Kristin Loeffelholz has been sculpting since she was a child.
The owner of the new Sweet Tea Cakes on Madison’s west side began like many kids do, shaping little clay figurines her mom would bake in the oven to harden.
Now, the mother-daughter duo of Kristin and Julie Loeffelholz have turned that first collaboration into a business: sculpting fondant for cakes.
The Loeffelholzes opened Sweet Tea Cakes on Sept. 1 at 7414 Mineral Point Road, in the former site of Cookies by Design (now in McFarland only). Sweet Tea specializes in custom cakes with intricate fondant designs, as well as ready-made cupcakes and sweets that customers can drop in anytime and pick up.
“A lot of people don’t do real custom cakes with the fondant and the sculpting,” said Julie Loeffelholz. “I think people are just excited to find a place that does it.”
A bakery had been a family dream for Kristin Loeffelholz for years. She and her sister, Allysa Muckenthaler, grew up in Waunakee and attended Valencia College in Orlando together for baking and pastry.
Kristin moved back to the Madison area in January. She was about to go in for a second interview at another bakery when she said, “Mom, I think we should just open our own store.” So they did.
Sweet Tea’s small shop feels whimsical and cheery, with light pink and mint green covering the walls and shelves. A small table comes into play for wedding cake tastings, but the space is designed more for grab-and-go than settling in for an afternoon.
Walk-in business has been slow in the first couple months, which road construction and the lack of a permanent sign hasn’t helped (they’re waiting on a sign permit from the city).
Customers who do make their way to the shop find display cases full of cupcakes and other sweet treats, like cake pops ($1.75), chocolate bark ($1.75) and sugar cookies ($2.25).
The fall slate includes a pumpkin spice cupcake with cream cheese frosting and a salted caramel mini bundt cake drizzled with extra caramel (each $2.95).
An Earl Grey lavender cupcake ($2.95) had bright lilac frosting complete with edible glitter.
“We put glitter on everything,” Julie Loeffelholz said.
Crafting custom cakes
Where Kristin and Julie Loeffelholz get to truly shine is custom cake orders. This fall they’ve already been getting several orders every week, including calls for Wonder Woman cupcakes and a New York Jets cake.
“[Customers] give us free range pretty much once they see what we do,” Julie Loeffelholz said.
Design themes range from Star Wars to Hot Wheels to karate, all with intricate attention to detail. A Monsters University-themed design Kristin Loeffelholz made is tucked on a shelf in the kitchen. It features several extremely accurate monsters, a small backpack complete with a zipper and more than a dozen fondant signs and flyers tacked to the bottom tier, like a campus wall.
After gathering details from each customer and making sketches, the actual cake-making process takes three to four days. Fondant icing has consistency similar to clay, making it ideal for sculpting intricate cake designs.
They must bake, wrap and freeze each cake before decorating. Decoration itself requires long periods of waiting for fondant to harden.
Making a pirate figurine, for example, requires making the legs first, waiting for the fondant to solidify, then adding the torso.
“We’ve found we really don’t have days off,” Julie said.
“There’s a lot of waiting,” Kristin agreed.
In many ways, Sweet Tea’s fun, creative cakes are the realization of those early mother/daughter sculpture collaborations so long ago. The mother-daughter business relationship has been going relatively well, too.
“We’ve butt heads a few times,” Julie Loeffelholz said. “It’s just kind of talk each other into it or back off and let one win.
“For being together 24/7, we’re doing well.”