It’s 8 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, and while most students at the College are still zombified, Sharon Sutter has already been churning out batches of muffins, breads and cakes for five hours. As the owner of A-Frame Bakery, Sutter devotes herself to creating sugary confections for every mouth in Williamstown to enjoy. With a sweet tooth and a few other friends in tow, I paid a visit to A-Frame last week, with the goals of learning more about the bakery’s operations and buying just a few treats. Naturally, we left with half a dozen bags of various pastries.
We also learned that the bakery had been decades in the making. Sutter, a New York native, knew she loved baking from early on. After completing formal training in culinary school and then catering for years, Sutter and her family relocated to Massachusetts. “From there, it was meant to be,” Sutter said. “There was no better time, and I’ve always wanted to have a bakery, so I thought to myself, why not?” With a family of six children, it was a team effort to get the bakery up and running, but now A-Frame is thriving and approaching its eighth anniversary.
The heart of the operation lies in the baking. Fudge cupcakes with pristine swirls of frosting, scones that crumble away to reveal cranberry and caramel and fragrant loaves of bread still hot from the oven were some of the many baked goods on display when we entered the shop. As we stood there gawking, Sutter smiled. “Everything is baked fresh daily. There are no carryover desserts from the day before. Once it’s sold out, it’s sold out.”
It’s her commitment to freshness that has Sutter up well before the crack of dawn each morning, rolling dough and stirring batter so that there can be an array of sugary goodness lining the shelves long before the first customer visits. Her daily routine consists of baking the basics, “the muffins and staples that will be here every day,” Sutter said. But then the rest of her time is dedicated to making the special orders, individual requests that range from a cherry vanilla cheesecake one day to a specialty bread the next. These special orders are part of what makes A-Frame so unique, and Sutter finds them immensely satisfying. “People will call in asking for a batch of 60 cupcakes, and then I can figure out the rest of the details.” These orders give Sutter a blank canvas for her imagination to run wild, and she told us that she loves this creativity in baking more than anything else in her work.
For Sutter, the most challenging aspects of her work aren’t the long hours, but that the prep kitchen is the retail space. The bakery is a come-and-go design without seating, where a customer can walk in, pick up one or two – or 10 – blueberry muffins and walk out. This setup has Sutter moving between the kitchen and the counter nonstop, juggling customer service with baking. That, coupled with the possibility that “an order is misplaced. You never quite know what you’re going to get,” Sutter said, is what keeps her on her feet.
But Sutter wouldn’t do it if she didn’t love it. “It starts with a good recipe,” she said. Some recipes, like her apple muffins, have been refined over the course of 30 years and, at this point, have been nailed down to a science. Others are recipes she’s discovered and modified. Once she knows how to get from A to B, though, it’s all about the taste. When asked what makes a good pastry, she didn’t hesitate. “It’s being able to taste more than just sugar. If I use blueberries, you should taste blueberries; if I use chocolate, you should taste chocolate. It should always be more than just sweet.” She laughed. “And, of course, everything should taste different.”
With that in mind, we tried a little bit of everything. The pecan brownies, the double chocolate chip cookies, the rich apple cake – delicious didn’t even begin to cover it.