana Split, which consists of banana nut cake under peanut butter frosting, and the Elvis — "like a peanut butter banana sandwich with strawberry frosting."
As for competing with in-store and off-the-shelf baked goods, Chiavacci of ButterWinks! said, "I honestly think we're in two different areas of products. … I ask the customer what they want, and they get it. They get the attention they don't get in the grocery store."
Ceparano pointed to Paesano's copious selection of unique items.
Cornelius reiterated "fresh" and what has now grown beyond a fad to a trend — the cupcake — where diners and party guests can choose to fill their sweet tooth with a host of flavors.
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]