Financial exec turns cupcake mogul with Prairie Girl bakery, cookbook
Lois Abraham , The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, February 18, 2016 11:31AM EST
TORONTO -- Becoming a cupcake mogul might seem like an about-face for a lawyer and financial executive, but for Jean Blacklock launching Prairie Girl Bakery seemed like a natural next step.
She spent a dozen years specializing in estate planning and tax law in Calgary before taking on a post as head of wealth services with the Bank of Montreal and eventually transferring to Toronto. But while planning a second marriage to a co-worker, she decided to take the plunge into a new career after 25 years.
Prairie Girl Bakery, named in an ode to her roots growing up in Saskatoon, was hatched in 2011.
Though she's had no formal training in baking, it's been a hobby since she was a child.
"I knew that I wanted my business to be in an area that I was passionate about, like food. But I also knew that I wanted the business to be large enough that it would actually need professional bakers that would take my recipes," she says.
"The intention was never that I would work in the business, although the recipes are mine. My intention was always to grow it into something that could service downtown Toronto."
Now, with three locations and 25 bakers, it seems her wish has been fulfilled. A couple of years ago she began offering homemade cakes and also brought in cookies, brownies and tarts. Last fall she launched fondant-covered wedding cakes.
As if she's not busy enough, Blacklock, 54, is graduating from the Toronto Institute of Relational Psychotherapy this spring after studying part-time for three years. She carves out a few afternoons a week from Prairie Girl Bakery to see clients as part of her studies.
And she's just published "The Prairie Girl Cupcake Cookbook: Living Life One Cupcake at a Time" (Appetite by Random House), a departure from previous books she'd written on estate planning.
The cookbook contains some 50 recipes for cupcakes sold at the bakery, including the five cake bases -- vanilla, chocolate, red velvet, banana and carrot -- along with seven standard icings ranging from vanilla bean and chocolate cream cheese to lemon, strawberry, peppermint, peanut butter and classic cream cheese.
Also in the book is a riotous range of decadent variations, along with gluten-free and vegan options.
The variations stem from the "treats of the week" Blacklock tempts customers with at the bakeries on top of daily fare. The treats are chosen from a menu of 35 rotated throughout the year and include chocolate fudge sundae with ganache filling, tiramisu brushed with marsala and espresso syrup, peanut butter and jelly, pina colada, salted caramel and hazelnut. At Christmas, eggnog and gingerbread flavours are on offer.
All cupcakes are made on the premises and any left at the end of the day are donated to charity.
While Blacklock's favourite flavour is vanilla, many customers clamour for red velvet, her biggest seller.
The first year Blacklock was in business she was astonished at how many people show their love with cupcakes on Valentine's Day.
"It's our busiest week. Busier than Christmas, busier than anything else, and I had no idea about that until I opened and faced it for myself in 2012," she says.
On a typical Friday, bakers whip up about 6,000 cupcakes, but the number swells to four times that for Valentine's Day.
She acknowledges it's not easy developing recipes for business.
"I find that it's necessary to make it again and again and again just to tweak it, a little bit fluffier, should you add just a bit more salt, like you're going for perfection.
"And then of course it needs to be translated into commercial quantities which is all by weight. Most home bakers don't weigh their ingredients. So it takes a while. I was surprised."