Dewey’s Cupcakes and the artistry of baking

by Jeff Laughlin

Walking into Dewey’s Bakery, the smell of sweets bombarded me. After years of working in bakeries, the description of that smell eludes me. A mish-mash of chocolate, odd spices and glaze — the sweetness in the air focuses the mind and body on one goal.

Even hours after I left, my coat smelled like sugar and bread.

The torturous ride home to Greensboro left my stomach rumbling and my mouth watering to try the sweets from Winston’s most beloved pastry purveyor outside of Krispy Kreme.

Thing is, the food at Dewey’s looked even better than it tasted. The healthy dollop of icing made my decision for me: I wanted cupcakes. A half-inch of creamy icing adorns each one, making the decision impossible, so I asked for the two most popular choices.

Customers pick those two for a reason.

The size, the weight, the taste and the presentation balance perfectly, creating an artistic wonder.

The attendant picked two of their classic desserts: the chocolate on chocolate and the pink lemonade cupcakes. Both stood out for their d’cor. The pink lemonade flavor features a coiffurelike layer of butter cream that offsets the sweet and sour flavor of the cake, while the chocolate presents a shell-like bubble of icing.

From the years I spent working the counters and hocking baked goods, I knew that innovation and decoration often play a role in what people decide to buy. The old favorites always move, but the new twists entice people to separate from the normal comfort foods.

So much of baking comes down to recreating old aesthetics, so Dewey’s differentiates by reinforcing their exquisite taste with artistic flair. The craft and artistry come from a different place. Dewey’s bakery staff must come to work not as cooks, but as artists who cook.

Sugar and flour should not draw the eye so precisely, yet every one of Dewey’s treats grasped the senses. These were pieces of art meant to be destroyed. Intimidating as they looked, they were just cupcakes.

For instance, their classic chocolate cupcake resembles a Hostess-packaged treat, but the similarities end there. The dark outer shell hides a lighter milk chocolate that is so sweet it sticks to your teeth with each bite. The cake tastes a little darker, almost coffee-ish, but the sugar remains the focal point throughout. Dewey’s does not skimp on the sweetness, to be sure.

The pink lemonade cupcake goes beyond that of a classic dessert. Sour without bitterness, the sugar almost hides in the taste — the way I prefer dessert. The layer of icing was so tall that the entire affair became a mess of napkins and dropped cake. Shamefully, fingered at the peeled-off parchment to gather every morsel I could on this, my second sweet.

Of course, the bakery specializes in more than just cupcakes. Dewey’s lined their cases with rolled cakes, breakfast pastries and, one of my personal favorite dishes, ‘clairs. Full disclosure: I had an ‘clair for breakfast the next morning. I highly recommend fighting your sugary stomach ache with more sugar and chocolate.

The shelves throughout the back half of the store held an unbelievable amount of delicacies from all over the country. Large signs advertised the Blue Ridge Ice Cream Company, another Winston-Salem favorite, of which Dewey’s featured several flavors.

But I wanted cupcakes. And I had them. By the time I finished, I felt like an animal. Chocolate icing covered my hands and beard. I breathed with my mouth wide opened and groaned as my stomach distributed pure sweetness throughout my body.

I had destroyed a piece of art, sure, but it was worth it.