Two sisters live the sweet life making treats to moan for, including a cake whose name some hesitate to say aloud—Chocolate Orgasm.
by Bakery Boy — photos by Becky Luigart Stayner
“Women will come in and say they want that… you know… that chocolate cake with the… you know… and then they’ll raise their eyebrows up and down because they don’t want to say the word.” That’s baker Catherine Reinhart of Sweet Life Patisserie describing how some customers have a hard time asking outright for the popular Chocolate Orgasm Cake.
It’s a fantastic cake, though maybe not quite literally up to its stimulating name. The anecdote helps define the playful attitude at this splendid desserts shop run by Catherine and her sister, Cheryl, in the free-spirited Whiteaker Community a few blocks west of downtown Eugene, Oregon.
“We have fun making up new desserts to please people,” Catherine says. “That one gets a lot of attention because of the name. We also make Love Truffles, mixing in herbs and spices that are known aphrodisiacs, such as sarsaparilla, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, kava-kava, and something called horny goat weed. Don’t get me wrong—we’re not just that kind of bakery. We make all kinds of cakes, pies, cheesecakes, tarts, and pastries beyond the two that raise eyebrows.”
So what’s in a Chocolate (you know) Cake? “It’s a layer of chocolate fudge cake drizzled with orange syrup, a layer of vanilla custard, a layer of chocolate mousse, a layer of blood orange and white chocolate butter cream frosting on top, and chocolate ganache spread on the side,” says Catherine, who holds one of the delights in a photo here.
BONA FIDE GOOD I first heard about and Sweet Life from Randi Bjornstad, a longtime reporter and former food columnist for Eugene’s daily newspaper, The Register Guard. “They make some of the most incredible desserts and some of the most beautiful and rich confections in Eugene or maybe anywhere,” she tells me. “The cakes are especially good, but so are the breakfast pastries, cheesecakes, pies, cookies, brownies, gelato, and sorbet. They also sell vegan and health-oriented goodies. The place is totally an institution around here.”
SISTERS STORY The Reinhart siblings grew up in Ohio baking and cooking with their mother. “Ever since we got an Easy Bake Oven as little girls, I tended to bake sweets and Cheryl took more to the savory side,” Catherine says. “We later worked in some restaurants together. We went to college in Massachusetts and New York—she studied government, I studied French—and ended up with degrees we didn’t use. But spending time in France, I discovered the true passion people there have for baking high quality desserts at wonderful little patisseries that are on almost every corner. The experience led me to what I do at Sweet Life.”
Not right away, though. “We bounced around some,” Catherine says. “We worked as cooks on a fishing boat in Alaska. It was crazy, being tossed around in a narrow little galley. After four month at sea, we took all of our earnings, plus a few thousand more dollars invested by our parents, and in 1993 started a little cake business.”
They remodeled a garage at Catherine’s and Cheryl’s modest home in Eugene into a commercial kitchen. From making just a few cakes at a time to an increasingly busy schedule of crafting elaborate wedding cakes after word got around about how good the sisters were, Sweet Life lasted six years there. In 1999 they moved into the current retail location a few blocks away, in 2004 they added a production facility across the street, and they gradually added staff to reach today’s workforce of 60.
FROM SCRATCH “We only use the best ingredients,” Catherine insists. “Our desserts are made from scratch, inspired by the French. We might make our éclairs and sweet rolls bigger—that’s the American way—but they’re done right. That’s what distinguishes us.”
Everything is gorgeous too: Carrot Cakes loaded with walnuts and raisins. Strawberry Champagne Chiffon Cakes filled with strawberry mouse and drizzled with champagne syrup. Cheesecakes perched on graham cracker or chocolate cookie crusts. Fruit tarts featuring a base of almond or hazelnut frangipane or spread with smooth custard and covered with raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, pears, or figs. Prim petit fours. Ham-and-cheese filled croissants. Merrily iced cutout cookies. Creations called “Booze Balls” and “Nipples of Venus” (hmm, do people have trouble asking for those by name too?)
“For me the best thing about baking is being creative,” Catherine says. “Whether I’m coming up with new pastries, decorating cakes, arranging a display case, or deciding to put raspberries on top the coconut cream pies, being creative keeps me going.”
MEETING SPECIAL NEEDS Sweet Life caters to just about every special dietary need imaginable. “In Eugene everyone seems to have a special interest in eating healthy,” Catherine says. “They’ll say they need gluten-free or dairy-free for allergies, or sugar-free for diabetes, or animal-product-free for vegans, and I’ll say, ‘We have that!’ We make a lot of desserts without eggs, dairy, or animal products. We make wheat-free cakes. We make gluten-free fillings and frosting (except for custards). We use hormone-free dairy, natural flavorings, expeller-pressed oil, fair-trade and pesticide-free vanilla, trans-fat-free organic palm shortening, and some organic and locally grown produce. Basically we like making things people will love to eat.”
One category Sweet Life doesn’t cover is bread. “I realized early on that bread-making takes a whole different set of skills and equipment, and I decided to stick with cakes and pastries,” she says. “If you want fantastic bread in Eugene, get it from Hideaway Bakery behind Mazzi’s Restaurant, where they really know what they’re doing.” (Note to self: Must check out Hideaway Bakery at the next opportunity for another Bakery Boy Blog post.)
LOVE THY NEIGHBORHOOD Sweet Life has become a popular hangout where customers linger over decadent sweets and healthy variations while sipping earth-friendly organically grown coffees and teas. “I love this neighborhood,” Catherine says. “The Whiteaker Community is so funky and bohemian. You see all kinds of people—hippies, grandmas, little kids, artists, University of Oregon students, and everyone else—mixing together. Plus I can walk three blocks from home and be here, which is hard to beat.”
If her positive attitude ever flags and she needs a little pick-me-up, there’s always a slice of—go ahead, say the name aloud—Chocolate Orgasm Cake!
WHERE Sweet Life Patisserie, 755 Monroe Street, Eugene, OR 97402
WHEN Monday-Friday 7 a.m.-11 p.m., Saturday-Sunday 8 a.m.-11 p.m.
INFO www.sweetlifedesserts.com or 541-683-5676
Photography by Becky Luigart Stayner of Sunny House Studio.
Recipe alert: Sweet Life Patisserie graciously agreed to share its recipe for Fig Hazelnut Frangipane Tart (seen at right) with readers of the Bakery Boy Blog. Click here for the recipe.