By Shannon Mullen / Photos by Kristin Teig
Pierce is sole proprietress of Mayflour Cake + Confections, a sweets-only catering company in Rockport that specializes in cakes that are handcrafted for intimate weddings and celebrations, as well as charming canelés, decadent coconut macaroons and other tiny delights made to order and presented with elegance. Her philosophy, like her aesthetic, is simple: dessert should be delicious.
Pierce prizes quality and buys locally when she can find exceptional fresh products, including eggs and seasonal berries from Tendercrop Farm in Newbury, honey from the Essex County Honey Company in Peabody, and lavender from The Herb Farmacy in Salisbury. She sources flours and some dairy products from Vermont. “Ingredients make all the difference,” she says. “I use as many organic products as possible but I also have to keep my prices reasonable. That’s important because at the end of the day it’s food, and good food should be affordable.”
A native of Newton, Pierce is part pragmatic New Englander, part savvy businesswoman. After college she went to work for Crate & Barrel, where she spent nine years in merchandise design and worked her way up to a managerial position. “It was a great company to work for and I learned so many important things about having a business--growing slowly, having a vision and finding the right customer for your focus,” Pierce says. On the side, her passion for baking was evolving into a business, as she made cakes for family and friends, then friends of friends. “It got to the point where I couldn’t do more than I was doing,” she remembers. “I hit that wall where I thought, was this the thing I wanted to do full time?” Her answer was yes.
Pierce quit her job and enrolled in L’Art du Gâteau, a four-month professional cake baking and decorating program at the prestigious French Pastry School in Chicago. “It worked for me in that I wanted to make the investment but didn’t want to lose the momentum to go out on my own. I definitely felt like I lived and breathed food all day when I was there.” When she came back to the Boston area, Pierce started searching for a community where she could both feel at home and start her company. Commercial culinary space was scarce so she got her home kitchen certified and started baking, building a following mostly by word of mouth.
Weddings are the bulk of Mayflour’s business and they’re Pierce’s favorite occasions to bake for. (She’s a self-described “hopeless romantic”.) Pierce’s cakes are distinctively flavor-forward, with sweetness that’s more complimentary than overtly sugary. “I’ve found traditional sponge cake recipes that aren’t as overwhelming, with an herbal, almost savory element,” she says. For the frosting, Pierce makes meringue-based Italian buttercream, a silky alternative to recipes that call for confectioner’s sugar. “Don’t get me wrong, I love sugar and dessert is all about something sweet, but with Italian buttercream if you do add flavor like honey, you can actually taste that flavor.”
Pierce knows her approach is not for everyone but she says she’s found her niche. To meet growing demand she had to give up her search for an existing commercial kitchen and build one of her own. She ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the project, then found a petite space to rent in Rockport and spent months retrofitting it to meet her needs. There’s just enough room, between ovens and racks of bakeware, to meet with clients for tastings or small private parties. Mayflour does not have a storefront but Pierce is working to get a wholesale license so she can sell to restaurants and coffee shops.
She admits that the business side of running her own commercial operation can be challenging. “The social media, marketing, networking, doing taxes—but the second I get in the kitchen and start baking I feel better,” she says. “The days that are 10 or 12 hours long are not as exhausting. It was definitely scary leaving my job, but I love being able to work hard for myself. There’s just a joy that I get from baking every day for my livelihood.” Pierce’s confidence in her career choice and passion for her craft come through in every detail, from the soft shapes and colors she chose for her logo, to her pride in serving and savoring the final product. “I rarely get tired of cake,” she says between bites of honey buttercream. “Cake is happiness.”
Mayflour Cake + Confections mayflourconfections.com
Shannon Mullen is a film producer and freelance public radio reporter whose work airs regularly on Marketplace, All Things Considered, and other national programs. Her culinary experience includes stints as chef aboard a 1929 wooden motor yacht based in Newport, RI and as garde manger in the kitchen of a French bistro in Portsmouth, NH.