Lately it seems as if everyone is looking to return to their past selves — 10, 20 or 30 years ago. At Tiffany MacIsaac and Alexandra Mudry-Till’s new Buttercream Bakeshop on 9th Street NW, the dynamic duo has succeeded in concocting classic sweets with a twist, fulfilling the nostalgic dreams of all of us with a sweet tooth.
“We as chefs can come up with a million great ideas, but they have to work to make it onto the menu,” MacIsaac said. “Stuffed Ho Hos was just one of those ideas that we thought, ‘Can this work?’ and it does.”
MacIsaac is of course referring to her decadent Nutella Ho Hos, a riff on the traditional treat of many a childhood.
When talking about experimenting with different bakery treats, MacIsaac said it has to do with her way of thinking. “Luckily, that thinking resonates with many of our guests,” she said. “Whenever I eat anything, especially if it’s something I make myself, I say, ‘Okay, that’s really good. How can I make it better?’”
After that comes the brainstorming and testing to create the ultimate sweet treat. When it comes to mass-produced childhood favorites like Oreos and Ho Hos, MacIsaac and her lead decorator Mudry-Till love making them from scratch using the best ingredients and eliminating preservatives.
“We have the luxury of doing that in a bakery where everything is made fresh daily,” she said. “After that, it’s a slippery slope to ‘What else can we do to blow people’s minds?’”
Blowing people’s minds they are. The “Flakie” is the bakery’s bestselling item so far (keep in mind they have only been in business for a month). Croissant dough baked into a muffin tin, dusted in sugar and filled with flavored cream, it’s getting a lot of raves from customers who visit the shop.
Those customers will find bright neon pink everywhere, along with neon cupcakes and latte signs dotting the bakery’s landscape. “I wanted a space that would be fun with a little sophistication, the kind of place that would make people comfortable, but also feel a little special,” MacIsaac said. “Baking treats is just as much fun as eating them, so I wanted my guests to feel that positive energy.”
Commuters will be happy to know that Buttercream Bakeshop serves coffee for all those caffeine addicts on the run. Compass Coffee was MacIsaac’s personal choice, as she admired how the company runs their organization. “I really wanted to find a company that shared our values as a business,” she said. “I think their coffee is amazing, so, for me, it was a no-brainer to link up with them.”
A New York native transplanted to D.C., MacIsaac was surprised at the lack of bakeries in the city, but now understands why. “Having gone through what it takes to open one, I understand that phenomenon a little bit better,” she said. “Bakeries are high-labor, low-margin operations, and in order to be successful you need both corporate and residential business.”
Buttercream Bakeshop’s neighborhood of choice is key. The bakery is located across from the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, drawing both tourists and locals. MacIsaac calls it “an asset she couldn’t pass up.”
Being in such a unique-to-D.C. location, MacIsaac and Mudry-Till also try to use local ingredients whenever possible. MacIsaac calls fresh, local products inspiring. “Everyone knows that experience of biting into a strawberry picked at the absolute right time, from a farm that is close enough so that the fruit didn’t travel for a week to get to you,” she said. “I want that fruit in my pie — who doesn’t?”
As if they aren’t busy enough running Buttercream Bakeshop seven days a week, MacIsaac and Mudry-Till run a wedding-cake business for local brides as well. They have been taking cake orders for more than a year and a half now, so that part is “down pat.” The hardest part was trying to open the bakery while running their cake business. MacIsaac is feeling good about closing that chapter and starting a new challenge.
Of course, with both Mudry-Till and MacIsaac spending time in New York City, they didn’t always want to be bakers. At one point, Mudry-Till wanted to be an actress, but her love for baking changed her career direction. MacIsaac was certain she would be a ballet dancer and was studying hard to achieve that goal.
“I think the hospitality angle of restaurants, and the creativity baking affords me, just drew me in harder. And, honestly, I’ve never looked back,” MacIsaac said.