With a smooth coating of brown-sugar buttercream as a backdrop, plump dots of apple butter nestle in fat squiggles of frosting, while purple aster blossoms, spiky Japanese-maple leaves, and yellow cosmos petals evoke the fall landscape. Or maybe purple kale, chrysanthemums, and goldenrod flowers, on hazelnut-praline frosting, mimic the coral and seaweed of the underwater world. Victoria Nam-Sonenstein’s cakes always seem to conjure a time and place while also looking out-of-this-world gorgeous.
Nam-Sonenstein works out of her Cumberland home, operating under the name Siblings Bakery. She launched the business almost accidentally, in late 2020. Stuck at home and out of work amid the pandemic, she began baking bread and frying doughnuts for her friends and neighbors. Then, she started selling sufganiyot, the jelly-filled Hanukkah treats, over the holidays. Baking was nothing new — she had worked as a pastry chef across the country, as well as in Japan, France, and Italy, until burning out on the stresses of big kitchens. But with her passion suddenly rekindled at home, she arrived at her new bread and butter: cakes that are veritable works of art.
Inspiration, Nam-Sonenstein says, comes from being a “chaos junkie.” She almost never repeats the same combination of cake, frosting, and décor. She also employs unusual ingredients — coriander, bayberry, spruce tips — and follows the maxim “what grows together goes together.” The flowers adorning her cakes come from her garden, produce comes from local farmers’ markets, and apples and pears come from her in-laws’ trees. She thinks of the resulting cakes as celebrations of seasonality, much like the fancily plated desserts she once made at restaurants. What changed, though, was her medium and the freedom to follow her own ideas.
Slicing that first piece feels a bit like taking a hammer to a Rodin. But the cakes are as delicious as they are attractive — maybe a moist sponge or a fluffy chiffon, layered with fillings like rhubarb-rose preserves, sour-cherry jam, or caramelized-pear compote. After the first bite, subsequent slicing becomes much easier to stomach.
Nam-Sonenstein takes custom orders online and supplies cakes to Smalls, a coffee and cocktail bar in Portland.
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