Organic Pastry: How a Portland Chef Does All-Natural Cake Decorating

“My style is pretty organic and rustic and natural. That’s how we eat at home and that’s how I’ve cooked my whole career.”

If you think Sweetheart Bakery makes beautiful cakes, you’re right. But if you look a little closer, beneath the flowers and ganache, you’ll find a carefully-constructed world of textures, flavors, and scents – an intricate landscape for the senses.

Pastry Chef Anna Henricks started Sweetheart in Portland, Oregon, after a cross-country move. “When I moved to Portland I had a really hard time finding a job as an executive pastry chef, so I worked for someone else for a while. Then about three years ago I decided to quit my job and start my own business.” After 20 years in the industry, Anna realized that in order for her to explore the ideas she was most interested in, she was going to have to take the plunge and become her own boss.

“I’m never going to be able to realize my creative vision working for someone else.”

So what was the creative vision she felt so strongly about? While Portland has an amazing food scene, there was something missing from the Portland pastry scene, in terms of design. That’s where Sweetheart comes in. Anna brought her vision of beautiful pastry design with no fondants, artificial dyes, or flavors, to life. “I started making the ‘naked style’ cakes. I liked the styling using natural ingredients, so I use honeycombs and vanilla bean pods and herbs. Any painting that’s on the cakes, it’s all fruit purees that I make in the Vitamix.”

“I think it adds a botanical level to the food, which elevates it beyond the princess-wedding-cake scenario.”

So what makes a Sweetheart cake different? In a word, Anna. Her whimsical style is in every detail. She develops the flavor profiles. She grows the edible flowers in the garden behind her house. She makes the cakes and pastries herself, carefully creating a little world in each one. But it’s a world that pays tribute to her environment.

“We’re surrounded by beautiful things out here—mountains and rivers and oceans. The natural world around Portland is so incredibly beautiful, so living here is really inspiring.”

But the Portland area does more than inspire her designs; it’s literally in everything she makes. Anna has a long list of local producers that supply her with the majority of her ingredients. “My flour is from Bob’s Red Mill, which is a Portland company. My butter is from Larsen’s Creamery. All of my cream is local—cream and milk and buttermilk. All my fruit is local except for passionfruit and mango and coconut. I go to a specific farm and get my eggs.”

“I try to be as local as possible. It’s a way for me to engage with my community and support local agriculture by making art with it.”

While making art might come easy to Anna, the practical side of running her own business has taken some getting used to. “It’s really hard being a creative artist and also running a business. I do everything on my own. I go to the farms and pick the fruit. I make the cakes and decorate them and deliver them. I run a market. It’s a lot of work for one person.” And that work keeps growing. Sweetheart has been embraced by the local wedding cake community, and is now a regular fixture at area farmer’s markets. With growth comes challenges—how to get ahead and not just sustain, but grow, the business; the question of taking on investors or hiring employees. Anna is trying to answer all of those questions.

So what’s next for Sweetheart Bakery? Anna would like to move out of her rented kitchen space and into an open studio. “The goal is definitely to have my own space where I can create and have people come in and pick up cakes and buy pastries.” Hopefully, Anna will soon be welcoming more people into the world of Sweetheart.

Connect with the Chef

Anna Henrie Henricks is the pastry chef and owner of Sweetheart Bakery in Portland, Oregon. Sweetheart has been featured on Edible Portland and the Portland Fresh blog. Connect with Anna on Instagram, Facebook, or her website.