At Back in the Day Bakery, if the Nana Puddin’ browns or the bread doesn’t rise, you gotta hit the dance floor.
“We’re kind of loopy about food’s energy,” explains the Savannah bakeshop’s owner, Cheryl Day, a one-time Soul Train dancer turned baker. “Having bad energy around food—we think that’s poison.”
So Day is painting a dance floor in the kitchen for her employees to keep any bad juju at bay. She and her husband Griffith also get good karma flowing by filling out “pay it forward” forms when customers compliment the service, the food, or both, as is often the case. This shows her employees—“Sugarnauts” as she calls them—that their job matters. The form doesn’t have a checkbox for dissatisfied customers; it would likely go unused anyway.
Clearly, something different is going on here.
Since it’s opening in 2003, Back in the Day Bakery has risen from a struggling corner bakery in a once-forgotten historic downtown neighborhood, to a must-visit destination. Day’s cupcakes have received national attention and have been rated among the top 10 in the country by AOL.com and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. And the sweet life continues to grow by the cupfuls: The bakery has launched a new website and blog, and Day is currently working on her first cookbook, in hopes of demystifying the process of cooking from scratch.
But even if you had the recipes for Day’s scrumptious Red Velvet or divine Chocolate Heaven cupcakes, you wouldn’t pass up the chance to drop by Back in the Day Bakery on a regular basis. While it’s hard to imagine anything better than made-from-scratch baked goods, decadent espresso, melty baked ciabatta sandwiches and crusty artesian breads, there’s a certain quality to a place that goes out of its way to care for its customers. Maybe it’s because you can help yourself to the creamer in the refrigerator, or maybe you like the bakery’s unpretentious retro chic aesthetic, which includes vintage cake toppers, Easy-Bake Ovens and a 1970s stereo that your parents once had. For many, it’s the timeless Southern tradition of having someone look you in the eye when they say, “Have a nice day,” and actually mean it.
Though Day is a Southern transplant born and raised in L.A., her Alabama roots stick like dough to an unfloured rolling pin. She spent her summers in the Deep South cooking with her grandmother. “She showed me her Southern style scratch cakes, and they weren’t just pretty to look at,” says Day. It’s a tradition she honors at the bakeshop: “Our deal is Southern homespun—that’s who we are.”
Day is also quick to point out that she and Griffith are “American bakers.” Unhindered by the high-falutin’ training of cooking school, Day doesn’t feel pressured to move outside of her culinary comfort zone. These self-proclaimed home bakers stick to family recipes that stand the test of taste and time, such as the bakeshop’s bestseller: Old Fashioned Cupcakes. Day runs quality control by personally making every cupcake.
Most of the goodies attractively displayed in the old-school bakery case come from recipes plucked straight from Day and Griffith’s family tree. Day may tweak the recipes some, but she resists shortcuts; she makes her homespun desserts with real butter and quality ingredients—the stuff that ignites what she calls an “F.O.,” or “food orgasm.”
Nearly every aspect of Back in the Day Bakery reflects its motto: “Slow down and taste the sweet life,” with the exception of Day and her husband who find little time to take it easy. Then again, when you love what you do, life feels like one big, happy sugar rush.
Old Fashioned Cupcakes
Yield: about 2 dozen depending on how you scoop
1 3/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature, and cut into cubes
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners
Combine in a bowl both flours, sugar, baking powder and salt. Mix on low speed until combined for about 3 minutes. Add in cubed butter (room temperature) mixing until just coated with flour.
Add eggs 1 at a time until combined. Slowly add milk and vanilla to batter until completely mixed scraping down the bowl as you mix.
Scoop batter into baking cups filling about 2/3 full. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 17 to 20 minutes.
Cool and decorate with Old Fashioned Frosting.
2 sticks butter, room temperature
8 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract or other flavoring
Cream butter until light and fluffy and add 4 cups sugar, milk and vanilla. Mix until smooth. Gradually add the rest of sugar to reach desired frosting consistency. Color with food coloring and decorate.
Food Editor’s Note: If traveling to Savannah, don’t forget to visit Back in the Day Bakery the first Friday of each month for “Cupcake Happy Hour,” from 5 – 8 p.m. Or drop by for Funk Saturdays to enjoy soulful tunes while you nibble on delectable desserts.