Seasonality might not be the first word that comes to mind when you think of cake, but the fresh, local ingredients Berlyn Mellein finds at farmers markets are always inspiring her to create delicious new flavor combinations. Sweetcorn chiffon with blackberry buttercream, for example, is an evanescent late summer concoction that appears only in that brief, sweet seasonal intersection of sweetcorn and blackberries.
Like all vendors at the Kennett Square Farmers Market, Berlyn folds thoughtful intention, care, creativity, passion, and skill into the products she makes. She also blends a scientist’s precision with an artist’s ingenuity. A California native, Berlyn grew up baking cakes in a quest to satisfy her insatiably sweet tooth, trying out recipes she found in her local library’s copy of The Cake Bible. She continued to bake cakes to share with lucky friends and family as she pursued a degree in science, began her career as a chemical engineer, and moved East. When she was laid off after nine years in the field, she found it difficult to motivate herself to apply for new jobs. “I was frustrated with corporate America,” she says. “I’ve always loved baking, and I thought, ‘I want to bake cakes for people.’”
So she set about tweaking and perfecting her recipes and found the Artisan Exchange, in West Chester, which provides an affordable option for entrepreneurs committed to creating sustainable, hand-crafted food products. The Artisan Exchange enables Berlyn to lease space and access a commercial kitchen. “It’s hard to find a place if you’re not already in the business and don’t know someone with a kitchen,” she says. She turned her cake-baking passion into a business, Honey & Rose bakery, in 2016. While running a small business is challenging and time intensive, she says, “I like that I’m my own boss and have the freedom to go in the direction I want to creatively. And I can set my own schedule, too.” She smiles. “I’m not a morning person.”
“Baking isn’t all that different from what I used to do as an engineer,” she says. “I look at a variety of recipes, see what they have in common and what the differences are, what I like in each one, and formulate a new recipe using the best parts of each one.” With solid recipes for basic flavors like chocolate and vanilla, Berlyn adds ingredients to create delectable new flavors. “The creativity is in the combinations,” she says. She follows her sweet-toothed intuition each week, mixing what’s in season with what she feels like making. Imagine blueberry lavender buttercream, matcha green cake with strawberry jasmine buttercream, or lemon poppy seed with toasted meringue and fresh berries. She also keeps her customers’ tastes in mind. “But it’s impossible to know what people will want each week,” she says with a laugh.
The great news for those with dietary restrictions who can’t usually eat baked goods, or who thought their cake-eating days were over, is that Berlyn also makes gluten-free and vegan cakes. Her carrot cake, in fact, is always gluten free. “I experimented with adapting different recipes, and the gluten-free version has the best texture,” she says. The rave reviews are proof that she’s hit upon the perfect combination of spices and the optimum ratio of carrots, raisins, and nuts.
Cake decorating gives her yet another creative outlet. Her custom cakes—for birthdays, holidays, other special occasions, or “just because”—can be special ordered. The gorgeous realistic flowers that Berlyn loves creating to ensure that her cakes are as beautiful on the outside as they are luscious on the inside are, literally and figuratively, the icing on the cake.
This is Berlyn’s first season at the Kennett Square Farmers Market. She enjoys getting to know other vendors who are passionate about what they do in addition to meeting a mix of new and regular customers. She also loves being part of their market rituals, such as that of the dad who always stops to get blueberry scones to eat with his kids. Farmers market customers play an important role in supporting small businesses and the local community, Berlyn says.
The network she’s building through meeting other vendors at farmers markets is an integral part of her creative process, too. Although some things are difficult for her to source locally because of the smaller scale of what she does, she’s been able to incorporate more and more local ingredients, such as eggs from Lindenhof Farm and rye and buckwheat flour from Deer Creek Malthouse. Having found some great local cheese, she’s looking forward to cooler weather so she can bake cheddar pepper scones.
She also uses Whiskey Hollow Maple Syrup in her maple nut granola. In addition to her cake-baking genius, Berlyn has a connoisseur’s appreciation for exactly what granola should be. In her quest to create the perfect wholesome small-batch granola, she spent time developing her recipe—tweaking the ingredients and perfecting her technique. “I like it when it’s not just loose but has crunchy clusters, for snacking. And it should have lots of nuts. I hate when they’re aren’t enough nuts,” she says. Honey & Rose granola is dairy and gluten free and available in three addictive flavors: Maple Nut, Honey No-Nut, and Chocolate Almond Cherry.
With so many delicious and decadent choices, picking favorites isn’t fair, or easy, but if she had to choose, Berlyn says she’d go with chocolate—probably German chocolate. “But I go through phases,” she says. The Kennett Square Farmers Market newsletter offers an up-to-date list of the delicious seasonal creations Berlyn will be bringing to market each second and fourth Friday.
Find a complete list of retail outlets and cake flavors at honeyandrosebakery.squarespace.com.