Fine Art Of Baking
High Tea Bakery combines flavour with flair to create designer goodies.
By Jillian Brown
One of my most cherished childhood memories in the weeks leading up to Christmas was a deep freezer full of goodies. Tupperware with layers of parchment protected dainties like they were jewels. For some of us, hours of mom’s hard work were gobbled up in mere minutes, but not for Belinda Bigold. “I fancied myself a cat burglar,” she recalls. Every morning before school she would sneak downstairs and steal nutmeg logs for her and her siblings, then slyly arrange the cookies so nothing appeared amiss. “What I didn’t know was my mom only went in the freezer once every two weeks, so by that time, I was practically down three layers!” jokes the peppy 35-year-old.
Since this is the time of year moms and daughters flour up the rolling pins, Ciao! provides fodder for those afternoon bake-a-thons by going in the kitchen with Belinda and Carol Bigold of High Tea Bakery. The duo renowned for their intricate dainties welcomes the editorial team into their brand new digs, a Victorian-style store on Portage Avenue near Assiniboine Park.
Inside the cozy bakery, three cake decorators are armed with piping bags. One is putting the finishing touches on martini-shaped sugar cookies for an all-girls dinner party. Another is methodically icing mini-imperial cookies to go in the store’s display case. Michelle, the youngest Bigot daughter and star decorator, cleans her cake paint palette, just completing a stunning dragon and phoenix on a custom-designed wedding cake. Under a prep table sits three-year-old granddaughter Ava, clad in an apron and playing with her red toy mixer.
“There’s something warm, inviting and friendly about baking that just draws people together,” muses Belinda. The Bigots are a classic example of how baking is, for the most part, an inherited craft. “My kids all say their fondest memories are in the kitchen at Christmas,” says Carol. “I instilled their love for baking, but it all grows in different ways.” Belinda, for example, enjoys more of the design aspect than the actual science of baking.
The Bigolds suggest that baking has become a lost art among today’s women. “For a lot of us, it was our grandmothers we looked to for the recipes,” Belinda points out, “but if you weren’t around when she was baking, you don’t know how to do it.” She says a lot of the young generation is now learning from Food Network chefs, but if their hands or wits aren’t nimble enough for baking, they want to know where they can buy it. Hence, a growing demand for boutique bakeries. “People crave quality and real ingredients. They don’t just want the Oreo cookie,” says Belinda.
Creative presentation of classic dainties is High Tea Bakery’s trademark, so it comes as no surprise to learn that the Bigolds are actually artists by trade: Belinda is a photographer and Carol is a watercolour artist. Carol learned baking in high school in Australia, where she was born and raised, but jokes she enrolled in that course because the art class was full.
Cakes and cookies became a canvas for the mother of five. In the early stages, Carol sold her artful lace cookies to co-workers to help raise funds to send her daughter Melanie to The Australian Ballet. “I was swamped with orders,” Carol recalls, “even after I stopped fundraising.” After designing Belinda’s wedding cake and donating baked goods for silent auctions, word started to spread about her homespun treats. Finally, Belinda joined forces to help her mom manage all the orders, and High Tea Bakery was officially launched. The first stop was a wedding show in January 2003. By fall, they had opened a store.
High Tea Bakery celebrates its fifth anniversary this year, a suitable milestone for expanding the business from a nondescript “order and pick up” location in the West End, to a small bakery cafe in an affluent corner of St. James. Belinda recalls last year’s Christmas season and the challenges of producing all the orders in such a small space. “We would spend two hours each night stacking cookies so we’d have enough trays and room to bake in the morning. It was absurd!”
Not only does the new location bring more elbow room, but a significant increase of traffic because it’s closer to core clientele. The bakery is concentrating more on its retail business, confidently offering more variety in the display case as sales have built momentum. “We couldn’t do that before without desserts going bad,” explains Belinda. The biggest challenge is streamlining the procedure to know just how much to bake.
A tour of the sunny second floor reveals plans to convert the space into a private consultation room for custom orders and a classroom. The Bigolds say they have numerous requests from people wanting to learn decorating techniques, and they’re happy to share their expertise.
As for those irresistible nutmeg logs, Belinda has since been given her great-grandmother’s recipe, but is reluctant to give away the secret to Ciao! readers. “It’s major nostalgia for the family,” she explains. She adds that there’s no sneaking downstairs to the bakery freezer for a cookie—everything at High Tea Bakery is baked fresh on demand.