For some of our local vendors, they are born and raised on farms and in small towns of Vermont and grow their small business where they grew up themselves. For others, it’s more of a circuitous journey. Michelle Hines, owner of Baby Bundts of Vermont, has lived and worked in Charleston, South Carolina, Park City, Utah, and Maui, Hawaii. Those travels included working at five-diamond resorts, restaurants, and boutique hotels, among other locations. Her variety of culinary experiences ran the gamut from grits and grouper to farm to table food to exotic tropical fruits and flavors.
That gastronomic journey also brought Michelle to Johnson and Wales University in South Carolina, where she earned an AAS in Baking and Pastry Arts and a BAS in Food Service Management, and, most recently, to the Green Mountain State. We spoke with her about her company and what makes their small-in-size but big-on-taste Bundt cakes so remarkable.
I have always loved to feed people and wanted very badly to become a chef. Very quickly, I realized that I could not touch raw meat without gagging, so I turned my sights to pastry. As I dove deeper into that world, I became drawn to the science and the art. It was so meticulous and fine. I was hooked pretty quickly when I realized that my mind and hands could create beautiful edible art.
What brought you to Vermont?
We had been living in Maui for the previous four years and needed to come back to the seasons and be closer to our families. Plus, we love local, small communities rather than big cities. One of my best friends growing up was from Middlebury. She would always disappear for weeks on end in the summer, then come back with these magical stories of farmers markets, outdoor concerts on the green, and other tales involving ice cream and swimming holes. Vermont in my mind was magical. It was cows, covered bridges, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, plus there was more land than people. It was very liberal and boasted some of the best food (my husband is a chef as well) and skiing in New England. And, its location was exactly smack dab in the middle of both of our families. When we came for one week to check it out, we found a place to live and jobs. The rest is history.
How did Baby Bundts of Vermont get started?
I’ve had a wedding and special occasion cake business for the last 11 years. I had been playing with gluten-free flours and baking and was getting pretty good at it. It soon became apparent that I was the baker to call for gluten-free cakes. I almost changed the name of my business, The Cakery Vermont, to the Gluten-Free Baker. As a chef, you always want to create a retail product at the end of the day, but I wasn’t sure what it should be, except that it should be gluten-free. We exhausted all possibilities: blondies, brownies, cinnamon rolls, cookies, quick breads, and more. A fellow baker and I were having a discussion about the idea of Bundt cakes. On a car ride to visit family in Pennsylvania, Baby Bundts and the flavors were born.
My husband and I have studied gluten for a while and its effects on the body. We saw my daughter’s eczema explode when she ate too much and diminish when she cut back. It became a little personal. We actually took it out of our families’ diet for a while. We healed our guts.
I also love that I get to play. I have all these different flours and ideas at my fingertips. I wanted to create a gluten-free cake that didn’t taste gluten-free. Something that was so yummy, you’d buy it whether you had an allergy to gluten or not. I also wanted someone with an extreme allergy and sensitivity to be able to enjoy good dessert.
Why Ethiopian grains?
Have you tried Teff? It’s thick and earthy. It’s nutty, without being a nut. It gives the cakes body and richness and has a tremendous amount of iron and protein. It’s amazing how this grain can transform the cake.
What else is in your Bundt cakes, generally speaking? Do you source some ingredients locally?
We try, but there isn’t much local milling of brown rice flour, sorghum, coconut, or almond flours. We do use only dark, robust syrup for our maple glaze from Butternut Mountain Farms in Johnson. I’ve thought about local eggs and milk, but it always comes down to cost. We want to keep the cakes affordable, and with the 100% gluten-free certification (our highest priority) that we obtained last year, something had to give. Our cakes are as clean as possible without being fully organic, but we do use organic powdered sugar for the toppings and non-GMO canola oil. Our hopes are to obtain a non-GMO label in the future.
Why a 4” cake size? Why is that the “perfect size”?
Through the years, we have found and heard that a 6” cake is too big. It’s too much money (mainly because it’s gluten-free). Usually a piece or two are eaten, nobody wants to take it home, and then it’s thrown away. The four-inch size is a great size for one or two people to enjoy. We also see it cut into 4’s or 6’s when served at a brunch, buffet, or big party.
Do you have a most popular variety? A personal favorite?
Every cake has their day and time. I’d say it may be the Cinnamon Swirl with a Maple Glaze just because it’s easily recognized as a coffee cake flavor. Customers also really like the sweet dark robust maple flavor mixed with the sharp, tart taste of the cinnamon. I love all the cakes for different reasons. I love the richness of the Chocolate Espresso, the great combo of sweet and tart in the Cinnamon Swirl, and the nutty, moist banana flavor mixed with smooth dark rum in the Bananas Foster. In their own way, they each are to die for.
Do you have a mission statement or underlying philosophy behind your work?
My ultimate mission is to make the best cake or dessert possible, with ingredients and price always in mind. I’m a firm believer that everyone deserves good food. I like clean food and have tried to make the cakes as close to organic as possible while still keeping the price affordable. I bake with integrity.
What would you most like customers to know about your products?
I put all of myself into everything that I do. My cakes are no exception. I hope that you walk away always wanting more and knowing that they were made with love. I love my three baby Bundts – Avery, Riley, and Emme. Baby Bundts of Vermont is a family business through and through. Our products will always showcase this.