Try the Uggly Cake. What it lacks in good looks it makes up for in great taste.
by Bakery Boy
The name alone makes us curious. We want to see if something called an Uggly Cake really is ugly. So here’s one for your inspection, a genuine Uggly Cake (the extra “g” added for trademark purposes) from The Sweetery in Anderson, South Carolina.
“They’re not pretty, but we sell a whole lot of them,” says Ryan Jarahian, head baker and son of The Sweetery founder Jane Jarahian. “We put a layer of yellow cake batter with a hint of caramel on top of a cream cheesecake base and toss on a handful of pecans. It rises while baking and then sinks as it cools, leaving a funny-looking dip in the center that’s kind of ugly. But it tastes great. A couple of years ago it won a best dessert award at AmericasMart in Atlanta, and our orders took off.”
“And he’s just talking about the regular Uggly.” Jane adds. “We also make Chocolate Uggly Cakes and Key Lime Uggly Cakes.” Price: $9.40 each.
BEYOND UGGLY The Sweetery is no one-trick pony of a bakery, though. Jane has been steadily building her business for 25 years, starting in a home kitchen not far from today’s retail location. A vigorous mail-order operation (you can get an Uggly Cake home-delivered for $26) helped the operation grow beyond her town in northwestern South Carolina. The extensive lineup boasts richly frosted layer cakes including carrot, coconut, German chocolate, Italian crème, red velvet, chocolate peanut butter, caramel, and more. The strawberry layer cake is the best selling item year ‘round. Among the pie selection, standouts include those with pecans from local groves. There are also pound cakes, cheesecakes, brownies, and at least two-dozen kinds of cookies in the showcase. The place goes way beyond Uggly.
NO JOKE Did you hear the one about the biologist, the factory worker, and the potting soil dealer? That might sound like the start of a silly joke, but it describes the trio behind this family business. Jane worked in sales at a plastics factory before it closed. A self-taught baker with a passion for food, she started baking cakes at home and selling them to friends and restaurants, and when the orders outgrew the house, she moved first to a small shop nearby and then to a larger shop next door, adding staff as needed. Her son Ryan graduated in 1998 from The Citadel in Charleston, became a wildlife biologist, and worked at the Shark Reef Aquarium at the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas while also conducting research on desert tortoises for the University of Nevada, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Geological Survey. He left all that to come home and bake cakes with his mom. Jane’s husband, Steve Jarahian, an an executive at Oldcastle (the potting soil company) as well as an expert cookie maker.
INVENTIVE TYPES The reason Ryan left his wildlife biology career in Nevada to be a baker in South Carolina, besides the chance to come home, is similar to why his parents stay in it. “We all enjoy inventing new treats,” he says. “My contribution to the lineup is a Mimosa Cake, based on the drink. It has two layers of orange cake with champagne in the batter, it’s covered with butter cream frosting, and the top is sprinkled with clear sugar flakes. It has a light, sparkly character and looks and tastes kind of like a mimosa. So it’s like a drink that you eat. How fun is that?”
COLLEGIATE CAKES The Jarahians had a little college-level help with another Sweetery innovation: Cake Croutons (click here to see separate article). “An intern from Clemson University was working here and overheard us talking about new product ideas for a trade show we were going to,” Ryan explains. “We were looking for something that might go over well with a younger audience. She took a few cakes with her to a culinary class, the students brainstormed, and what they came up with was the idea of croutons made of cake. We took it from there and ran with it.” Produced in five flavors—original, chocolate, butter pecan, cinnamon espresso, and southwestern—the toasted sweets can be used to garnish salads, top ice cream, rub meats for grilling, crush into pie crusts, drop into soups, and more.
ON A MISSION Jane is currently president of the South Carolina Specialty Food Association, an organization that promotes authentic foods and supports independent farmers, producers, retailers, and other small businesses. Working closely with the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, its nearly 140 members produce everything from cakes to chocolates, wines, flour, pet treats, barbecue sauces, pecans, peaches, honey, tea, crab cakes, sausages, dairy products, and more. “We’re all about eating real, fresh, local foods,” she says.
LOCATION The Sweetery, 1814 East Greenville Street, Anderson, SC 29621 (south of Clemson and Greenville, SC, about 120 miles northeast of Atlanta, GA)
HOURS Mon-Fri 8 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
INFO www.thesweetery.com; 864-224-8394 or toll-free 800-752-1188
AREA INFO Discover Upcountry Carolina Association; 864-233-2690 or toll-free 800-849-4766
SPECIAL THANKS Friend and garden writer/photographer extraordinaire Linda Askey (www.lindaaskey.com) contributed the photo of Cake Croutons on salad, on chili, and as snacks.