On a soggy July afternoon, my attempt to find Purebread's secret cake-baking facility in Function Junction is falling flat. The location lacks signage because it doesn't need it, the company's retail outlet residing a couple streets and a few S-turns away. Giving up, I roll down the car window and simply follow my nose. Much easier.
Purebread is a homegrown success, with a large following across the Lower Mainland. After ruling Whistler's Farmers Market for years, its first storefront opened in Function in 2010. A second location in the village in 2013 closed after a fire, re-opening in 2015. A popular Vancouver store began operations in 2014. Cakes for retail outlets, other bakeries, and special orders are all made right here and shipped out daily; enough that an entire shift is dedicated to dressing them. The Purebread cake decorator is a unique job whose Jedi ways I intend to learn.
Two steps inside the door, cake-prep supervisor (i.e., decorator) Ria Temple-Hurley holds court at a long bench. Temple-Hurley usually arrives around noon to clock the day's orders and get organized. Building cakes involves assembling freshly baked or thawed bases, and I find Temple-Hurley working her way around a disc of chocolate cake with a pair of scissors.
"We use tools you'd never think of for baking," says production manager Lindsey Dawkins, tracking my widening eyes. She turns back to her own task, icing an entire tray of coconut buttermilk loaves in the time it takes me to type three sentences. She confesses to mild panic because her star cream-cheese-icing-maker is going on vacation, and no one makes the tricky concoction better. "Only one person in here is trained in baking. The rest of us are flying by the seat of our pants," she smiles.
But of course, that's untrue: they know exactly what they're doing, having graduated from the School of Experience. Watching them reminds me of watching my mom bake when I was a kid. She'd often let me put the icing on, which I didn't give a rat's ass about as long as I got to lick the spoon. That won't happen here.
Having heard enough to want to work at Purebread, Temple-Hurley began with baking a couple days a week. She proved so good at decorating, however, it became her portfolio. "It helps she's a bit OCD," says Dawkins of Temple-Hurley's detail-heavy approach. "Look at the way her tools are lined up."
They sit fastidiously side-by-side, various sized icing spatulas, knives, scissors.
"You have to be organized. And clean — crumbs are your enemy," says Temple-Hurley, sealing up the chocolate cake, now on a turntable, with a final, practiced swirl. Before I can congratulate her, she's layered up a zucchini lime cake for someone's birthday, spread it with lime cream-cheese icing and sprinkled on pistachios.
"I might do 150 cakes in a shift. Sometimes I work 10 hours 'cause its gotta get done, but if you've learned to manage time well you're more efficient. Every shift is different. When it's raining, people order more cakes. And the heat and cold of different seasons affects icing and baking — you make something one day and find it's completely different than the last time."
There are also special requests to fill: someone wants to propose to their girlfriend and needs a cake; a Canada Day cake requires a flag. Temple-Hurley makes artful hay of every challenge. "It's never boring," she says. "And pretty creative."
Now what's this? Grabbing a base of vanilla sponge cake, she adds lemon syrup for flavour and moisture, hollows out the centre, fills it with salted caramel and tops it with lemon curd. The creation awaits only meringue icing — but this you can't make beforehand. Egg whites, sugar and salt get whipped in a metal bowl and set over a double boiler with a thermometer.
The rushing around is all purposeful movement and activity, nothing frantic. For her part, Temple-Hurley is now prisoner to thermal constraints. At one end of the bench, the meringue can't get too warm, while at the other end, a ganache — chocolate with whipping cream — can't be too cold. Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon plays somewhere behind the shop's humming machinery and clunking metal. Is it my imagination, or does everyone in the shop speed up when the crescendo of "Time" hits?
The meringue reaches temperature and Temple-Hurley stiffens it in a mixer. Spreading it on with a "Crumbs are your Enemy" credo, she never lets the spatula touch the cake. Finally, she browns the meringue with a butane torch, a delicate job you don't want to mess up lest you have to start over. Has that ever happened to her? Of course not.
Cake decorating is an art, and though you can't sign your name (unless you're very, very clever), a style shines through. Anyone in this madhouse can look at a row of cakes and tell who decorated what. Temple-Hurley's flourishes, unsurprisingly, are the most distinct.
These cakes are made with love and skill, a quality reflected in a successful business. As I leave, the first percussive strains of "Money" follow me through the door.
Leslie Anthony is a Whistler-based author, editor, biologist and bon vivant who has never met a mountain he didn't like.
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