The Batter’s Always Up at Sugarsweet
At this bakery, the chef, David Benton, uses cakes and cookies as his canvas.
At first glance — or, say, from half a room away — David Benton’s cakes don’t always look like cakes.
Sure, the sheet cakes do: albeit, jewel-hued, 3-D-decorated cake-scapes whose fondant flowers, fruit, beer-bottles, and surfboards pop. But Benton’s sculptural, cutting-edgier custom cakes evoke gravity-defying constellations, castles, cars, and harlequins.
That’s because the self-taught pastry chef loves merging tomorrowland aesthetics with mid-20th-century traditions at Sugarsweet Cookie + Cake Studio, which he opened across from Mills College in November.
“Twenty-first-century design, for me, means to not always follow the rules,” Benton said. “For example, instead of pink and red sprinkles on a Valentine’s Day cookie, I stencil a photo of David Bowie on a heart. Instead of a red dot on your red-velvet cupcake, I stamp a pair of luscious red lips.”
He crowns cookies with realistic-looking candy pearls and gleaming candy bees and chocolate butterflies. Both the cake and the velvety frosting of his choco-vanilla marbled cupcakes swirl and spiral skywards.
And he’ll make vegan versions, on request.
“If I can get away with it, I like doing things that are unexpected.”
A basic baking class at San Francisco’s California Culinary Academy — while he was working an office job — ignited his yearning. Laid off from that office job during the Great Recession, “I was inspired by the need to create something,” Benton said.
“I saw the colors, patterns, and designs on cakes and cookies and thought I could do something fun with it. The possibility of adding my own ideas excited me. I’ve always been heavily influenced by pop culture: old movies, TV, magazine covers, music. I wanted to take all those influences and ideas and put them on something. Cakes and cookies just became my canvas.”
YouTube tutorials, TV cooking shows, and social media widened Benton’s baking horizons while intensifying his talent and renown. As word spread about the home-baked pastries he sold out of his East Oakland duplex, orders poured in.
“I simply love to cook and bake for other people, and seeing them enjoy something I’ve made is a big thrill for me.”
But his personal favorite baked dessert is neither cookies, cupcakes, nor cake.
“I love bread pudding, especially with a buttery caramel bourbon sauce,” Benton confessed. “When I go out to dinner and bread pudding is on the menu, I always order it.” n
Sugarsweet Cookie + Cake Studio, 5855 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland, 510-924-7076, SugarSweetOak.com.